Tattoos of KU 2

Students at KU have many things to offer, but perhaps the most inspiring are the stories behind their tattoos. I met with several students to hear what drove them to get their ink.

Gemma Duling is in her third year at KU studying Unified Early Childhood to be a teacher for birth through third grade, with an emphasis on special education. Her first tattoo is the quote, "Everything happens for a reason" on her foot in memory of her cousin. "She died when she was 19 and I was in my junior year of high school. She was a major influence in m life and I knew I wanted something to remind me to be more like her everyday." Gemma says it was her cousin's favorite quote, and she was known for saying it to friends who needed a pick-me-up. "I got it in memory of her, but also as a reminder to myself that I can't always control what happens in my life, like her death. I have it as a reminder to keep living despite what happens."

Her second tattoo is a tribute to her best friend, who has "to infinity" on her side. The two have been best friends since they were eleven or twelve, although they've known each other forever. "We have gone through everything together and she has always been by my side. We have done a lot of silly things together which is why we got a silly quote, but it also means a lot to me. Whenever she is not with me, I can always look on my side and know she will be with infinity and beyond."

Her third tattoo, a tiny sailboat on her wrist, is a tribute to her older brother, who has autism. She has five older brothers and is the only girl. "Growing up with him being the oldest and being autistic was a struggle, but I would not be who I am today if it wasn't for him. I got a sailboat because he really likes boats. He always had something in his hand, usually a boat. Sometimes he would bring us something to draw on and he would always want a clock drawn, but one day he asked for a boat to be drawn. He had never asked for that and he asked me. It's something special to always look down at when I'm having a rough day and it instantly puts me in a better mood."

Her fouth tattoo, the puzzle pieces on her foot, stand for autism. They form a heart in the middle, which is why they don't fit together. "I got this for my brother, but also for me. This one is because I want to be a special education teacher and I would love to specialize in autism. I have worked with so many kids and adults throughout my life with disabilities and they inspire me to be a better person. This reminds me to always be kind and remember that everyone is struggling with something. But it also reminds me to never stop chasing my dream of wanting to give back to those who have affected my life and made me who I am today."

Hannah Hartzler is a senior studying Psychology with a minor in Applied Behavioral Science. Although books have always been a large part of Hannah's life, Harry Potter holds a special place as her favorite. "I literally grew up as the books came out and I remember the absolute heartbreak I felt when I turned the last page of the last book, because I knew that amazing adventure was over. I got this tattoo for three reasons: one, as a kind of tribute to the little kid I was when I started reading them; two, as a thank you to J.K. Rowling for creating such an amazing place to escape to; and three, because it's f*cking beautiful and I love it.

Hannah also has a tiny paper plane flying on her foot. "Less of a story with this one. I got it because I love to travel and I hope to continue to travel as I get older. Plus it's cute as shit. Look at it looping all about."

Ashley Martinez is a KU alum currently in graduate school in Texas. "For most of my life, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. To be completely honest, I hardly remember a time when I didn't struggle with mental illness in some form. And the thing about mental illness is that your brain tricks you into thinking that you're all alone or that no one could possibly understand what you're going through. When I first noticed my depression in middle school, my overwhelming feelings of loneliness brought me to search for someone who could get it. That's when I stumbled across the absolutely incredible nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) on MySpace (yikes, don't remind me). TWLOHA is all about telling stories of pain, depression, self-injury, and addiction, which created a community. Nine years later and TWLOHA has been crucial during my mental health journey. Recently, the founder Jamie Tworkowski wrote a blog on TWLOHA all about how people need other people. His message was this: Not only do we need people to rely on, but people need us to rely on. He says, "that's how life is meant to be lived, leaning on that magic of love, and trust, and friendship." As I'm working toward my Ph.D. in counseling psychology, this tattoo is a reminder for myself to reach out when I need to. To know that people need me just as much as I need them. Most importantly, to know that I'm absolutely, 100% not alone. And neither are you."


Skylar Blackburn is a sophomore studying Social Welfare at KU. She got her first tattoo on the day after her 18th birthday. "Growing up I had a best friend named Adam, and when I was in 7th grade, he committed suicide. It completely changed my life and I've never quite been the same." They shared the same favorite band, My Chemical Romance, and their favorite song was "Famous Last Words." "I got lyrics from that song tattooed on my back so I'd always have a piece of Adam with me."

Her second tattoo comes from the lyrics of A Day to Remember's song "Have Faith in Me." "I got this kind of spontaneously last June because I've always loved these lyrics and they often get stuck in my head."

Skylar got her third tattoo in honor of her mother. "My mom has always been the most important person in my life and my biggest supporter and we wanted to have something to always connect us even when we're not physically together."

"My fourth tattoo is my absolute favorite. It's lyrics from a Pierce The Veil song called "Hold On Till May." PTV has quite literally saved my life. They are my absolute favorite band and their music means everything to me. I have been obsessed for years and I chose to get these lyrics in the singer Vic's handwriting to make it that much more special. I can't wait for the next time I get to meet them to show them the tattoo that allows me to always have a piece of them with me."

Emma Zeck is a freshman at KU who has not yet decided on a major. She pays tribute to living in Kansas all her life with a sunflower tattoo, but that's not all. "It also represents the undying love of God because of the way the sunflower always turns its face towards the light and we, as believers, always turn our faces toward Him, who is Light."

Emma claims that mountains are her favorite thing in this world. "They remind me how small I really am in my natural selfishness. I got this tattoo to remind myself of that."

"I have struggled, and still struggle, with self esteem issues. I got this as a reminder that we are all made in God's eyes, and he sees us as perfect just the way we are."