100 Years of Tigerism

I’d like to tell a story.

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a boy. This boy was the oldest of his siblings, as well as the oldest of all the grandchildren, from a family of oilfield roustabouts, carpenters, factory workers and just general laborers in general. He was raised with the mindset that you graduate high school, take a job that you hate, then work that job for thirty years until you retire because that’s how the world works; this was doctrine, preached by a choir of commonsensical, no bull-crap family members until the boy should have been able to recite it backwards and holding his breath while the noose continued to tighten around his neck. Much to the benefit of his neck and to his sanity, however, this boy was a notoriously bad listener.

Fast-forward some number of years through childhood, and the boy was ready to enter the world a man, however confused a man that may have been in terms of his future. Though he hadn’t the slightest as to what It was that he wanted to do with this newfound life outside the conventions of normality — insofar as family tradition was concerned, anyhow -— he toddled far enough through the threatening landscape of blind uncertainty to find a path which eventually led to an institution in Ada whose collective wisdom may, he hoped, prove to be the skeleton key to unlock a glimpse of a future that had so far proven insanely reclusive.

He tripped and stumbled several times along the way -- who left all this crap in the road? — and, on more than one occasion, seemed fated to fulfill his family destiny in some soul-sucking factory or another, but said institution was more sympathetic toward his plight than he would have otherwise imagined. There were semesters of failed withdrawals, sub-full-time status and checkered transcripts, but, when some was said and done, the boy, much to the credit of a handful of compassionate professors, found himself some years later with a senior’s standing within the Honors Program and a litter-free path to a career in a field that was very much preferable to what once seemed an inevitable alternative.

When I think of ECU’s centennial, this is what comes to mind. My story, insignificant though it may be in the grand scheme of things, seems indicative of the serpentine experience that a lot of young people go through during the latter part of their teenage years -- especially in a traditionally rural state like ours -- who may well be first-generation-college, equally as perplexed by the continuously diversified number of possibilities that lie before them. Whereas larger schools stress formality and rigidity in their large classrooms, weighed down by bureaucracy and the proverbial yellow-tape around the wrists of its professors, ECU takes a chance on people (obviously: they accepted a bum like me) and places a bet on their future that includes an appropriated space for wiggle-room in regards to the inevitable screw-ups that we, as young adults, nefariously coax ourselves into.

To think of all the Tigers that have happened upon their dreams in the classrooms of Horace Mann or the lifelong friendships forged in Pesagi Hail over the last century is very nearly breathtaking; and to think that a number of these souls may not have been given a chance elsewhere — be it due to higher tuition, more stringent standards, less-compassionate faculty or simply general snobbery -- is nothing short of mindboggling. Entire chapters of peoples’ lives, if not the Cliff’s Notes, are written on the tiles upon which we tread during treks from our intramural activities, the walls at which we stare blankly when we’re in class way too early, and in the air that we breathe across campus while we’re unwinding between classes. I guess, if I had to sum up my experience and thoughts on the centennial in a sentence or catchphrase, it might read something akin to this: East Central University: 100 years of story-changing Tiger-ism.

Christopher Wyche