By Brian Sherrill, Staff Writer

“Free Hugs Guy” Jacob Ragsdale hugs a student - Courtesy of Brian Sherrill/The Current
“Free Hugs Guy” Jacob Ragsdale hugs a student – Courtesy of Brian Sherrill/The Current

One student has allegedly been coasting throughout the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus giving people something free all semester. His shenanigans have been elusive, and he has been mysterious, but The Current has sought him out.

He glides across the quad like a falling leaf in the wind, and he slides in and out of buildings with a tall, brown, cardboard sign on a stick with “free hugs” scribbled on it in black sharpie, searching to serve out some justice and some smiles. Many students have probably already heard of him. Some have laid witness to his antics. They call him “The Free Hugs Guy,” and he gives those in need free hugs.

Jacob Ragsdale, a 16-year-old high school junior from O’Fallon, Mo., first made the sign back in June. He said, “I brought it with me to Camp Kairos, which is a Christian camp, and I’ve been carrying it ever since. I take the sign almost everywhere. At first I didn’t bring it to UMSL because I was a little embarrassed to do this, but now I carry my sign proudly. Now I bring it all the time and I love it. I love when I get to make people smile because of it. I think I’ve learned to be more outgoing. A lot of people will laugh when they see my sign, but I don’t care. I just keep smiling and keep walking.”

Alex Mork, junior information systems major, said, “I think it’s weird, a guy walking around with a ‘free hugs’ sign.”

Khalfani Mar Na, senior, English major, said, “Hugs are always welcome. People are too closed off in the wake of the political and social movements as of late.”

The Free Hugs Guy commutes forty minutes, three to four days a week to campus to take Japanese at UMSL for dual credit. He brings the sign with him everywhere and has learned that people at some places give out more hugs than others. Ragsdale said, “Like Costco for example, I get a lot there. I’m not sure why. I usually don’t get a whole lot at UMSL. There are some days I only get one, or none at all, except for the day after the election. I got a lot that day. I guess people needed a hug that day.”

“I don’t want to be one of those Christians that goes around telling everybody they’re a sinner,” Ragsdale said. “Instead, I’m simply spreading God’s love. That’s not the only reason though. You just never know who might just need a hug. You’ll see somebody and think they’re just going to keep walking, but then they turn and take a hug and that’s cool. What’s really fun is when one person in a group of friends takes a hug, and the rest sort of give in and they all get a hug. Honestly the coolest thing that’s happened is this interview. I had no idea I was famous enough for this kind of thing! I’m not doing this to gain popularity or anything, but it is kind of cool.”

Finals week is next week and anxiety levels are undoubtedly going to be high. This time of the semester may be when students need The Free Hugs Guy most – for good luck and maybe for some Christmas cheer. Whichever your reason, Ragsdale wishes everyone good luck and a merry Christmas.