Thursday, September 1, 2011

I Am Tennessee

My friend and co-worker, Whitney, celebrated her two year anniversary of moving to D.C. earlier this week. Yesterday, we shared stories about our moving experiences. The range of emotions both of us felt from the moment we accepted our respective positions to the day we officially started in the office can't be perfectly put into words. Excitement, disbelief, joy, sadness, stress, being overwhelmed, fear -- you name it, we felt it. We joked how our friends and family probably thought we were regretting our decisions to move to D.C. because we were so overly emotional during that time. Yet, at the same time, we were both relieved. We knew we were on our way to doing what we always wanted to do - we were on our way to our dreams.

One story I shared with Whitney was a lunch with co-workers and students of the job I was leaving. It was a very special lunch - one I will never forget. During lunch, we shared stories of all the different things I had had the opportunity and honor to do during my undergraduate career. Finally, I was asked two questions:

1. What is your favorite moment from the University of Tennessee?
2. What will you miss the most about the University of Tennessee?

While choking back tears, I described my favorite memory. Standing arm in arm with the four other Miss Homecoming finalists singing the Alma Mater on the field in Neyland Stadium. It was a spontaneous moment in which I reflected on the four (and a half) years at UT that had helped mold me into the person I had become.

I then moved on to the next question. I tried and tried to think of one thing I would miss the most about being at the University of Tennessee. Class? Football games? Sorority meetings? SAA events? Panhellenic functions? Fraternity parties? The strip? Yes, I would miss those things... but they didn't come close to describing what UT meant to me. Finally, after what felt like an eternity to me, I finally choked out through the tears... "this is my home." And it is. As cliche as it sounds, Tennessee has always been my home. I was born in Knoxville. I took field trips to visit McClung Museum on campus when I was in grade school. I went to football games. I went to Lady Vol basketball games with my Mimi. I earned my degree. I fell in love. I fell out of love. I met my soulmates in my friends and sorority sisters. I grew into the person I've always wanted to be and now I'm in the process of achieving my most far fetched dreams. And when I go back in a few short weeks, I'll again be going home.

I am 110% confident I am exactly where I need to be and where I am meant to be. At this point in my life, I am supposed to be in D.C. I love my job, I love my friends, I love everything about my life here. As one of Whitney's friends once told her... you'll always be sad when you leave home, but that doesn't mean you want to move back or aren't happy where you are... there's just something about home.

When I first ran across this poem, I decided to post it as my blog for today. The more I read, the more I realized how perfectly it describes what it means to be part of the Tennessee family and this led me to share a bit more.

 I don't think I could have ever predicted the utter sadness I feel when I think about missing our home opener in Knoxville this Saturday. There is so much more I love about Knoxville and the University of Tennessee than football, but there is something special about knowing that most of the people who love Tennessee as much as I do will be in one place this weekend, and I won't be there.

Instead, I'll join fellow members of the Volunteer family at a bar in D.C. as we all watch our boys take on Montana and enjoy every minute of it. 

I look forward to my three trips home this season (Georgia, LSU, and MTSU) and I know those trips will give me the perfect amount of home to prevent me from being sad. Best of luck to our Vols this weekend and I hope all of you have an amazing time no matter where you'll be watching the game. GO VOLS!

Author Unknown
I am Tennessee. I am the 30 year old couple coming back to campus for the first time with both little ones in tow. One wears her orange and white cheerleader outfit; the other wears #16 even though he's too young to understand why.
I am the 50 year old man who hoped no one saw tears in his eyes when the T was formed by the band. I was too choked up even to sing "Rocky Top." For a moment I felt foolish and then I didn't care. God, I love this place.
I am the 60 year old woman meeting her freshman grand-daughter who is now the 3rd generation of UT students in our family. Despite my age, I'd strap it on Saturday and hit someone if it weren't for my gender and this blasted arthritis.
I am Tennessee and I have always believed I was different. You can see it when you look up into the stands. My orange is not the same as Florida's or Auburn's, but the differences go much deeper than my colors.
Read my creed. What other school has one? I genuinely believe in these things. To be a real Tennessee man or woman speaks of character, not of geography. All are welcome to walk through my gates, not just the wealthy or the elite.
Georgia and Alabama may have their nations, but we have always been family. Make no mistake, we loathe defeat, but even in defeat we would rather be a Tennessee Vol than anything else.
We are family and you are the sons of Heisman, the sons of Majors and Neyland. You come from a long line of brothers whose names include White, Gault, Wilson, Manning, Shuley, Nash, and Mahelona. It is a great heritage.
So this Saturday, when the warm ups are over and the prayers and amen spoken, when you hear my thunder growing in the stands above you, when you stand in the tunnel and the smoke begins to form, listen for my voice when you run on to my field.
Behind the frenzy of the shakers and deafening roar, I will tell you something in a whisper you may miss. I will be telling you that you are my sons and I am proud of you for the way you wear the orange and white. I am telling you that you are my sons and I love you.
Tennessee is so much more than a state or a school or a team or a degree. It is something that, once you have experienced it, will live inside of you forever and become a part of what makes up who you are.
It is driving into town on a game day. You may have come from hundreds of miles away and as you get closer and closer to the city limits, you feel it rising inside of you. Other cars on the highway proudly display their Orange and White flags or magnets or car tags, and you honk and wave at them, because, for that one day, you are all on the same team.
It is the smell in the air and the ritualistic act of tailgating... catching up with old friends, making new ones, and invitations from perfect strangers to try their ribs or watching their satellite TV showing all of the day's important match-ups... of course, all being secondary to the one that will occur in the great cathedral of Neyland Stadium later that day.
It is the Vol Walk... where you might just see 300 pound men overcome with emotion and weeping with pride, because you have come there to cheer them on. As they walk by, you might exchange a glance with one or two of them, and you can see it in their eyes... it is going to be their day.
It is the students... dressed in their best, because going to a Tennessee game is like going to church for Tennessee people... you show the same respect as you would if you were in God's house. Those students remind you of the days when you were walking in their shoes and Tennessee was your home... but then you realize, in many ways, it is still and always will be HOME.
It is that lump that rises in your throat when the band plays Rocky Top as the "T" is formed.
It is walking around on a "foreign" and sometimes hostile campus. You are easily identified (Tennessee people always are) and the enemy jeers and shouts things at you to mask their feelings of intimidation. But just then you happen upon a friend you have never met before. You know they are your friend by the colors they wear or the shaker in their hand. You exchange a "Go Vols" and a confident grin, because he/she knows what you know.
It is when your heart leaps with every touchdown, field goal, sack, and interception... because those are our boys. And win or lose, they will always have our un-dying support. After all, it is those boys that you are really there for and not a coach or a logo or a trustee or a president.
It is the complete and utter exhilaration of walking away victorious over a worthy opponent... that feeling of pride and accomplishment as if it were your own feet that had crossed the goal line scoring the last points yourself... that feeling of wanting to scream "GO BIG ORANGE" at the top of your lungs and hug complete strangers... and then there is the ultimate high of defeating your most hated foes from across the state.
No words can describe what this feels like, but you know because you have experienced it. It is the sheer agony of defeat as the last minutes tick off of the clock and you realize that all hope of a victory is gone.
You feel like crying and maybe you do... then you hear the faint sounds of a cheer that grows louder and louder... "IT'S GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL."
It is knowing that year after year, no matter how things change in our hectic lives, you can always come back to "the loveliest place on the river"... the place where you came from... your home.
It will probably look a little different and there will be new names on the backs of the jerseys, but deep down, no matter what, it is still the same. You still love it as much as you always have, because Tennessee is as much a part of you as your arms and your legs and the orange blood that runs through your veins.
And finally, it is the feeling you have right now as you read these lines... the anticipation inside of you, because you know it's almost time... it's about to start all over again... but then it really never goes away, does it?


  1. Ahhh...I have tears in my eyes while I read this. You're so right! So thankful we're BOTH Tennessee girls in DC!!!

  2. My boyfriend and I literally just cried together while reading this. So great!