This content has been archived. It may no longer be relevant




Hear from 16 members of the Principia community about the stories behind their tattoos.


I really love every single one of my tattoos. Each one means a lot to me; they’re stages in my life that represent so much to me.

When I was younger, I used to go sailing all the time; when I get older, I want to travel on a sailboat. So that tattoo goes to my past and to my future. It reminds me of the really good times in my past, and it also inspires me to travel.

My compass rose represents me knowing which direction I’m going in these days. In my past, I had no clue; I didn’t even know I was going to college. In the past year and a half, it’s been like, ‘I know where I’m going.’

My anchor was my first tattoo; it’s symbolic of Christian Science. I finally got my anchored into something I believe in, and I finally got anchored into my own life.

My captain’s wheel means God’s steering me; He’s steering my ship.

The one on my chest with the branch has a lot of meaning behind it. The dark part of it means the bad stuff in my past. One of the birds sitting on the branch means the people I’ve left behind to make my life better, and the bird flying away is me.


I got it the summer after my freshman year. It’s adapted from a quote: “You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?”

That quote was something that helped me through a lot of things. I would fluctuate with being really productive for a period of time, and then it would go down and be a big slump; those were the trends I had throughout my life. I started feeling myself slump again, and I came back to this quote; I hadn’t seen it in a long time. I started carrying it with me in my pocket, and the image of it is a choice to make you do better. You have the right to be doing your best all the time is what the quote says to me.

The image I used is a caterpillar and a butterfly mixed into the text. Imagine a caterpillar, sitting there, refusing to become a butterfly and do all of the magnificent things he’s meant to do. He’s born with wings, but he just has to realize that.


I had wanted a tattoo for a long time, but I hadn’t known what I wanted to get. Last year, after going to camp, I was road-tripping back to school. Ropioa is what Camp Owatonna used to be called, and it stands for “reflection of perfection is our aim.” I have been going to Owatonna for a really long time; this was my 10th year. I love the place; it’s been really fundamental in my growth, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons there. It’s also where I’ve grown the most spiritually. So I liked the idea of Ropioa of my tattoo.

With the design, I put it in the shape of an arrow, because “reflection of perfection is our aim” is aiming like an arrow. The word reflects down on itself because it’s reflecting. The bird in the space between the R’s looked like a bird before I put the bird in, so I put a bird in there. Afterwards, I realized the bird fits perfectly in that little space, and so I thought of that as me being in my right place. I also found my initials in it afterwards, which was cool. Some people say it looks like a tree, and I like that because I love nature.


I have had my tattoo for about a year now. It is a part of my body and will be with me for the rest of my life. Every time I look at it, I think about how grateful I am to be living this life. I also think about my grandpa who passed away after I got this tattoo.

On it is a picture of a sacred heart with hands holding it and wings at the top. Under the hands, it says “in God’s hands” because I know that I am always being watched over and protected by God. I also know that my grandpa is up in heaven flying above me in God’s hands now, too.

I love tattoos because they are pieces of art, and mine mean a lot to me. People often judge me because I have a big tattoo on my chest, but this doesn’t mean I am a totally different person now. I am still the same old Daniel, now just with a big tattoo on my chest. People are very stereotypical about tattoos and gang members or bad people, but not all people with tattoos are “bad.”

I want to prove to the world that good people can have tattoos, too. It is just another way to express yourself. By having my tattoo, I am reminded everyday that I am living “in God’s hands.”


I spent a long time thinking about my tattoo before I got it. I wanted to be absolutely sure that I wanted to live with this for the rest of my life.

The tattoo I have is an infinity sign. This symbol has a lot of meaning to me. When I was turning 16, my parents got divorced, and it crushed me. Every symbol of love I had ever had was obliterated. However, my parents’ divorce taught me a lot. It taught me to love unconditionally, and that love is unchanging.

I thought to myself, do I really need something material to remind me of infinite Love? But now when I see it, it only reassures me more that Love is endless and ever-present. If my tattoo had no meaning behind it, I would probably hate myself for getting it. But looking at it every day is a soft reminder that Love really never dies, no matter what the outward picture may suggest.

HAYLEY SCHECK, sophomore

I had wanted a tattoo for a while, and I knew that I wanted to get one that represented sisterhood with my best friend. We’d agreed on getting one together, and she picked me up one day early in the fall of my freshman year and got it.

There is a lot of meaning in it for me. She is my sister in all ways but blood. The design we decided on is the Japanese symbol for family persons; in this case, sister. She got older sister while I got younger, so our symbols are very similar. They’re in matching places on us: the inside right ankle.

I don’t regret getting it at all, and I cherish the meaning behind it.

JESSE DEHNERT, sophomore

Since my brother got his tattoo 11 years ago, I have always wanted one, too, in the back of my mind. It wasn’t an overwhelming desire for one, just something I wanted to get one day.

I began giving it more serious thought once I turned 18. Some time in the late fall of last year, I decided that I thought I’d like the skyline of Seattle on my inner arm. Aside from being my hometown, Seattle has always meant a great deal to me, and it’s one of my favorite places to be. Also, I had decided a while before this that I liked the idea of a tattoo being inside my arm so it isn’t overly obtrusive.

With this idea in mind, I asked my oldest brother to design something for me in his free time. A month or two later, he emailed me his design and once he did, I had a little picture of it in the top corner of my computer screen so I would see it every day to make sure I liked it.

I did continue to like it, so when I got home this summer, I booked an appointment and got it put on my arm. For those of you who have seen it and are confused, the bottom of it is not a sound wave, and it is not the city melting. They are drip marks; it rains a lot in Seattle.


When I was in high school, I went through an interesting time of coming into my own. I focused on my true value as a woman, and sought out a phrase as a constant reminder of the qualities I express. I felt that these words were most fitting: strong, beautiful, sacred and loved (by God). There is an entire poem that goes with these words that I wrote as well.


I got my tattoo in April of my senior year of high school, three months after I turned 18. I knew I wanted a tattoo for about three years, but I wanted to be absolutely certain before I actually got it.

When I started designing this tattoo, the only thing I really knew about it was that I wanted it to be Africa-themed. It took me two years to design the finalized design. I also knew that I wanted to get the tattoo done by someone whose artwork I really like. Though it doesn’t matter as much if you give them the design you want, it can still make a big difference to research your artist first.

I was living in Buena Vista, Colo., at the time and saw the artwork of a man named Dony walking around everywhere. He is a world-famous tattoo artist and was the heart and soul of the BV tattoo world. I am so grateful I got it with him. He was an ex-member of the Hells Angels, covered in tattoos and with long, grey hair down to his waist. He was one of the most interesting and accepting people I have ever met and he and I became the best of friends for the five hours it took to finish the tattoo.

The designs inside of the outline of Africa are Ghanaian Adinkra symbols, which all have a lot of meaning. Each individual symbol I picked out of about 100, specifically for their meaning and beauty. Because the tattoo has so much meaning inside it, it reminds me constantly of what I strive to be and how I strive to act and think.

I was raised in Africa for 13 years, and now that I’m away from what I consider to be home, having Africa on my back is a very comforting feeling. I might not look at my tattoo all the time (since it’s usually hidden under my clothes) but I am always aware that it’s there.

As for my second tattoo, it is a simple quote on my foot that says, “All her paths are peace,” which comes from Proverbs. I have struggled a lot with getting worried about either the past or the future, but this tattoo reminds me that no matter where I go or where I came from, I’m always following peace, and I’m always in peace. I’m not as attached to this tattoo as I am the first one but I’m still in love with it.

I think it’s important to just take your time with deciding because it really is going to be on your body forever.

JAIME SERNA, sophomore

Life is expression, and like the clothes that you dress yourself in to express your feelings, I have dressed myself in the ink that expresses who I am. My brother and grandpa, who passed away when I was in middle school, were the kind of people who shed blood sweat, and tears in determination to obtain their dreams and goals.

Their names cover my wrist as reminders that through the hard work of my own bare hands, anything I’ve set my mind to is within reach. The Bible passage that covers my rib cage – Psalms 23:1-4 – serves to remind me that God will forever guide and protect me as I endure every path I may take to reach happiness.

TESSA MILLER, sophomore

My tattoos are meaningful to me; I love them a lot.

The one on my ribs says “with wings as eagles” and it is from Isaiah 40. The whole quote says, “but ye that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” I used that a lot my senior year of high school; I had a pretty rough year, and it means when we rely on God, all things are possible.

I also love heights; it’s probably one of my favorite things in the whole wide world. I don’t think that I have every really been afraid of them. Another reason I like this quote is because it would be the coolest thing to soar like an eagle over everything. You can take that metaphorically; we obviously aren’t going to sprout wings and fly, but we will be able to be lifted above all the material things telling us we can’t go any higher.

The tattoo on my wrist is the year that my nana was born, and I got it to symbolize her eternal life. So that’s the story of my tattoos. I love them, and I think tattoos are awesome.

TANYA FERGUSON, dining services cashier

When I was about 25, a girlfriend of mine and I had been talking about getting a tattoo. As years went by, we never got one. So when I turned 30, she said, “Come on, we’re getting one.”

I wanted it to be sentimental and something that meant something to me. It’s a cherub angel, and it has my four children and their names in it. It starts at the bottom with the oldest and goes clockwise around to the youngest. The colors that are in with their names are the colors of the months of their birthdays. For Spike, the red means January. One in September is blue, and two in June are pink. I also have my husband’s initials incorporated in the wings; unless you’re looking closely, you don’t really see them.

I am looking to get another one; it’s going to be sentimental also. I have eight grandchildren, and I’d like to put them in there. But I haven’t quite decided what I’m getting yet.

CURTIS ATKINS, sophomore

I was adopted from birth and grew up with my mom, Nancy Atkins, and my dad, David Atkins, in Eugene, Ore. As a kid, my parents asked me if I ever had any questions about my real parents, but being so long I never did. It wasn’t till last summer when I was working in the Rocky Mountains did I actually start thinking about it.

When asking my adoptive parents about the situation, my mom said that the one thing my real mother told her in the hospital was this: “I can’t give [my son] the life he deserves, but I know you will.” That was it. This annoyed the hell out of me not knowing exactly what she meant by that.

Then it hit me: she wanted me to have the best education I could get because she never got it. She wanted me to live a happy life with a loving family because she knew if she raised me, it would not have been that way. I was living the dream she wanted for herself and for me.

With figuring out that amazing concept, I decided to get a tattoo dedicated to my real mom for having the guts and the strength to let me go. The tattoo says “Kid Dream” facing backwards. It’s not for me to show off to other people; it’s to remind myself to be the best and not let anything hold me back. I was gifted with this life, not born into it. My mother made a huge sacrifice, and so every day I will honor her strength.

JONATHAN LANGTON, physics professor

I was in Santa Cruz, it was Saturday and I was bored. As it turned out, there was an award-winning tattoo parlor right next door to my church, which was only about a half mile up the road from my apartment. So I printed out an outline of a winged foot from the website of some random high school track team, asked the tattoo artist to make it look good, and he did.

As to why I picked the winged foot: it’s the traditional symbol for track and field. Since I’ve learned more from racing than almost anything else I’ve done, it seemed like an obvious choice.

One more random detail. Afterwards, I was on AIM with my mom and I told her I got a tattoo on my “claf,” because proofreading is for uncool people that don’t have brand new tattoos. She was so relieved to find out that it was on my calf instead of some weird body part that she’d never heard of that she really didn’t care at all about me getting a tat in the first place.


I knew that whatever idea I had for a tattoo needed to last two years before I actually let myself get one. I found the meaning to a hummingbird, which was to float free of time and cherish moments. I knew I wanted an abstract, simple design, so I searched and found one I loved.


The story behind my tattoo, like I suspect for most people, is extremely personal. Since the summer before college, I knew I wanted to get a tattoo and where I would get it, I just had no idea what to get.

Last year, a friend of mine passed away, and in coping with that, an idea I worked with was infinite Love and infinite Life. That’s pretty much how I got an infinity symbol with the words “love” and “life” within it on my wrist.