After he finished his Freshman Orientation on Friday, Jake gave us a full tour of his new campus. For those who have never been to UNC Chapel Hill , it’s exactly what you’d imagine an old Southern school to be.
Perfect, sprawling lawns. Towering old Live Oaks with mossy trunks. Gracious old brick buildings, their front porches supported by rows of columns. The bell tower, engraved with the names of all who’ve graduated from Carolina. The Civil War statues (uh-huh).
I’ve been concerned about Jake’s level of anxiety going into his freshman year, and the relaxed, excited young man who greets us when we arrive on Friday evening is a far cry from the nervous kid I dropped off two days before. This Jake is sure of himself and the possibilities ahead of him, confident of his place here, and he’s so proud to show us what will be his home for the next four years. I catch a whiff of swagger–just a hint of cocky–and it tickles me.
As Jake leads us along the campus pathways, I’m bowled over by Chapel Hill’s beauty and grand dignity. Who wouldn’t want to go here? I want to go here! Trust me, you’d want to go here, too. This is exactly what college should be, and I’m going to be so proud to be a Carolina Mom.
“So, where do they keep the Nittany Lion statue?” I ask my son. My son who is not going to Penn State University, his parents’ alma mater. My son who used to beg me to sing, “I say JoePa, you say Terno! Joe Paterno, Joe Paterno!” The son who was conceived at Penn State.
I have been so neutral while Jake looked at schools, even discouraging him from applying to PSU when it seemed like he was only doing so to make his Dad happy. I’ve been so good; so well-behaved.
Walking a few steps ahead of me, Jake’s posture changes as he pretends not to hear me. I can tell he’s smiling, suppressing a laugh.
“Honey? Sweetie?” I raise my voice a bit, ” Do you know where they keep the Nittany Lion statue? Is it on the map?”
“There is no Nittany Lion statue, Mom.” He doesn’t even turn around to say it, and his tone is the same one might use when speaking to incoherent drunks. This new college Jake is harder to get laughing than old high school Jake.
“WHAT? That’s crazy talk! No lion?”
“But a Nittany Lion statue is the mark of excellence!” Adds Riley, grinning at me.
“Exactly! All the best universities have a Nittany Lion, Jake! They must have one around here if this place is any good!”
“Nooo Nittany Lion,” Jake repeats.
“But then, ” I ask, “where do you take pictures? What do they have if there isn’t a Nittany Lion?”
“No Nittany Lion. We have The Old Well,” says grown-up Jake. *
We all agree that we should head towards The Old Well, the most recognized symbol of UNC Chapel Hill. The well dates back to 1793, originally supplying all the water for the dormitories on this end of campus. It took its current form in 1897, when the University erected a neoclassical rotunda around it. The Old Well sits in a shady brick courtyard, circled by benches. It’s a lovely, quiet place, and Jake explains the site’s history as we approach it.
“So,” I clarify, ” they keep the Nittany Lion statue in the rotunda? Good.”
Jake sighs and shakes his head. But this time he bites his lip to keep from laughing.
In the middle of the beautiful rotunda sits a short, dark marble column.
“Now, the marble thing in the middle,” I ask ” is that engraved with the history of the well?”
“No,” Jake replies as we step up to the rotunda, “it’s a water fountain.”
A water fountain.
“A water fountain? A WATER FOUNTAIN?!” I sputter, “The symbol for UNC Chapel Hill is a water fountain?”
Jake struggles to hold onto his collegian dignity as he tells us about the fountain; how it replaced the old well, how drinking from the fountain on one’s first day at the University brings good academic luck.
“They couldn’t have have gone with a reflecting pool, or maybe a nice splashy fountain?” I ask. “Something…I don’t know….not a water fountain?”
“But look! You can drink from it for luck!”
We all watch, as if awaiting something magical, and Jake leans over the fountain to take a slurp.
“Uh, it’s warm.”
“Uh huh, ” I say, and that’s all it takes to push Jake over the edge and into laughter. “C’mon, guys, let’s get a picture around the magic water fountain! This is so much better than the Nittany Lion! “