WSU challenge coins — Vizzini’s gift to seniors


Brian Hayes

WSU Provost and Senior Vice President Anthony Vizzini holds one of the challenge coins given to graduates during the ceremony. Dr. Vizzini said he always carries one in his pocket.

This May, when graduating seniors walk across the stage, they have more to claim than just a diploma.

As they shake hands with Provost and Senior Vice President, Anthony Vizzini, he will slip them a challenge coin — a medallion emblazoned with the Wichita State seal.

“It’s a coin carried by faculty, staff, alumni and even friends of the university as a way to show you belong to Wichita State,” Vizzini said.

What may seem like nothing more than a small token is in fact chalked-full of meaning.

“The challenge coin is an old tradition that comes from a story told about World War I,” Vizzini said.

The story goes that a young Allied flying ace was shot down over Germany but escaped his captors and fled to France. The French, fearing he was a German spy, planned to execute him, but he was able to prove his identity by presenting a coin with the emblem of his squadron.

“The tradition is that pilots started always flying with their squadron’s coin after that — as a symbol of what they belonged to,” Vizzini said.

Vizzini brought the tradition to campus to reaffirm graduating seniors’ identity as a part of the university before they head out into the world.

“It’s a way of showing you belong to Wichita State,” Vizzini said. “Each college has their own coin, the president has his own coin, Honors have their own coin now and so does Athletics.”

In military tradition, the presentation of a challenge coin is not taken lightly. Rather, it is a solemn gesture representing the loyalty and identity of recipients. Likewise, not just anybody can get their hands on a Wichita State challenge coin.

“You can’t get the coin; you can’t buy it in the bookstore,” Vizzini said. “But it’s transferred via handshake to the recipients.”

Vizzini said he relishes passing out the tokens and the commencement ceremony in general.

“I love the excitement; I love the chaos,” Vizzini said. “It’s a joy to see the exuberance of these students who have accomplished such great things.”

Outside of handing out challenge coins, Vizzini said he likes to find other ways to make graduation a unique and enjoyable experience. He has even been known to sport yellow sunglasses or a custom WSU Santa hat.

“When I come down off stage, I put my sunglasses on and try to get high fives from the faculty as I leave,” Vizzini said. “I’m always looking for ways to make that ceremony fun and exciting to give it a sense of lasting memories because those are the kind of things people reflect on when they think about their alma mater — a story to tell and a memory to keep.”