I love university campuses. Probably because I grew up on the edges of one campus, and spent my own cherished college years in the heart of another, I have always felt comfortably at home in these spaces. Over the years, I've visited my fair share of campuses, small, medium and super-sized, and find them all charming in their own ways.
And while it's true that each campus is unique, it is equally if oppositely true that campuses are all inherently alike. Oh, I love a good paradox.
What is true is that each and every campus has a heart, a physical location that expresses something good and true and meaningful about the institution that is centered there. This physical place is most often a building, but might also be a statue or a quad or a fountain or a looping walkway or a bell tower. It may be located within a sprawling complex of buildings or even multiple campuses, or it might house the entire institution.
Most importantly, these special places reveal the heart of the school, the traditions that its members uphold, and what they value.
So when I was visiting at University of Arizona for the first time last week, I sought out the heart of its campus to see what it might reveal to me.
What I found was a long strip of green grass. They call it the Mall. Now that might not sound like much excitement, but remember, this is the desert. There is precious little grass on this campus; while most of the grounds are a showcase of native plants worthy of any arboretum, the primary ground cover is simply natural gravel. To keep a several-blocks-long stretch of grass green in that baking heat is no small matter, and the grass alone revealed to me that I had found the right place.
At the west end of the Mall stands the original building that once housed the entire university, dating back to 1891. Known as Old Main, this elegant beauty has seen some troubled times, including a narrow escape from demoliton in the early 1940s. Recently restored to her full glory, she now shines as a beacon to tradition, resilience and surprising good fortune.
It's a long walk down the Mall, especially in the 104 degree heat of a June day. But I wanted to take in every inch of this space, to see what it might say to me, to see what was waiting for me at the eastern end.
Plus I was tired of sitting in boring workshops on a gloriously sunny day. So off I went. Here are some of the sights I saw along the way.
It seemed to me that these two endpoints of the Mall serve as a perfect metaphor for a university that values its roots and traditions, while viewing them through a contemporary lens. That is a noble goal for all of us, and a valuable reminder to be found at the heart of this campus.