January 16, 2015. A simple and fairly insignificant day on a broad spectrum, but for those being inducted into the Order of Gownsmen at Sewanee, the date of the Easter 2015 Opening Convocation will be remembered quite fondly. I can assure this because I am one of those people. For three semesters, I studied hard and spent long hours working to earn my place in not only my university’s academic honor society, but also a place in a long-held school tradition.
Anyone familiar with The University of the South, more commonly referred to as Sewanee, knows that we are extremely attached to our traditions, many of which are over a century old. One of our most unique and prestigious traditions is the Order of Gownsmen, which was created in 1873 and serves two purposes on campus. First, it is the academic honor society for the college, and many privileges are bestowed upon Gownsmen, including early course registration, room selection, and so forth. Gownsmen also earn the distinction of wearing their black academic gowns to class. The OG also serves as one branch of our student government, an “upper house,” of sorts. Through its 142 years of existence, the qualifications for induction into membership have changed somewhat. Despite these changes, it is a huge honor to be a part of history and to have your dedication to your studies rewarded.
My mom is a Sewanee alum, and was also a member of the OG. As exciting as it was to qualify for induction (and one semester faster than she did!), it was even more memorable to have my mom serve as the one to “gown” me with the very gown that she had earned and worn during her time at Sewanee. This made my induction infinitely more meaningful because we now share something deeper than just our love for the university that we both chose to attend. I am reminded of this connection every time I wear “our” gown, with our initials and class years monogrammed in the yoke, in keeping with the peculiar traditions of passing down gowns.
Fast forward exactly nine months and it is October 16, 2015. The Advent 2015 Opening Convocation will also be one that I remember, but for very different reasons. This time, my boyfriend asked me to gown him. For the two years that I have known him, I have watched him work diligently in his courses while also upholding his obligations as a varsity athlete. Knowing how special this day is for someone, I cannot describe how honored I was to be the person with whom he chose to share this precious occasion.
It took experiencing the induction into the Order of Gownsmen from both sides of the gowning ceremony to truly appreciate the fullness of this and other Sewanee traditions. As the current residents of Sewanee’s beautiful campus, these traditions are not only being passed down to us, but also through us. It is our responsibility to honor and uphold these long-standing traditions and to hand them down to those following in our footsteps. Whether you are a student today or thirty years removed from your own graduation, the traditions of Sewanee remain forever in your heart. Thus, it is our duty and privilege to share these beloved traditions with our fellow brethren so that we may continue to dwell together in unity, in accordance with our school motto. EQB!