Of Oak and Stone: An Auburn Springtime Reflection

Editor’s note: Here’s something I wrote around this time last year. It originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of East Alabama Living. With softball starting up, I figured now a good time to share it here.

I took a walk across campus recently. There were some brand new old things I wanted to see for the first time.

I started at Toomer’s Corner, where, once again, newly transplanted trees welcome family and guests to the Loveliest Village. These oaks are smaller than their predecessors. Dr. Keever tells us their size is an advantage for establishment. They certainly appear young and vibrant—primed for starting afresh; for maturing and thriving where they’re planted.

I’m no arborist. But, I can call it like I see it.

While these trees have been at Toomer’s Corner just a few months, they’re already part of something old. They are new symbols, but they represent an old tradition—celebrating the Auburn spirit at Toomer’s Corner.

The newest Oaks are still supported by guide wires, and we don’t know when they’ll be ready to roll. And yet, they instantly play a role in the image of the city, and in the story of the people. So the Oaks at Toomer’s Corner are new, but they’re also something old. You can walk to the other side of campus, and find this same dynamic at the Auburn Memorial.

You could easily walk past it unaware. That’s by design. The Memorial Garden holds a sense of seclusion, though located right alongside Mell St., steps away from the Samford Ave. intersection.

The day I visited wasn’t Auburn’s busiest, but there were several folks on campus. It was a pretty, cool day; and people were enjoying it. There’s always something going on. This day the Boy Scouts were having Merit Badge University. There was plenty of activity, but the Memorial and its garden were peaceful.

The Memorial “celebrates the lives of all who have been a part of Auburn University.” The real genius of its concept is that the Memorial gives freedom to the individual. It doesn’t guide your reflection with any new words, but uses only old ones that have proven meaningful to the Auburn Family.

There are seven granite pillars, each displaying one line from the Auburn Creed. The Creed’s final line—the only one that connects the poem expressly to Auburn—is presented separately, on a plaque that explains the Memorial’s purpose.

In this way, too, the visitor determines the experience. You could meditate on the values upheld in these seven proverbs, and remember anyone who lived by them.

The Auburn Creed was written in 1943. But, really the words are older. Dr. George Petrie, who wrote the Creed, joined Auburn’s faculty in 1887. He had unique perspective from serving the University during critically formative years for the institution.

He poured into the Creed the spirit of older, time-tested wisdom. The oldest words in the Creed are those taken from the Hebrew Bible; a summation people of any faith might well affirm:

“. . . doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.”

At the Auburn Memorial, these old words speak to us in a new presentation. So, there too we have something new that is also something old.

It’s fitting that the newest Auburn Oaks and the Auburn Memorial share this dynamic. One naturally directs us to remember; the other, to look ahead—to when the Oaks are larger, to the next great reason to roll them.

And in both looking back and looking ahead, we are wise to honor tradition while also embracing new opportunities, and finding brave answers for new challenges. If we’ll let them, the new Oaks and the Auburn Memorial will work together, inspiring the Auburn Family to remain young and vibrant, but also strong as granite.

Josh Dowdy

Josh Dowdy

Josh Dowdy writes about civility and ceremony in the Auburn covenant; e.g. sein Tuberville-Buch.
Josh Dowdy

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