Sometimes, I treat myself with a jog around my alma mater, Western Kentucky University. I begin by walking up College Street nearly doubled over because of the steep incline, taking a brief rest when I reach Cherry Hall under the watchful statue gaze of Henry Hardin Cherry, the school’s first official president. In spite of the sweat, tired lungs and aching calves, I love a lot of things about my occasional jogs around WKU’s campus.
As a student, I often ran around campus, always staring at the sidewalk, pumping my legs back to McLean Hall. These runs were always in the evening, usually around sundown. As an alumna, I’ve come to appreciate the solitude of Saturday and Sunday mornings for a workout. But those runs up and down the slopes of dear old Western are my favorites. I took one such run Saturday morning.
The majesty first hits me as I pass Hilligan’s, the long-time prime student sports bar that was called Froggy’s Bar and Grill when I first came to town in 2009. Although I didn’t visit the establishment until after I had graduated, I have always been familiar with the college-town whir and buzz of excitement that emanates from inside and spills out onto the patio in the warmer months, especially on a Friday night. Walking by with my workout tunes plugged into my ears, I see the darkened bar and overturned chairs on tables. As the morning light stretches through the windows and nudges the shadows away, Hilligan’s, in my mind, assumes a demeanor similar to that of a young mother, cherishing a few more stolen minutes of sleep before her rowdy children come bounding in, full of life and eager to investigate the surprises that await them under her care. But, also like a mother, Hilligan’s seems content with the bounding of the rowdy children and relishes each expression and idiosyncrasy.
After a gaze down the hill onto sleepy downtown Bowling Green, I begin my run. I pass other reminders of my college days; Thompson Complex, where I took my last and only college math class; the Industrial Education Building, where I once ducked into a doorway to wrestle with a broken umbrella during a sudden deluge; the Adams-Whitaker Student Publications Center, where I spent all but one semester of my college career honing myself for my future – albeit short-lived – career as a journalist; Downing Student Union – formerly Downing University Center, affectionately called DUC (pronounced “duck”) – where I definitely got my money’s worth at our cafeteria, Fresh Food Company.
Each crack in the sidewalk, each crosswalk, each blooming tree occupies a place in my mental survey of the school that still shows itself on some of my clothes and wall hangings. I still remember which concrete steps require me to lift my foot higher so as to avoid tripping. I still remember the exact location where my legs will burn the most on the way to Cherry Hall. I still remember the fastest route to get from Minton Hall to the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center for Spanish class (up the sidewalk that hugs Grise Hall, then up the almost vertical stairs that lead to the back of the building, in case you were wondering).
I like to keep my jogs few and far between because, in a way, my absence from campus makes my heart grow fonder for it. This is not to say that I am ignorant to the problems that plague Kentucky’s third largest university. Recent stories in the New York Times and in the Talisman, one of the publications that employed me during college, have confirmed suspicions I have had for some time regarding the university’s finances, international program and administration.
Among the things that trouble me most about humanity is hypocrisy, not religiously, but secularly. WKU’s campus is gorgeous, no doubt, but ugliness lurks throughout the collection of stone walls, sculptures, athletic fields and bus stops.
At the same time, I cannot fault the campus – as if it were a living, breathing entity – nor professors, staff or eatery workers who touched my life during those four years for the alleged depravity that exists in people at other levels. After all, as Thomas Hobbes said, “It is in the laws of a commonwealth, as in the laws of gaming: Whatsoever the gamesters all agree on, is injustice to none of them.”
I also don’t think myself naive enough to believe that my beloved WKU is the only university or organization in Kentucky, the nation or the world that endures underhanded deals and backdoor meetings. I have strong opinions about what I view as a mismanagement of funds to erect a Taj Mahal or Buckingham Palace every other year at the cost of hiked tuition that makes it easier than ever for students to go back home after a semester or two. In a way, however, it’s these proverbial cracked eggs that have made the WKU omelet.
Perhaps I should (and sometimes do) ignore the corruption slithering around the Hill in exchange for a romantic, idealistic perspective of the window dressing that provokes reminiscence. And maybe that’s the very idea behind various decisions born from the minds of those entangled in the whispered corruption. You know what they say: perception is reality.
As I close out this post, I hear the bells of Cherry Hall chiming from the WKU trademark cupola. Those bells are part of the reason I chose my apartment. Without WKU, I wouldn’t have found Bowling Green, the city I love and that enticed me to stay after graduation. Without Bowling Green, I wouldn’t have found Cory, the man I love and fellow WKU alum.
When I take those precious jogs around campus, I feel a warmth that has nothing to do with my compression pants or the rising sun. Dear old Western isn’t perfect, but “dear old Western” it remains. When the campus and I get those mornings alone while countless students sleep off hangovers or simply sleep in on their day off, I know that I love the place.
So, Western, here’s to memories made and memories to make. Thanks for just being you.
We’ve got the team,
we’ve got the steam,
for this is dear old Western’s day!
-WKU Fight Song