State of Sewanee: The power of the gown

Alec Hill (C’16) is the president of the Order of the Gownsmen.

By Alec Hill

Contributing Writer

Except for a few recent days or half-days of sun—usually accompanied by impolite amounts of wind—it’s been a bleak February, weather-wise. Monday the fifteenth might have brought the single worst day of weather I have experienced at Sewanee. Thirty-six degrees and raining, all day long. I went straight back to dorm and bed after dinner that night, ready for the weekend after a single school day.

The average Sewanee week holds at least as many exhausting and annoying days as it does easy and fun ones, and in conditions like these, the school year feels like a slog. Students and professors alike lose track of where we are, where we are headed, and what goals we held at the outset. Just six weeks ago, the spring semester started with fresh thrills: friends returning from abroad, seniors comping, then Shake Day. Looking back, those events feel long gone, and we’re still a little too far from March to feel like spring is around the corner—not that this jobless senior is particularly craving the end of the school year anyway, but you get my point. What’s there to get excited about in Sewanee during the blank spots on the calendar between Shake Day and Spring Party, comping and graduation?

I hope that, by asking these questions, I’m not taking the wind out of my friends and classmates’ already-slackening sails. For I think there is actually much to appreciate about these points in the school year (early November strikes me as a similar point in the Fall). In these weeks, we have the chance to choose for ourselves what we value about Sewanee on a day-to-day level, not as it comes during pre-packaged party weekends and other ritualized delights. One gift that we too often fail to take advantage of is the opportunity to do what we are all actually here to do: be students, the best ones we can be.

As President of the Order of Gownsmen (my friends always laugh at me for using that phrase, so I hope they never read this), I am always encouraging people to wear their gowns, and to take pride in their academics, as that symbolic garment calls us to do. Even so, I really only wear my gown a few times during a normal week: usually to my English classes, rarely to a Snowden class, and almost never when I’m walking around campus.It feels goofy to wear, but hypocritical for me not to wear, and I think this conflict speaks to the larger question of how to take full advantage of every moment we get on this mountain, even when some of those moments feel more like burdens than gifts.

Whether it be digging into a mountain of homework on a Monday night without a clue of how we’re going to get it all done (let alone make it back to Quintard when it’s eighteen degrees out), or juggling nine different obligations on a rainy mid-week morning, we are surrounded by moments that are utterly different from what our lives will look like when we graduate. Now, without the wonderful distractions that keep us going in September and October, January and April, is a time for everyone to remind themselves that being a Sewanee student is a blessed distraction in itself.

It’s likely that these words have all been an extended pep talk to myself, of no use to anyone else. Quite possibly, the majority of Sewanee students are doing just peachy. By the looks on some of my friends’ faces in recent days, though, I suspect not. So I will conclude by saying that we have some kind of ethical-spiritual duty to try to appreciate a Hydrology lab on Lake Cheston in the pouring rain, or the sight of Dr. Engel negotiating with his dog outside of Gailor, or the sight of the same McClurg meal transformed from a home line entree into a pasta line dish and then, on the third day, into a soup-stew-muck. Breathe in the rainy air, smile to yourself like a lunatic, and have an excellent few weeks. Spring is almost here.