Posted on May 28, 2015
As spring blossoms and the days warm, many of us are called away to that American right of passage, college graduation. As this day arrives and families flood campuses across the country, students are relieved and reflective; grand parents, proud; siblings, wishful; and parents, often just plain thankful. Usually, especially on small campuses, ceremonies take place right on the great lawn, where just days before students scampered across late to their final final exam. Stages are erected and chairs set in a fan array facing the usual backdrop- Old Main.
Most colleges and universities have an Old Main, or at least the equivalent- the first academic building on campus. The first building that marked the institution’s forming and today, with days gone by, the institution’s heritage and legacy.
On this day, my daughter’s last day of college (or, so I’ve been told), we sit facing Old Main- an old plaster building with a Greek pediment and two twin towers- a building that’s life has spanned some 150 years. Built by a Methodist preacher with the largest gift given at the time to form a college in the United States. The school, Wofford College, was a small South Carolinian liberal arts institution that has since grown little over the years- its small campus remains charming and intimate, and at the center of this park-like setting still sits Old Main, flanked by magnificent magnolia trees.
The college has seen much in its day. It has seen the civil war and the abolition of slavery. It has seen the roaring 20’s and Great Depression, the Great War, and after that, a Second Great War, where it served as training ground for pilots. It witnessed the turbulent times of the 60’s & 70’s, and it witnessed the rise and fall of the Mill town that surrounded it.
Today, students dressed in black gowns and caps were surrounded by a sea of sear-sucker, bow ties, and ladies in their Sunday best. In front, next to the stage, sat the class of ’65, reliving their moment 50 years ago today, when they had started on their journey. The commencement speaker spoke of all that had happened since the day these graduating students entered the gates of this institution; then, all that had passed since the Class of ’65 had graced its grounds. It was hard to imagine the change in this world over the past 50 years; a man on the moon, microwaves and cell phones, personal computers, wars, our first black president. But then, the speaker turned his focus to Old Main. It had been there through it all. It had witnessed first loves, lost loves, friendships blossom and forgotten.
Old Main was more than just a building, for it embodied the very hopes, dreams and fears of the students here today. Each was required to take at least one course in its halls. Each student would form a special bond, one they would carry with them for the rest of their lives. In the four years of their schooling Old Main had remained a constant; it stood through the snow, the wind and rain. It was always there, steadfast and unmoving. It reminded them that there were many who came before and there would be many who would come after, and like those who came before, many would leave its presence to make a mark on the world. No matter where they went, or where life took them, Old Main would remain as a constant reminder in their memories, their minds and in their hearts.
At the end of the ceremony the crowd stood and the students lead them in a Hymn as one last sentiment in one common voice:
On the city’s northern border,
Reared against the sky
Proudly stands our Alma Mater
As the years go by.
May it ever be our watchword.
“Conquer and prevail”
Hail to thee our Alma Mater
Dear old Wofford hail!
As the crowd began to disperse, many filtered off with family. But most paused for one last photograph with an old friend- Old Main.