I believe that Auburn possesses a special energy, something that is separate but dependent upon each of us, whatever our role. I believe that my love of Auburn is almost entirely mysterious, on the other side of the Looking Glass. Even so, I carry it proudly. I share it with my family and my friends, even if they fault me for it.
I once went through the Looking Glass and discovered the fantasy that seems close to children, distant to their parents. Going off to college feels like that, even more when strangers are paying close attention, even more when some of them wish you to fail.
I try, sometimes, to go through the Looking Glass again with our student athletes. I try to imagine what it felt like, and what it feels like, with the hot spotlights, the bustle and questions and seeing my name in the newspaper. What it feels like on campus in late Spring or Summer with other kids pointing, talking behind their hands, avoiding me, approaching me too much, too often, not enough.
Think about self image: how does it feel to be a machine, to be observed and graded and reacted to based upon how fast you run, how high you jump, how big you are, what you bench press? Even more, think about what it feels like, at 17, to be the great hope of your family for rescue, or for wealth, or for endorsement, or anything else. What is it like to transfer from the dependent child to the provider of the future, even when you can’t provide this year, or next, or the year after that?
The character of a sports program, the measure of the coaches and administrators and, yes, the campus community at large, can be measured by how empathetic and reactive, how helpful, they are to these young men and women, the level of social support the community provides, the outcome in terms of the personal, subjective success of the young people involved.
This is all part of the Auburn Spirit, the idea that sufficient grounding matched with a wealth of opportunity and effort, focused through the experience of faculty and guided by an institutional identity, will result in human success. This is the thing that attracts these incredibly vulnerable young athletes.
It is possible to see, from both sides of the Looking Glass, an Auburn that stands apart and is noted for it, that catches our attention through its endurance, its sustained presence, its peculiar and powerful social identity. I can’t exactly identify, I can’t extract this element that stands so apart. But it is there, perhaps in the Looking Glass itself.
Maybe, just maybe, Auburn exists as a mindset, as an enthusiasm, as a readiness to learn and love and work and accomplish, and sometimes, yes, to fail and then move on, a readiness to accept failure in each other, to help each other recover and fail forward, a certain faith in each other and in the future.