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President Thayne McCulloh sports Gonzaga tartan at pep rally

LAS VEGAS – There was loud party music, Gonzaga shirts as far as the eye could see, the Bulldog cheerleaders, tasty adult beverages and hot dogs and nachos. It was a big-time college pep rally.

And it was the atmosphere outside Orleans Arena about an hour before tipoff of the Gonzaga-Pepperdine game Monday night.

Well, until the bagpipes started playing.

Then Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh walked onto the stage in a full kilt. The leader of the Zags has been known to come to the West Coast Conference rally in various wild outfits – like showing up last year in a full Gonzaga men’s basketball uniform – but this one was a little different.

And it just wasn’t about McCulloh’s Scottish roots. It was literally academic. Or as academic as seeing a university president in what looked like something closer to a skirt than anything in my closet.

The kilt he was wearing featured the tartan design that was part of a Gonzaga business class project from 2014.

In one of those collegiate moments that takes classwork directly into the real world, Dr. Peggy Sue Loroz’s Marketing 490 Promotion Project class developed a signature tartan for Gonzaga.

Most years, the class takes on such a project. Sometimes it’s MOD Pizza or maybe Dutch Bros coffee or even Big Brothers Big Sisters.

But designing an officially licensed tartan that also went through the full approval process of the Scottish Register of Tartans was at a whole other level.

“The students realized their project might be something that could really last,” Loroz said.

That point was proved this week.

And not just with McCulloh’s kilt, though it did make quite the impression.

Earlier in the week, Gonzaga law grad – and U.S. senator from Nevada – Catherine Cortez Masto appeared in a new photo from her office, surrounded by Gonzaga mementoes and photos … while wearing a scarf with the tartan design.

That was a surreal moment for Andrew Gutierrez, a 2014 grad who worked on the tartan.

“It was pretty awesome,” he said. “The tartan was a legacy that myself and a bunch of peers worked on so it’s pretty great to see that it’s becoming a foundation in Gonzaga traditions.”

Which was exactly the point Loroz made to her class as the tartan project began.

A similar moment happened shortly after the marketing class had completed the work and the school hosted a Tartan Day celebration.

“It was so great to see all of our work come to fruition and the tartan on display for the school to see,” Gutierrez said.

So, what was the work? Let’s just say it takes a whole lot more than just a plaid pattern that looks like something from Eddie Vedder’s wardrobe to earn real tartan status.

There were four elements of the design that the class developed to represent Gonzaga’s heritage through the tartan:

  • The blue and white represented Gonzaga’s official colors, which are a tribute to the Virgin Mary.
  • The red crosses represented Gonzaga’s Catholic faith tradition, incorporating one of the university’s accent colors.
  • The white lines represented not only the Holy Trinity, but also cura personalis, Gonzaga’s philosophy of the development and education of the whole person – mind, body and spirit.
  • And the green represents the Italian and Irish cultural heritage of Gonzaga’s founder, the Rev. Joseph Cataldo, as well as the first students who attended Gonzaga.

But it was the name that also made Gutierrez proud. He was the one who came up with “True Blue and White.”

“In the Gonzaga fight song, there is a line that says ‘with Jesuit pride defend the true blue and white,’ ” he explained. Thus the name was born.

Tacoma’s Sarah Hillman also worked on the project as a student. She graduated in 2015 with an accounting degree, while minoring in Entrepreneurial Leadership through the Hogan Program.

Her role in the tartan was even more personal. Hillman literally designed Gonzaga’s tartan. There were three finalists and her design was chosen as the winner.

For her, the project was a great representation of life after college in that it provided a real-world experience working in a corporate team environment.

“We created the tartan, the branding, the initial product line, and the promotional event to reveal it – all from scratch during a semester’s time,” she said. “I loved my time at Gonzaga, and it makes me incredibly proud to be tied to this symbol as a lasting legacy.”

Which gets us back to McCulloh and his kilt.

He delights in surprising Gonzaga students and alums with his often funny outfits at the Las Vegas tournament.

And even though he hammed it up a bit on stage, he took real pride in knowing he was wearing something that literally represented the work of the university’s students.

“Our students do such cool and creative things that being able to play a small role in celebrating what they’ve accomplished is one of the things I love to do the most,” McCulloh said. “The tartan project was really about our students working to capture the culture and history of our university in a way that illustrated Gonzaga’s values and traditions.

“If a kilt can validate that sort of work in some small way, then wearing it for our students and alums here was the least I could do.”

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