The road traveled

February 8, 2013 

In 1891, 20 years after its founding, Mercer University started its annual Founders’ Day celebration. Each year the university would ask back a Mercerian to talk about the influence the university exerted in his/her life.

By the 1960s, the annual event started fading away and ultimately ended. In 1993, the Student Government Association picked up the tradition. That fall I moved from rural Jackson, La., to Macon to begin my college education. Like many Mercerians, I never left. Twenty years later, they are asking me back to speak at this year’s Founders’ Day.

Naturally, asking me to a college campus comes with the usual rumblings to be expected when any conservative shows up on a college campus to speak. Every sin ever committed gets dragged out as an excuse for protest or boycott. It comes with the territory. A friend joked to me the other day that he was not in the least bit surprised to learn that John Birch and I graduated from the same place. I was delighted to learn the students asked for me to speak.

When I was at Mercer, there were a few occasions when students’ speaker requests seemed to get overlooked. It will be interesting to go back. Though I live in Macon and my wife worked for Dr. Kirby Godsey for several years when he was president, then chancellor, I have rarely been back to the main campus. Every time I go, there is a new building. About the only thing that has never changed is the seeming fascination with always building sidewalks where no one walks. I once had a groundskeeper tell me they watch to see which paths the students trample out, then build sidewalk there. That was the only way to explain it.

My time at Mercer saw the students put the Jesse Mercer statue in the center of the campus, light the towers along Coleman Avenue, and renovate the administration building tower. While long a tradition to climb the tower, there came a point where it was impossible to do so. The university came together and repaired the steep steps and ladders to get to the top. On more than one occasion, serving as the University’s Chief Justice, I saw students get caught in the tower by the spotlight and a Mercer police officer, engaged in sometimes humorous and sometimes awkward pranks in the tower.

Everyone wanted to be Porter Osborne. Osborne was the fictional student created by Dr. Ferrol Sams Jr. In his book “The Whisper of the River,” Sams, with Osborne standing in for him, provided a biography of his time at Mercer.

As a student, I had the pleasure of knowing Ferrol Sams’ granddaughter, who sadly died while we were still in college. Ten days ago, Dr. Sams went home to the Lord. The year I got to Mercer the university established the Ferrol A. Sams Jr., Distinguished Chair of English. It was in that department I became a writer and where I learned writing was more than just pen to paper. It all comes full circle on Wednesday.

I will be there to tell tales of my time at Mercer: the roommate who wanted to be my friend before I went to hell, the friends I lost in conviction of what was right, the lesson in vanity I learned when I left, the willingness to stand up to authority, and the girl who got away who came back to marry me.

To paraphrase the Romans, Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Mercer. A thousand roads lead men forever to Mercer.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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