Lambuth University and its small, historic campus seemed enchanting from the first time I set eyes on it the morning I went to register for my junior year in the fall of 1993. I was breathless at the charm and history that seeped from every leaf and brick. Everything from the old oak trees that stood guard like ancient soldiers to the squirrels that ran around chattering (with an attitude bigger than they were) contributed to the magic feeling of the place.
Once I settled into my chosen classes, that magical feeling continued, a few special highlights being a class called “Religious and Philosophical Dimensions of Country/Western Music” and experiencing the dedication of professors to the success of their students. A prime example was my French teacher who wanted us to learn to speak the language well enough to be able to carry on a conversation with a lady or gentleman that someday we could sit next to in a Parisian café or bar. It was a place where you wanted to do your best for your honor and glory as well as the school’s.
We took pride in being a small school in a quiet neighborhood, and we all pointed out things such as our planetarium and our theater (complete with house ghost) as special points of interest to regular visitors as well as prospective students. Students and staff alike told stories of the past president who moved into the main campus classroom building with his family during the Great Depression to keep the school going. And, oh, how our proverbial cup did overflow when our women’s basketball team won the NAIA national championship in 2007!
But all good things must come to an end, it is often said, and our end came in 2011. We were grateful and happy that the University of Memphis came in and made the campus its local branch—even as our hearts broke and tears flowed at the loss of the magic.
Lately, we have been able to recapture some of that feeling at an event called True Blue Day. It’s a day where alumni can get together and share stories, food, and music. Even if it’s only for an afternoon, we get a chance to reignite some of the spirit that characterized our time here.
During the most recent event, I noticed three white roses that made up part of the centerpiece at the table.
White symbolizes purity, and while Lambuth wasn’t some rural collegiate utopia, purity is a good word to describe that Lambuth feeling. Pure like a flame in the hearts of all who set their mark on the school and who, in turn, had the Lambuth mark set on them. Pure like the fighting spirit of the Lambuth mascot, the eagle. Pure like the fact that no matter where we go or who we are, that same spirit and fire will live on.
That is the true legacy of the little private college in a medium-sized Southern town: that we do go on. We fight, we survive, and we live.
And we do our very best to leave the world sweeter for the effort.
A 1993 graduate of Jackson State Community College, a 1995 grad of Lambuth University, and a 2003 graduate of Austin Peay State University, Amanda Pugh is an adjunct professor at Jackson State, where she also cosponsors the Creative Writing Club and the Dramatic Society.
Photography courtesy of Kip Moore and Parker Dinwiddie.