By David Magee
Spring is our time. It’s when Ole Miss and Oxford rattle and hum amid flowers, youthful enthusiasm, baseball, festival, graduation, shopping, strolling and dining on the Square, and so much more.
That is why the truth is we are sad that so much of it erased this year.
One day less than two weeks ago, the Rebel baseball team was leading the nation in home runs and longest winning streak, preparing to tackle rival LSU at Swayze Field before 10,000 plus fans. A return trip to Omaha for the College World Series was not just a wishful dream.
Students and families were planning graduation parties and luncheons, prospective students took on-campus tours amid spring flowers, and the Oxford Square bustled in foot traffic enjoying warmer days.
Moments later, everything changed, and it has since been one stunning step away from life as we knew it to where we are today – homebound and quarantine, mostly, except for critical health care workers on the front lines, and others hard at work keeping us stocked with essentials including food, gas or the mail.
It all happened so fast that a surreal haze prevailed for the first few days before reality took deep root – this is a life or death situation requiring complete compliance.
Our favorite restaurants and businesses closed for in-dining service, with many laid-off workers who are hurting, wondering how to meet obligations. The beloved Double Decker Arts Festival postponed, as did Ole Miss graduation, and there are not nearly enough people here to see our beautiful campus and community emerging in full blossom this spring.
Yes, the oak trees on campus and around town are unfurling tender leaves, and the first blades of grass are greening. Yet, Swayze Field, our home run haven, shut down for the season, and the Rebel baseball dream team of 2020 must live with an asterisk by its abbreviated record.
They deserved a shot at Omaha, for the College World Series. Our graduating students deserved to wear a cap and gown in the Grove, amid chirping birds and a loving hug from friends and family, delivered at a smothering close social distance. Our alumni, friends, and visitors deserved to enjoy Oxford and its vibrant local businesses in spring splendor.
There is no shame in feeling that way since it is only the deepest of passions for these people and places that enlist such emotions. Ole Miss and Oxford are social places, after all, comprised of social people. We thrive on up-close-and-personal, engaging, and caring.
That is why, in our quarantine moment of change, this university and this community have never shined brighter, reinforcing everything we deeply love, and everything we are not willing to lose. We are hearing that story told time, and time again from our students and alumni, distanced from the place they call home during the coronavirus shutdown.
Denson Hollis, an executive director in development at Ole Miss, has talked with many stakeholders, offering support during this fast-moving crisis. He has heard a consistent response from those physically separated from Ole Miss and Oxford, for the moment.
They dream of getting back to our haven, where learning and living happen in our quaint community so easily, where sidewalks and smiles are the norms, where there is plenty of room to breathe and enough stimulation to dream, and take action. Such talk is a pandemic-induced exclamation mark upon the very qualities that have made Ole Miss and Oxford special in the first place.
In essence, our smallness is an enormous asset, and our caring, social nature, and manners of teaching and engaging, are more deeply longed. Those who have loved Ole Miss and Oxford just want it now more than ever before.
It is also likely in times like these that prospective students and parents will further prioritize such value — a city so small its citizens still refer to it as a town, and a flagship university small enough that many of us known one another by name.
For the moment, these qualities and others that will allow Ole Miss students to finish the semester, without losing any time in the educational calendar due to the crisis. On Monday, university classes resume via online learning, thanks to tireless work of faculty and administrators determined to put education first. The effort will not occur without hitches, but in May, we will have another class of graduates, and thousands of other students yet closer to the goal.
While it is unfortunate that spring graduation postponed due to the crisis, UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce is determined to hold ceremonies on campus later this summer, if possible. Same thing goes for Oxford’s beloved Double Decker Arts Festival.
Then, or at other moments soon, we can all gather together again, celebrating and enjoying the best that Ole Miss and Oxford have to offer. And, it will mean more than it ever did.