History and Traditions

University Mission

Our academic programs, research, public service, and creative endeavors enrich lives and create opportunities in Arizona and beyond. We develop solutions to challenges and drive innovation in a supportive, inclusive, and diverse environment.

University Vision

Rigorous programs and pioneering research with substantial community impact provide the foundation for transformational student opportunities that prepare graduates to excel in creating a sustainable future, nationally and globally.
  • NAU is distinguished for its quality of teaching, focusing on student-centered learning experiences in creative environments and for its dynamic research. We challenge students to adapt and respond to evolving social pressures and global issues.
  • NAU is celebrated for its personally transformational relationships that enhance educational opportunities. We empower students to succeed by ensuring accessibility and inclusiveness of diverse experiences and backgrounds.
  • NAU is renowned for its national and global leadership and service as our graduates guide the world toward a vibrant future, creating cultural vitality, superior education, improved public health, and positive economic outcomes throughout our communities.

University Values

  • Excellence in Education—Offer a rigorous, high-quality education to all students
  • Student Success—Place learner needs at the center of our academic and service planning, policies, and programs
  • Educational Access—Provide all qualified students with access to higher education
  • Diversity—Achieve multicultural understanding as a priority of educational and civic life
  • Integrity—Operate with fairness, honesty, and the highest ethical standards to sustain a community of trust
  • Civility—Support a civil, engaging, and respectful campus climate

History and Traditions


On January 16, 1899, N.O. Murphy, governor of the Territory of Arizona, recommended that the unused territorial building erected in Flagstaff in 1893, be put to use as a normal school. Henry Ashurst, Coconino County Representative to the Legislature, introduced House Bill 44 on February 6, 1899 which authorized the establishment of the Northern Arizona Normal School. 

The first term began September 11, 1899, under the direction of Professor A.N. Taylor with Miss Frances Bury assisting. Twenty-three students enrolled the following week. The first graduating class, in 1901, consisted of four women who received life certificates to teach in Arizona.

The school has undergone several name changes: in 1925 to "Northern Arizona State Teachers College"; in 1928 to "Arizona State Teachers College of Flagstaff"; and in 1945 to "Arizona State College of Flagstaff". In 1964, the Board of Regents approved university status for ASC. In May of 1966, the current name of "Northern Arizona University" was officially adopted. For a detailed history, involving old photographs, handbooks, catalogs, and yearbooks, contact the Special Collections Library.

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Celebrations
This set of celebrations sponsored by Asian-Pacific student organizations, focuses on Asian-Pacific heritage through various educational and cultural events.
Black History Month
February is Black History Month. Sponsored by African-American student organizations, the month consists of performances, movies and lectures and is designed to make the university community aware of the contributions of African-Americans in the development of this country.
Hispanic Heritage Celebrations
Sponsored by Hispanic student organizations, this set of celebrations focus on the Hispanic heritage through various educational and cultural events.
Native American Heritage Celebrations
Celebrations sponsored by Native American student organizations focus on Native American heritage through various educational and cultural events.
Family Weekend
This traditional fall event is dedicated to the parents and families of students. A wide range of activities, including receptions, live entertainment, a pre-game barbeque, a football game, casino night, and a Sunday brunch are scheduled for this annual celebration.
Greek Week
Greek Week is a week of alcohol-free activities and philanthropy projects designed to celebrate the history, purpose, and accomplishments of fraternities and sororities. All money raised during the week is designated to local and national charities. The week is sponsored by the Interfraternity, Panhellenic, and United Greek Councils and includes fraternities and sororities teaming up to win various Greek Week Awards.
Tree Lighting and Luminarias
The NAU campus community celebrates the winter season with the lighting of an evergreen tree and beautiful luminarias that line the streets around the historic North campus.

Homecoming has been a Northern Arizona University tradition since 1924 when it was named "Northern Arizona Normal School". This special event is a time to welcome alumni back to campus and to enjoy a week of activities. Activities include the annual bonfire and pep rally (known as Traditions Day), Alumni Awards, the Homecoming Dedicatee banquet, the colorful Homecoming Day Parade, and the football game. 

Each Homecoming is dedicated to a faculty, administrator or staff member of the university who has demonstrated exceptional service to, and interest in, students. Selection of the Homecoming Dedicatee is made by a committee of students representing campus organizations. 

Logging Wheels
The huge logging wheels, once used with horses to drag large logs out of the forest, are now used in the Homecoming parade. Historically, Chain Gang coordinates the logging wheels entry into parade each year and for the rest of the year they are anchored near the School of Forestry. 
The "Lumberjack" is the traditional mascot and has been used since 1915 as the name for the athletic teams.