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A pineapple mascot stands in front of a trolley with Bellarmine University printed on the side.

Penny the Pineapple joined the Bellarmine University community in fall 2022 to inspire hospitality—and chaos—on campus.

Brendan Sullivan/Bellarmine University

Students at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., were surprised when their longtime mascot, Valor the Knight, suddenly had a new counterpart—a pineapple.  

Penny the Pineapple, who joined the Kentucky campus community in fall 2022, was imagined by student leaders as a way to create a special bond between peers and infuse an element of fun among burned-out students, faculty and staff members.  

Penny provides learners with a fresh source of comradery and an opportunity for inside jokes and engagement on campus. She has appeared at Late Knight Bingo, swum in the pool, celebrated the university’s birthday, completed a yoga battle with Valor and been the subject of a wide swath of memes and TikToks.

New growth: The idea for a student-created mascot came from a late-night brainstorming session at a student leadership summit in July 2022, explains Haley Planica, a recent Bellarmine alumna and former Student Government Association president.  

Inspiration for Penny grew in Bellarmine’s crest, which has four emblems: a pineapple, a tree, a torch and five stripes. Valor the Knight also comes from the crest, which includes a knight’s helmet.  

The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, also associated with authentic and distinctive care, says Helen-Grace Ryan, vice president for student affairs. “Particularly after the pandemic, students came to appreciate the importance of community and resonate with what the pineapple represents.” 

“To the Bellarmine community, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality, something that is cultivated and cherished on our campus,” Planica says. “Thus, Penny the Pineapple was born!”  

That same night, leaders ordered a pineapple costume, and Penny was officially introduced to the campus community at the start of the 2022–23 academic year. Administration trusted students to run with the idea, so after talking with colleagues across the campus, Penny got the green light, Ryan says.   

“The timeline was quick because we wanted her to come as a surprise and to come from thin air,” Planica says. “Penny was never designed to replace Valor, our Bellarmine knight mascot, but the two now work together to celebrate what it means to be a Bellarmine student.” 

Sweet and spiky: As a student mascot, Penny doesn’t have formal appearances or regular programming, but she’s frequently represented on swag and other items on campus. Multiple students assist in Penny the Pineapple events, but her identity remains a secret.  

Penny’s attitude is silly and “a bit mischievous,” but over all, she’s a positive spirit, Ryan says. 

Part of Penny’s goal is to bring “fun chaos” to campus, Planica explains. 

“In the beginning, students were equally confused and intrigued by this chaotic giant pineapple that was increasingly making her presence known at events across campus,” Planica says. “She has grown into a beloved figure and feels like a campuswide inside joke that all students can share in and enjoy.” 

Students have leaned into the chaos, posting memes and videos across various Instagram accounts.  

An SGA member created the first Instagram account for Penny, but the remainder are run by other anonymous students, Planica says.  

“Penny has truly taken on a life of her own among students,” Planica says. “As Penny continues to crash campus events and pop up out of nowhere, students have documented her movements, taken selfies with her and made memes about her. I’ve even seen a fake ‘hate’ page for Penny, which is how you know she’s made it big.” 

Do you have an engagement tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it. 

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