Thomas Jefferson insisted that his founding of the University of Virginia be etched into his headstone. It took visiting campus to understand why.
My appointment on campus was scheduled for 9am. I intentionally arrived at 7:30.
The head of the original campus is the rotunda, intended to be the library. A long lawn stretches out in front, flanked by arches and doors of student dorms. Jefferson called this the “Academical village”, a name that makes me snicker. Heh, heh; academical.
When I walked onto the lawn I saw sprinklers turn on at one end of the lawn and a student shuffling down the walk wearing a bathrobe and slippers. I am a tourist but students live here. 200 year old dorm rooms housing 20 year old kids.
Spaced out along these single room dorms are larger homes that house the school’s deans. This would appear to be the perfect set up for a juvenile movie, you know, the one where a fraternity uses their evil genius to somehow get a car into the Dean’s living room. Not knowing any of this when I walked through campus, I peeked through the ground level window of what I thought was a historic site. The woman inside saw me and waved me toward the door where she invited me inside her home.
She was incredibly kind and I doubt anyone would vandalize her living room… except maybe John Belushi or Val Kilmer. Neither of those celebrities ever lived here but an adult Faulkner once did, a fact I doubt was lost on this young man.
GQ magazine listed UVA as America’s most “preppy” college. It is hard to say exactly what this means and as the kids woke up and began walking to class I looked to see if I could “see” it. I couldn’t. I went to the bookstore to buy a pendant, which I do at every school I visit, and then I saw it.
There were plaids and pastels, bowties and picnic baskets. I’m not sure if I buy the school’s preppiest title but I’m sure the bookstore’s buyer bought it.
My room at the Cavalier Inn had a large picture window facing the band’s practice field. I sat and watched young families and college kids watch the band practice. Here, at this school that was not only founded by, but that celebrates Thomas Jefferson at every turn, the student body was not so caught up in yesterday that it ignored the college now.
At Harvard the football stadium is an icon of the birth of American football. It can seat, and once did, 50,000 people. UVA’s campus has the history while still filling it’s stadium today.