January 28, 2019
The Tigers of Clemson University won the national championship three weeks ago. Naturally, Sandy and I had to see the place.
Only kidding. I don’t follow college football. Nor do 99 percent of the people I know. I did watch that big game in which the Tigers dismantled Alabama’s Crimson Tide. I forgot about it almost immediately afterward.
But I had a full week of no medical stuff scheduled, and Virginia was dreary and cold, so we decided abruptly to drive to South Carolina to see our daughter/son-in-law/grandkids—although we’d just been there for Christmas. Clemson is an hour away from their place. Mike was on a work trip, so Sandy and I along with Marie and the kids went. The little field trip got us back “on the road,” seeing a place we’ve never seen and most likely will never see again, this time a Division I football campus.
Although daughter Marie graduated from the University of Tennessee and son-in-law Mike went to Penn State, the big state university world is alien to me. I got my A.B. and M.A. from small liberal arts colleges. But I’m getting used to looking for odd, even bizarre adventures—things you may get only one shot at. Welcome the experience and learn from it, if there’s anything to learn.
Apart from ESPN, Clemson’s national championship probably got its biggest press coverage for the fast-food banquet for the team’s visit to the White House, laid out by President Trump after he shut down nine federal departments. Not the players’ fault they became props in a chapter of that sad, seedy melodrama.
Clemson was founded in 1889 as Clemson Agricultural College by Thomas Green Clemson, a Philadelphia native who married the daughter of Senator John C. Calhoun. Clemson enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 54 and served during the Civil War, along with his son. Later, through a convoluted series of transactions, he and his wife inherited the property on which the university was founded. Clemson now sits, grimacing in bronze, on a pedestal in front of Tillman Hall.
The Agricultural College opened in 1893. The school graduated its first class in 1896 with majors in agriculture and mechanical engineering. Until 1955 Clemson was an all-white, all-male military academy, although the school didn’t officially ban women or blacks. In 1955 the first white women enrolled, and in 1963 the school admitted its first Afro-American student, Harvey Gantt, who later became mayor of Charlotte. Oddly, the campus hosts a Strom Thurmond Institute; nearby is the Clemson Area Afro-American Museum. The school became Clemson University in 1964.
We followed a trail of bright orange tiger paws along a four-lane road onto the campus and parked at the Class of 1944 Visitor’s Center. With a campus map we tramped past a hodgepodge of glass-and-brick-or-concrete campus buildings to the massive Hendrix Student Center, which strangely was nearly deserted. We enjoyed ice cream cones at the student-run ice cream parlor.
From there I had to see Tillman Hall, which boasts a tall clock tower and thereby stands out from the other uniformly modernish, flat-roofed campus architecture. We passed Carillon Garden, donated in 1993 by the golden anniversary class of 1943 to honor students who died in combat during World War II. We slogged around the glittering Reflection Pool and past the football-field-length Cooper Library, one side of which, in broad daylight, offered a light show advertising the virtues of a Clemson education: agriculture, engineering, overseas studies, a National Championship football team, among others.
Memorial Stadium, also called “Death Valley,” meaning for visiting teams, has a seating capacity of about 82,000. It appears surprisingly small, compared to the massive venues at Penn State, U-Tenn., Florida State, the few I’ve visited. Lampposts along routes to the stadium are festooned with banners that cite one survey or another: “happiest students,” “best S.C. education value,” “great alumni support,” and so on.
Although educators widely ignore the annual U.S. News rankings of colleges and universities, the higher-ranked schools typically flog them as testimonials. Clemson, which the magazine grades as 24th among public universities, is no exception. Although I once heard the school called a “farmers’ college” by someone who would know, that was some years ago. I’m sure that, if you apply yourself, you get an excellent state university education at Clemson.
We straggled back to the car, exhausted, our daughter not convinced that Clemson is the place for our grandsons. She and Mike are thinking more of Stanford. Clemson, though, would offer in-state tuition. Plus football.