Student Tattoos and the Meaning Behind the Ink


One of Melissa Basemen's 15 tattoos. Credit: Melissa Basemen

Though you can’t see most of with the naked eye, people at Williston, including faculty, have some interesting body art hiding beneath their dress code clothing.

Melissa Baseman ’21, from São Paulo, Brazil, has 15 tattoos. These includes images of the sun and the moon, a triangular star, the words “honey,” “audacious,” “poison,” and “sinner,” a smiley face, another moon, and an eye. They are located all over parts of her body, including the inside of her lower lip and on her ribs.

“Some of them have meanings behind them and some of them are just stupid,” she said. “Sometimes I look back and say, ‘Why did I do that?’ but they’re so small. I’m always going to remember this part of my life even though it was hard.”

Though some reflect different parts of the journey she’s been on, which includes a stint as a model, others, Melissa said, she just got for fun.

Melissa explained, “The sun and the moon represent the feminine and masculine sign. The word ‘poison’ to remind me of how toxic my modeling experience was. I got the triangular star with my best friend. I have ‘honey’ on my ribs because ‘Mel’ in Portuguese means “honey.”

Senior Christian Anzeveno ’19, has some ink of his own, including a piece that covers what he says is about 75 percent of his left shoulder. It is a cross with praying hands with rosary beads around it. “I got it because my grandma passed away when I was younger,” he explained. “I also got it because I wanted to do something for myself because I’ve accomplished a lot.”

A student who preferred to be anonymous has two tattoos located on the left side of her back and on the right side of her ribs. The first one she got shows the coordinates her childhood home on the left side of her back.  The other is of the molecular structure of dopamine, on the side of her ribs.

The first tattoo has special significance for her. “My family moved around a lot, but I’ve have always associated ‘home’ with the house I grew up in and all the memories I had along with it,” she said.

The tattoo, in a way, grounded her when things in her life were changing.

“Around a year-and-a-half ago I came out to my parents as bisexual and I had trouble with identity and who I was because of all the changes that were happening,” she said. “Getting that tattoo was a reminder to myself that I was still the same person I was and was a way for me to not lose touch of that.”

The dopamine tattoo is “just a reminder to myself to enjoy the pleasures in life.” Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with pleasure and happiness.

The student does not regret either of her tattoos, but things could get dicey if her parents discover them.

“They do not know about them, but I am pretty sure they will disown me if they find out,” she said.

A faculty member with a tattoo is psychology and child development teacher Matthew Porter. He has a bible verse from Philippians 4:13 on his left shoulder. The verse reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Porter said his mom allowed him to get inked as long as it “meant something to me and wasn’t visible.” He’s ready for more. He jokingly added, “I want to get about five or six more tattoos.”

English teacher Ryan Tyree has four tattoos, some of them clearly visible. They include images from his former band’s artwork as well as iconography from the J.R.R. Tolkien stories he read as a child. Tolkien is the celebrated author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

Another of Tyree’s tattoos has a much more personal story behind it. The most recent ink he got, on his leg, is a memorial of his and his wife’s first son, Dylan, who died at birth.

When Dylan’s fourth birthday was approaching, Tyree told The Willistonian he felt “compelled” to design a tribute tattoo.

“To the casual observer, the maritime iconography of a ship’s anchor is easy to identify,” Tyree said of the ink. “But I had more in mind for this design,” he continued. “As far as placement, I felt that the metaphor of an iceberg was the way to go; when I wear shorts, you may catch a glimpse, but there’s quite a bit more tattoo under the surface. This symbolizes how most of the world is unaware of the fact that our family has three children, yet it’s a massive chunk of iceberg only too obvious to us.”

The image, Tyree explained, functions at the same time as an inverted monogram of Dylan’s initials, so that, from his perspective looking down, the anchor of the image forms the central “T.” And further up his leg is part of a poem Tyree wrote about Dylan. It reads, “…a letter unopened hence never mailed / Our craft that foundered without having sailed / A flame extinguished before giving light / Bless us with dreams of holding you tonight…”

Another student who’s chosen to add permanent artwork to her body is senior Stella Piasecki. Stella has two tattoos, including a turtle on her inner ankle, and three connected circles on the inside of her forearm.

“The circles are for each of my siblings, and I have been in love with turtles for my whole entire life,” Stella, from Great Barrington, Mass., said. “They’re just my favorite animal.” Pointing to her ankle, Stella said, “My brother drew me this turtle.”

Stella’s friend gave her both of her “stick and poke” tattoos. These DIY tattoos involve dipping a sharp point in ink. Despite her grandmother’s insistence that she now can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery, Stella said she plans on getting another tattoo this summer, though she’s not sure what it will be.

(The Torah forbids Jews from tattooing themselves, although, according to, a Jewish person with a tattoo can still be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The myth comes from the fact that one may choose to not be buried next to another who has willingly tattooed him or herself, which is considered a “violation of Jewish Law.”)

Reagan Joyce ’20 has a small tattoo on her inner right ankle of an arrow. “It’s pointing forwards and it symbolizes the idea for me to keep moving forward, and not get stuck in the past,” Reagan said.

Reagan plans on getting another tattoo this summer, of a bible verse, though she’s not sure which one. It won’t be a stick and poke tattoo, she said.

Tattoos have been around for more than 12,000 years. Different cultural traditions saw people using rose thorns, shark teeth, and pelican bones to insert the ink. Tattoos have been used as methods of healing and worship, symbol of ranks and accomplishments, and as punishment

There are four tattoo parlors in Easthampton and more in nearby Northampton and Holyoke. One must be 18 years old in the state of Massachusetts to get one.