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The guest column originally appeared in The Greeneville Sun:
A Look Around: Pomp And Circumstance
By Paige Mengel
As an alumna of Tusculum College, I was a member of their Alumni Executive Board for 20 years. I became part of their theater group under the leadership of Dave Behan while attending school, so it was only natural that I became involved with the theatrical productions when my daughter was involved in them.
I met Frank while working on those productions, and we were married on the stage in the Annie Hogan Byrd Auditorium. I’ve been involved in productions there ever since.
To say I’ve spent quite a bit of time on campus is an understatement. This past Friday, though, was different. I was invited to represent my class in the processional march for the inauguration of the new president of the newly changed Tusculum University as it embarks on its 225th year of educating students.
With such a long history come traditions. These traditions are never more evident than in ceremonies like graduations or presidential inaugurations. The procession is only the beginning. Actually, preparing for the procession is the true beginning.
The academic regalia is steeped in tradition and follows strict rules. The colors of the robes come from the institutions the wearers attended. There are hoods that signify which degree was obtained by their length and trim colors. Some robes have velvet facings and bars on the sleeves to designate a doctoral degree. Hats and tassels are different based on the degree obtained as well.
Once everyone is dressed appropriately and the time is right, the procession begins. Walking into the gymnasium that was adorned in black and orange had to be done in proper order, accompanied by a bagpiper in Scottish regalia and the ceremonial mace bearer. There were members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, and alumni, all wearing our robes. There were family members of the president, current students, and members of the community, and a U.S. Senator present to witness the ceremonial conferring of the presidency of the institution.
The ceremony itself was traditional, with a welcome to the new president from the board, the faculty, the Presbyterian church, and the students. Student government representatives took to the podium, proud to be a part of the ceremony.
In a society that becomes more and more casual each day, I will admit it was a welcome sight.
In a world where we hear that “spelling doesn’t matter on the internet” and “casual Friday” has become “casual everyday,” it was refreshing to see a ceremony where there was a time and place for everything.
As I watched it all and listened to the speeches, I noticed my chin rising a little higher as I realized what has been accomplished over the last 225 years, just up the road a little ways from town, “’neath oaks that so long have stood watching.”
Imagine what it took to create an institution of higher learning 225 years ago in a mountainous region of an area that wasn’t even a state yet. Imagine what it has taken to weather 225 years of change, strife, war, economic downturns, economic upturns and the inherent difficulties of keeping up with the world.
Think what it took to become an institution that welcomed students from over 30 countries to its classrooms this year.
Now imagine what it will take to remain relevant for the next 225 years.
After all the pomp and circumstance, of which I am proud and grateful to have been some small part, that’s what the new president is doing. Congratulations and Godspeed, Dr. James Hurley!
Fortunately, you stand on some tall shoulders.
About the author: Greeneville native Paige Mengel is a Tusculum College alumna, CPA, arts admirer and Business Coordinator of Greeneville Theatre Guild.
A Look Around is published every other Tuesday in Lifestyles in The Greeneville Sun.