Right before the Georgia/South Carolina line on I-85 North, milemarker 177, there is a stately tree in the median (Google Maps). It is different than the others. It is older, larger, and set apart.
When I was little, we would always pull over to the right side of the interstate, run across, and place a ribbon around the huge trunk of this tree. Usually it was purple, but sometimes it was gold. If there was already a ribbon around the trunk, placed by someone else, we would often tie another. I knew what this ritual signaled. We were getting close to Furman. These trips often occurred in the fall as I attended homecoming with my Mom, Nana, Papa, Aunt, and Uncle. On campus each year, I remember playing in the bright leaves and climbing up the spiral staircase in the belltower until the gate near the top stopped me.
Years later, I had to choose where to attend college. I did overnight visits, tours, and mulled over the advantages of each school I was considering. A few days before the May 1 deadline I decided on Furman. I didn’t go there because I was a legacy (although I love tradition) and I hadn’t fallen in love with the school on my campus tour like many of my friends. A combination of factors led me there, and the thought of attending another school never crossed my mind throughout my four years.
On my freshman hall there were many quality guys whom I became friends with quickly. We made the trek across campus to our sister hall countless times as they became our good friends. I joined KA, the fraternity of my Papa, and soon realized what bonds of true friendship could look like. I kept myself busy with clubs, studying, social functions, and relationships with friends. I remember often thinking back to high school and realizing that college was better than I ever envisioned.
I became part of a group of friends who truly cared for each other. We cooked for each other, roasted each other, spoke truth to each other, and displayed love in the midst of difficult times to each other. It is only now, a few months after graduation, that reality is setting in. This isn’t just another summer, and we won’t all see each other again at a Registration Night party. I often think of all the times spent with this group, the lessons we learned together, and the friendships that were forged. I am thankful. Effort is required to maintain friendships, and while this challenge awaits so does the reward of seeing how God will use each of us in the world. The majority of the crew is below:
As I drove home southbound after graduation I saw the stately tree in my mirror. I later asked my Nana how the ribbon tradition began, and she told me that they first tied ribbons around the tree during the 1970s as they took my mother to school. For her, the tree always stood as a reminder that they were getting close to Furman. After asking around at school, no one seemed to know about the tree. Perhaps after reading this others will join the tradition. Regardless, as I grow older and make the journey back to campus from a new home I will tie a ribbon around the tree with my family, point it out to others, and be reminded of the experiences and relationships that I had at Furman.