As another week draws to a close at Randolph, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to write about a string of events last weekend that remind me of how great it is to be at Randolph and to live in Alabama. Last Friday, under the extraordinary leadership of Mary Bowman, we kicked off the 27th annual version of Under the Christmas Tree at the VBC. This signature event is a great example of Randolph’s place in the wider Huntsville community, and every year we hear of folks who drive hundreds of miles to be a part of UTCT. This year over 7,000 shoppers poured into the VBC. Seventy-six vendors rented booths and sold their goods throughout the weekend.
It takes, of course, scores of volunteers working with our staff to make this event happen in support of our financial aid program. UTCT is an enormous undertaking on behalf of Randolph students whose parents would otherwise be unable to afford a Randolph education. Leslie Evans, Mem Bryant, Leigh Anne Luther, and Jamie Eichstaedt were stalwart volunteers, and their hard work helps us deepen relationships and build community in support of Randolph. Director of Visual and Performing Arts Adam Bernick and his colleagues do a terrific job of organizing student performers on Friday. One highlight every year for me is listening in on the 6th grade band and marveling at how far they’ve come in their first performance since the beginning of the school year.
After visiting UTCT again on Saturday, Jennifer and I left the VBC and made the trek to Tuscaloosa for the LSU-Alabama game. What an incredible day! I was a little miffed that the authorities there did not honor my UTCT parking pass and we ended up way downtown and snaking our way to the stadium on foot along with tens of thousands of revelers taunting each other about the Tide and the Tigers. I have never been a part of a scene like that in my life. The frenzy in Tuscaloosa made Virginia-Virginia Tech and Texas-Texas A&M games (I am a University of Virginia and University of Texas alumnus) look like JV dust-ups. I used to think that Texans were crazy about football. Now they look almost measured in comparison.
A couple of images stand out: the crowds of people paying reverent homage to the players and coaches riding on chartered busses arriving at the stadium two hours before kick-off; the noise and the intensity in Bryant-Denny stadium from start to finish; the choreographed splendor of the whole occasion left me certain that the University of Alabama knows how to host a football game.
It was incredible, and I am glad that Jennifer and I could attend. At the same time, it’s hard not to question the proportion of energy and passion we pour into football and college sports. It’s just as hard not to think that if we invested just a portion of that energy into the challenges and opportunities in the world beyond us that we wouldn’t be a little further down the road to economic recovery and social progress.
But I digress….Last Sunday was a great highlight in and of itself. After UTCT and the big game, it would have been hard to come up with yet another memorable event, but we were very fortunate at Randolph to host the 2nd annual TEDx Huntsville. This is a locally organized event modeled after TED (see www.ted.com) and in pursuit of their motto, “ideas worth spreading.” Local presenters and guests from around the nation came to share ideas, and it was a model expression of what it means for us at Randolph to be a community of learners.
Unknown Lyric provided us with musical entertainment, commercial space advisor and local celebrity Tim Pickens rode his rocket-powered bike on stage, Appleton’s Glenn Clayton shared some lessons that education could take from business, Hudson-Alpha’s Neil Lamb gave us a crash course on the human genome, Vinay Gidwaney encouraged us to do good every day to advance large-scale change over time, Lisa Nicole Bell shared her ideas about social change, and Travis Taylor of the “Rocket City Rednecks” connected his view of the universe to our role as change agents. Daniel Crosby provided us with a motivational speech cleverly entitled “You’re Not That Great,” and Steve Below from Free the Hops shared the process for home-made beers.
The best part of the day for me was seeing such an eclectic group of learners populating the Thurber Arts Center. These were men and women who love learning and came to TEDx Huntsville and to Randolph to be provoked about ideas that shape our present and are likely to shape the future of the world. Many had never been on the Garth Campus. Some had never even heard of Randolph. So here’s to UTCT, SEC football in Tuscaloosa, and TEDx Huntsville for providing a great weekend of learning and entertainment beyond the classroom.