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Visit to Sewanee leaves you with YSR

John Curry/Staff Loran Smith, new mug shot

John Curry/Staff Loran Smith, new mug shot

The notion of higher education always brings about feelings of sentimental warmth. When you walk a college campus and absorb the atmosphere and environment, you find yourself thinking aloud, if you are anything like this campus collector, “I would like to have enrolled here.”

There are more than 1,543 matriculates who can tell you what it is like to be a student at Sewanee, Tenn., where fall graphically defines the beauty and essence of the campus. The splendor of autumn leaves, the brisk morning temperatures, and a landscape of mountains and hardwoods offer a refreshing environment that has to make it readily conducive to learning at the University of the South.

An Episcopal enclave, there are plentiful facts as prestigious as the hardwoods are becoming in spring and fall. You see enough graying stone and gowns to remind you of Oxford. In fact, Breslin Tower is modeled after Magdalen College, Oxford. The only difference is that you hear Southern accents, not British. Pause and reflect, however, and you can imagine yourself on the banks of the Thames.

An informative brochure reminds you that the gown signifies scholastic and leadership achievement, which is why most professors wear it during lectures, and students with high academic achievement wear it to class. You don’t see short shorts and tattered blue jeans when you walk the Sewanee campus, a reminder that while the informality we find on most campuses is not something to get bent out of shape over, it is nice to drop in where old-line traditions still permeate the atmosphere.

The University of the South is like the University of North Carolina. You say Chapel Hill and everybody knows that you are referring to UNC. More often than not, you hear someone say Sewanee, you know they are talking about the University of the South, not the little town of 2,472 people, a few shops and cafes, and an unparalleled view of the Cumberland Plateau.

“When I came here for an interview,” said Provost Linda Bright Lankewicz, a graduate of the University of Georgia, “I thought how wonderful it would be to work in an environment like Sewanee’s. I was overwhelmed and still am. To come to work every day in this setting makes you feel good throughout the day. We (she and husband Frank, who played football for the Bulldogs) love Sewanee.”

Although it snows in winter, the winters are mild, and it is never unbearably hot in summer. There is an inspirational ambience throughout the campus. You might see a professor, in his gown, discoursing on a serious topic, surrounded by a dozen students or less. The student-teacher ratio is 11-1.

Sewanee is not a place for those with only a bookish bent. In fact, the well-rounded concept is forever underscored. They play football here, too, and while you don’t hear of the Tigers hosting ESPN’s Gameday crew, to appreciate Sewanee’s history, check the record book or interview Mark Webb, the athletic director. In the old days, anybody who scheduled Sewanee had his hands full.

Sewanee’s Iron Men of 1899 not only went undefeated (12-0), they shut out all but one team, including Georgia. The only points scored on Sewanee all year were those of the Auburn Tigers, who scored 10 points in an 11-10 loss to the Iron Men. What set this team apart and will keep their record aglow for years to come is that they won five games in six days — all on the road. Succumbing to the Tigers’ might were, in addition to Georgia, Texas, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, LSU, Tulane, Ole Miss, North Carolina and Tennessee. Those guys were good.

You see the symbol “YSR,” about the campus. The acronym means, “Yea, Sewanee’s Right!” Come here, even for a brief visit, and you will agree.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.