SMITH COLUMN: Back to school at the University of Georgia

Published 10:30 am Thursday, August 11, 2022

Seeing all the vans and U-Haul trailers across town last weekend brought about a reminder that there is nothing like the return of the students each August for the fall semester.

I had a friend call about booking a room and asked for a recommendation of a lodging facility. “No problem,” was the response. Soon I learned there were no vacancies anywhere in Athens. Parents were accompanying offspring as they settled in for the school year. It was like trying to locate a room to rent the weekend of the Georgia-Auburn game.

When the students come back — how exciting — they take over the town and nobody complains. They soon will be bringing about traffic jams. The most expeditious mode of transportation to get up and down Lumpkin Street is by bicycle. Downtown becomes as congested as Coney Island was in its heyday in the fifties.

You go out to eat and you must park ten blocks from your preferred dining venue. You soon will be seeing students, flowing across Lumpkin Street —a phalanx of humanity that must have been the way it was when Moses parted the Red Sea — when classes change. Where Baxter Street dead ends into Lumpkin becomes the center of the Universe. 

I often find my way to Lumpkin Street’s crossing with Cedar Street when classes change just to observe this energetic scene all the way up to Baldwin Street which is a reminder of your days on campus.   

However, it was a little different in the fifties when there were 5,000 students on campus, but the scene piques your emotions, nonetheless.    Lumpkin Street was the focal point of daily life on campus back then, too.

Freshmen were not allowed to bring a car to campus in that era which meant that upperclassmen affluent enough to own a car were the envy of the male portion of the student body.

You see, in those times, the coeds hitchhiked to class. They would gather at that aforementioned intersection of Lumpkin and Cedar streets. Soon there would be a ride available to ferry them to north campus. Giving a coed a ride to class, in some cases, would eventually become the answer to the husband-wife question of, “How did you all meet?”

For years, I have had a recurring thought that somewhere along the hills of Lumpkin there should be a sign reflecting the seasoned viewpoint that the prettiest coeds in the U. S. of A. can be found on Lumpkin Street, Athens, Ga.

The good news is that those attractive girls are more than good looking —many will become prominent in our society when they are graduated and start their careers. They will star as executives, corporate officers, CEO’s, inventors and movers and shakers. Many will manage the dual role of motherhood and career and will do so with resounding aplomb. 

I think of the Grady graduates who are marquee staples of network television: Deborah Roberts and Amy Robach of ABC, Deborah Norville of Inside Edition and Maria Taylor of NBC.  One you probably know less about is Anne Noland who is the Senior Director of Public Relations for the Miami Dolphins. She is only the third female so distinguished in the National Football League.The Terry College of business touts an accomplished foursome of Rachel Perry, Chief Innovation Officer of Aon; Dannett Beck, head of Industry Verticals at USI Insurance Services; Lisa Laube, President of Floor and Décor and Jena Ginadvosos, CEO of Signet Jewelers; and Maria Taylor again, who also has a Master’s in business from Terry.  From law, we have Sally Yates, Deputy Attorney General of the U.S., Lisa Wood, Federal Judge in St. Simons, and Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the U. N. food program.  It was her job to lead the effort to feed a billion people a day worldwide. 

They, too, were once immersed into the Lumpkin Steet crossing phalanx.  They enjoyed the opportunity to be college students and appreciated the emotional residual from walking the campus as the seasons change.

Every parent knows the joy of bringing their kids to campus, excited for them to enjoy fulfillment on their journey to a degree, but apprehensive about the trials and tribulations that can accompany them on their excursion.

We have had to deal with kids who become so homesick, that they pack up to leave. There are those who need a recommendation for a doctor or dentist. The best place to get an oil change.  A date ticket for homecoming.  Unfortunately, there are those who need help with a D.U.I.

The worst circumstance of all — somebody’s daughter gets shut out of rush.  That is the only bad thing about the fall. Girls and rush. The feelings of rejection for a teenage girl is difficult to deal with. I know the positives of the Greek system, but also know the hurt that comes with coeds who don’t receive a bid to join a sorority.   

The coming of the fall, however, is great for the most part, and those whose livelihoods are directly affected by the economy eagerly welcome the students back.

I am grateful for the uplifting of spirits that students bring our way as the days are getting shorter and will soon segue into autumn, the most glorious time of the year.

College life and the glory of autumn offer a combination that is without equal. Especially for those who are alumni of the Lumpkin Street Phalanx.