Returning last night to Auburn after an extended stay at Compass Lake, I walked the campus this morning. Unlike my walks during the height of the pandemic, the campus was bristling with life. Fall semester is about to start, one of the biggest annual changes in the life of any college town.
I passed by the band practice field only to see scores of band members gathering under the tents scattered around the edge of the field. Though it was not yet 8 a.m., the sun, heat and humidity were already gathering steam, so to speak.
What dedicated students these are, I thought. They are up way too early to practice doing something they love. Good for them.
As I made my way along my normal walking route, I began to climb the parking deck adjacent to Jordan Hare Stadium. I saw another group of band members gathered over in the old Amphitheater. By the time I got to the third level of the garage, they began to play. It was truly music to my ears.
Over and over, they practiced the same phrase of a song that will be played in the upcoming football games. I wondered if fans can appreciate how much work goes into making band music sound good. Every time, it sounds that way. Not because they are all musical geniuses but because they practice. Over and over, they practice.
These were not the only new sounds and sights as the university begins awakening from its Summer slumber and pandemic sleep. I found my path through the Village Housing Complex blocked by a long line of girls, all dressed up and standing in line. I am not sure what they must have been doing so early in the morning, but I assumed it must have to do with sorority rush.
My six-mile walk continued as I saw construction cranes coming to life. Landscapers were busy working everywhere, putting the finishing touches on new buildings like the new Central Dining Hall. It was as if everything had to be done by the time school officially began.
The new tennis courts and pickle ball courts look ready for use. These are just a few of the many projects on campus and around town that must have had a completion date of the middle of August, just in time for the students.
As I walked by the Quad, I saw more students moving in. There were piles of stuff waiting to be carried in for the new term. How many dorm size refrigerators are bought each year? Everywhere you looked there were Dads, weary from moving their daughters in and teary Moms, finding just the right words to say goodbye.
Parking places were scarcer downtown, even after the opening of the two big parking decks in the area. I had to wait for the first time this Summer for a haircut now that the students are back. The Blue Bagel was out of fruit and every type of bagel except plain before lunchtime.
Off campus, the convoys of U-Hauls made their way to the apartments and houses that turn over around the first week in August. When I arrived in Auburn for the first time 49 years ago this month, there was no need for a U-Haul. The truck of my big blue Plymouth Fury held everything I would need.
How fitting that I heard the chimes at Samford Hall as I walked by. I have no idea how long they have welcomed new students and old alumni to Auburn. I still make it a point to walk through Samford Lawn every day, no matter where the rest of my walk may take me.
In the aftermath of a very challenging year, life is coming back to this college town and everywhere I walked, I could still hear the band. It was a comforting and inspirational sound after all we have been through, not only here in Auburn but around the world.
Our struggle with the pandemic has been long, and it is not over, but all over America college students coming back together. Some are leaving home for the first time, making new friends every day. Some are returning to another year of studies and renewing friendships on pause for the Summer.
As I walked all over the campus of Auburn University today, I could feel the hope and dreams of all who were arriving, captured in the familiar sounds of the music as the band played on.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com