Anyone who has read any of my articles or books knows that I am all about legacy, tradition, history, and antiquity. I gaze upon old things with reverence, touch them with awe. I feel a connection when I wander through an old graveyard and find the grave of a long-gone ancestor that died a century before I was born.
When I attended my first event in the new Sam Rayburn Student Center on the campus of my alma mater shortly after it was built, I didn’t see any of the old presidents’ pictures and some of the history that had been displayed in the former student center. When I asked about them, I was referred to a kiosk where I could key in information and see university history.
Soon after, I casually mentioned (okay, maybe it was a sarcastic comment) to Randy VanDeven, Vice President for University Advancement, that if one were blindfolded and brought into the building, especially to the second floor, a first-time visitor would not be able to name the campus or the building they were in when the mask was removed. I might have even offered a small wager.
Four years later, Randy invited me back to that same spot during Homecoming weekend and the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the university where I earned my degree. He proudly pointed to the photographic display of the history of what is now Texas A&M University-Commerce from the days when it was East Texas Normal to today. It changed from East Texas State College to East Texas State University during my time as a student.
The display is impressive and well, it did bring feelings of nostalgia, even on a day when my mind was on other things. As Randy and I discussed and examined each of the displays, I watched students and campus visitors take them in as they arrived. The display widened eyes and brought smiles.
Some would say that we are being too sentimental, that students, especially young ones, don’t care about such things. I beg to differ. I was about as unsentimental as they come during my college tenure, remarking often that I just wanted that sheepskin. I vowed to never return to campus after I earned my degree. But as the sheepskin started to become less a dream and more a reality, I began to appreciate the traditions, the legacy of those who had gone before.
I stared at paintings of former presidents that hung on the walls (they seemed to stare at me—challenge me). I perused old yearbooks, looking at the faces of former students who had distinguished themselves in some fashion, wondering if I would ever be worthy enough to follow in their footsteps. I am fairly certain, however, that I would never have approached a kiosk to learn my university’s history. It I had, I doubt that it would have brought the same feeling of respect.
In addition to Randy, we owe gratitude to Paul Bryan, Terry Goen, Wendy Morgan, Robyn Price, Shanna Strunk, and Andrea Weddle for this impressive nod to tradition. They put a lot of work into this display and it shows.
Now, students can step into their student center and know that others have blazed a trail for them, that the university they chose is steeped in tradition—that they are part of something bigger than themselves. This university may have had several names, but always the same trunk, the same root system, and they can take pride in becoming a branch of that honorable tree.