I wanted to attend Clemson long before I even knew it was a school. Perhaps this is why I find myself writing in Cooper Library two years after my graduation. I barely spent any time in Cooper as an undergrad, yet as I look around the nearly empty 6th floor on a summer afternoon -- with no reason to be here but nostalgia -- I feel at home.
The Clemson Family has a similar meaning to each of us, both young and old. Some were born into it, others decided to join at 18, and more are a part of it simply because they see how we celebrate in our Family: Football Saturdays.
For as long as I can remember, Clemson was a central pillar in my life. Clemson routinely ranks among the highest universities in the country for alumni loyalty and donations, and my parents are no exception. Married before their final semester in 1979, my parents raised us in the Clemson Family just as we all hope to raise our own. Every fall in my childhood, we trekked from Florence across the state to see every home game, tailgate with extended family, and shoot awful photos of my twin sister and me in matching outfits.
Luckily I was too young to remember details of the Hatfield and West eras, but the indoctrination into Clemson football was not lost on me; upon learning that Clemson is, in fact, a school, Clemson was my ultimate goal -- until I was 8.
In 1999 we moved to Texas and Clemson was no longer in my life. No one in South Texas knew who or what Clemson was; our orange and paw were often mistaken for Sam Houston State, if acknowledged at all. We were not a football power in my lifetime, and UT dominated all sports discussion in South Texas.
As children in South Carolina, many friendships or playground feuds were fueled by our allegiance in a rivalry we are all familiar with. As an outsider in Texas, I lacked this manner of socialization. Over time, I adjusted. I made friends and enjoyed my boyhood years in a new locale. I chose a side in the Longhorn-Aggie rivalry. I let Clemson go -- until I discovered NCAA Football 2003 on Playstation 2.
Visual evidence of Clemson's existence was in hand, bringing to mind the long-forgotten sights and sounds of Death Vally, even through a rendering as crude as an early 2000s video game. I forced many of my friends to play as UT or A&M and suffer a merciless massacre at the hands of
Charlie Whitehurst and Derrick Hamilton QB #6 and WR #21.
A simple video game awakened the dormant Clemson in me, and I started paying attention from afar. Chances to see Clemson games on TV in Texas were almost non-existent at the time, but Texas finally got the Internet and I kept up with the results and stats of the 2002 season, then simulated the games on my PS2 more times than I remember. Fortunately, I only had to suffer through one season in this manner. In the fall of 2003, we returned to South Carolina -- but this time, to Columbia.
Moving in grade school is never easy. Moving to Columbia in 7th grade as a born-again Clemson fan is suicidal. In my excitement to return to my home state (where people knew what Clemson was!), I overlooked the fact that most middle school kids in the Midlands are South Carolina fans for essentially no reason. Like every 7th grade football fan, I was undeniably obnoxious. But unlike my peers, I was not ignorant of the two programs and laid verbal smackdowns on all challengers. I took particular satisfaction in 63-17 and made myself rather unpopular in certain circles, but I was too affable to care now that Clemson Football Saturdays were in my life once more.
My high school years followed similarly. Each fall I found myself back in Death Valley for seven Saturdays, feeling at home again. Despite mostly fond memories of Texas, my time there created a gap in my life; a gap which I now realize Clemson bridged. Raised in the Clemson Family, the school was a central pillar of my childhood. Returning to South Carolina and enjoying Clemson Football Saturdays put the missing pillar back in place, along with my ultimate goal of obtaining a Clemson degree.
There was nowhere else I could picture myself attending school now that in-state tuition was an option; no University of Second Choice in my mind. Only one school with which I grew up, one school of which I already felt a part. Upon my acceptance, nothing but the Clemson Family mattered.
True to form, I was again undeniably obnoxious in educating my Clemson-bound high school friends of the school's history, campus, and overall superiority in all facets. I like to think some of them wanted to hear it, and that my infectious love for this school rubbed off on them. I hope I convey it to each of you. Why else would I find myself here, overlooking the reflection pond and pretending I am still a student?
Perhaps it's because I am determined to keep Clemson in my adult life, after losing it for a few years in my childhood. Perhaps I simply miss this place. Or perhaps it is because Clemson Football Saturdays are once again on the horizon, and the time has come for us to celebrate like only our Family does.
It is Game Week. Spot the damn ball.