Clemson: Honor, Tradition, Heritage and Memories

With this Saturday being Military Appreciation Day in Death Valley, I think about all those young Clemson A&M College Cadets that served in all foreign wars and those men and women that continue to serve their country and the cause of freedom everywhere. It’s in their sacrifices, some the ultimate sacrifice, that allows us the freedom to live the lives we choose. The foundation they laid years ago, for us to build our own Clemson memories, is still here today. It’s in their honor that I dedicate this expression of gratitude to all that made this place special. Thank you for your service and may God Bless you all and God Bless America.

It’s not a stretch to say, in the complicated world we live, we tend to look for joy in other things, special things and for many, it’s in all things Clemson. It’s not the actual play on the field or court or the running down the hill or the playing of the band that binds us. No, it’s something bigger. It’s a shared love of something that holds precious memories.

Memories are those mental, emotional trinkets we keep to remind ourselves of a tie and a place that something special happened in our lives. Something so embedded in our being that it’s hard, if not impossible to forget and we know instantly we are richer for it

I can remember making the five hour drive from the South Carolina low country on those fall, Friday afternoon’s. Listening as an eight year old and learning the words to the Alma Mater and the exact moment to raise your right hand and wave o’er the mountain heights. Hearing stories of games you never watched from years before you were even born but you felt as if you had been there.

Driving through the campus and hearing about your daddy’s Clemson, envisioning the long gone buildings that once stood on his campus. Imagining him, a young cadet, marching in formation on Bowman Field. Then, hearing all the stories of him and his buddies and all the harmless hi jinx they inflicted during their time at Clemson.

Learning the real history of this place. Not the “cleansed, sanitized” re-written history of today. No, the good and the not so good and being taught to understand that even the most special, most spiritual of places aren’t perfect and yet, you can still love them. Honoring the proud heritage left us by the thousands of Clemson A&M College Cadets that served and sacrificed, some with their lives, so that we might have our own relationship with this place where they themselves as young men marched and know, their spirits are still here.

Remembering the first time you ever caught a glimpse of a quiet Death Valley on an early fall morning. The first time you heard the Tiger Marching Band playing the Orange Bowl March as it formed the human tunnel that culminated with Tiger Rag as our football heroes stream down the hill. The first time you ever had a Tiger Paw painted on your cheek and you can still smell that paint.

Seeing your very first, “First Friday Parade”, your first “Tigerama” and seeing the campus alive with the pageantry of Homecoming. All those homemade crape paper floats that perfectly littered Bowman Field. All the things that made you feel, maybe for the first time in your young life, a part of something bigger than yourself.

Or the first bowl game you ever attended, for me it was Jacksonville, 1977. Seeing thousands of orange clad, fellow Tigers wandering the streets and hearing a random “Go Tigers!” and sharing a sense of kinship with each. You just can’t forget these things, they’re as much a part of you as learning the alphabet.

It’s funny, in our memories, we can recall the victories but somehow misplace the defeats, easily. We remember the details of and the anticipation felt, leading up to each and every game. Being a member of the Clemson Family has been a defining part of our lives. Despite our momentary differences from time to time, we each share an unspoken bond.

This isn’t intended as a “rah-rah” sappy, filler article written just for the sake of writing, no this is about what makes this place, this University, it’s people, unique. Clemson isn’t for everyone, it’s an acquired taste for some and “good home cooking” for most. Regardless of your perspective, even those that don’t share a love for this place acknowledge, it’s different, it’s special.

There’s a meme going around social media these days that says “ I was Clemson before…”. The truth for most of us, is that we’ve always been Clemson and I suspect, we probably always will be. It’s part and parcel of who and what we are.

This weekend, as we honor the service of many generations of Clemson men and women in our Military, in a game that no one expects an outcome that doesn’t end in a Clemson victory, relax and allow your mind to wander. Go back and just remember your own “firsts.” It’ll make the day, the game more special, I promise.

Seasons come and seasons go and before you know it, it’s been a lifetime. A wonderful lifetime spent with family in a place we all hold dear. It’s been and will continue to be a life well lived, being a Clemson Tiger. Ask yourself, is there any place you’ve ever been that makes you feel like Clemson? For me, that’s a big NO and other than my hometown, there is no place more engrained in my soul than this place nestled in these hills.

So, regardless of where you watch or listen to the game this Saturday, give pause to remember those that came before us and close your eyes. In that moment, you’re sitting on the Hill, in Death Valley, in Clemson and like that, you’re home again.

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