Looking Back on Trinity’s 150th Anniversary

There’s a barber shop in Waxahachie called the White House run by an old barber named Raul who’s been there for decades. I must have visited the place a dozen times to get my hair cut before I mentioned that I attend Trinity University when I’m not back home. Raul stopped clipping and tottered away with half my hair still long and returned from behind a shelf with a stack of old Trinity yearbooks he’d found in estate sales. Atop the stack sat the 1942 Mirage, the last yearbook we printed in Waxahachie before moving to San Antonio. Nestled between a lot of tuxedo portraits and pictures of football players with leather helmets was a letter of appreciation to the city of Waxahachie:

Forty years ago, to be exact, on March 21, 1902, the cornerstone for the Trinity University Administration building was laid in Waxahachie. The following September, Trinity, one of the oldest educational institutions in Texas, in Waxahachie began its thirty-third year, after moving from Tehuacana.

Since that time the institution has advanced itself into one of the most widely recognized schools in the Southwest, not only in size, but in its scholastic achievement, its proven training facilities, and its moral record…

It is with deepest regret that Trinity must depart from its loyal friends, its benevolent helpers, and its unflinching supporters, but it is with the Waxahachie spirit that it will carry to San Antonio. Trinity traditions molded here in Waxahachie will linger as long as Trinity exists…

From page 7 of the 1942 Mirage yearbook. See Mirage archives here.

And so began our exodus to the Alamo City. Those embarkers uprooted themselves and traveled here with the hope that some deeper core went with them, some spirit of the university to which they would stay tethered. There would be new buildings, new classes of students, but the accomplishments and ways of old would surely be kept.

Needless to say, our forebears would hardly recognize Trinity in its current state. Unless we’ve got a gray-haired old historian in the library with bifocals and one of those green visors waiting to blow the dust off a leather-bound volume of Ye Olde Waxahachie Traditions and enlighten us, Trinity students will continue to have no idea what Trinity traditions were molded in Waxahachie.

The university has made some efforts (that at once seem both labored and slapdash) to instill some traditions on the San Antonio campus: dunking people on their birthday, nachos on Wednesday, Christmas on Oakmont, and so forth. These are fun things to do, but they don’t date back to the Waxahachie campus, which has no fountain and is quite a trek away from Oakmont Ct. In the end, that’s no big deal. Fountains and food do not constitute the true symbolism of Trinity. Going through the outward motions isn’t the point—the point is whether or not our identity is tied to some core of principle.

Trinity’s time in San Antonio has been characterized by a mad dash for modernity, especially in recent years. In the past decade, the administration has extensively renovated several buildings on campus, created more and more new full-time positions (like the Director of Diversity and Inclusion), and introduced new First Year Experience courses as an alternative to the original Great Books of the Western World course. The school has let itself fall into the unending cycle of seeking the next big thing, chasing the whims of needy students and the demands of marketing. It is a fruitless ambition that pleases a select few in the moment and even fewer people as time goes on.

As evidenced by the shameful way many of our student leaders treated President Anderson last week, progressives can be insatiable; their demands, rarely concrete, are often bottomless.

Fads so often are like cultural one-night stands. The thrill of the avant-garde dissolves into a sense of regret once we come to our senses. Few laymen prefer brutalism over classical architecture, and I’m sure most of us would rather listen to Bach than Schoenberg or George Crumb. But sticking to the classics is limiting, and experimentation can breed great beauty, like jazz or Impressionism. The difference between passing fads and lasting appreciation is all about motive: the desire to make something good lasts longer than novelty for novelty’s sake.

The trick is to seek new things while sticking to tradition. Tradition is a natural way of solidifying common identity, among citizens of the present and along the timeline. Our juggernaut path to the future is a great way of firing up some people now, but tradition guarantees that when two Trinity graduates meet by happenstance in the world, that connection will mean something. Tradition is what assured our class of ’47 that, though they would necessarily adapt to a new world, the name of Trinity would evoke the same principles of excellence, knowledge, and morality.

Trinity’s 150th Anniversary Signage; photo by Maddie D’iorio.

Change, especially for a college campus, isn’t necessarily good or bad. The merits of progress lie in its goal. Does the administration earnestly want to seek new knowledge, or is it dashing to satisfy a class of ravenous activists and escape lawsuit? Are we renovating our old buildings to make them safer or to catch the attention of prospective students? And, the most important question of all: amidst the remodeling and new courses and searching like mad for a female engineering professor, does the administration care about its moral record?

Considering that the academic consensus in modern anthropology is one of moral and cultural relativism, the answer is probably no. Our university is not tied to any core of principle; our values (Discovery, Excellence, Impact, the Individual, Community) seem hopelessly banal, and remain unenforced and apart from student life. You’ll not find our motto, E Tribus Unum, on any stationary or T-shirts; it is too unavoidably Christian, and too old. It exists only in mosaic in front of Northrup Hall, where we’re jokingly told not to remember it, but step around it, drawing a subtle line between reverence and avoidance.

The true meaning of Trinity has become indefinable, hazy, a mirage; the administration is forced to retroactively instill a sense of identity among an apathetic, unspirited student body. If Trinity does not stop its mad dash to become the campus of the future, the quality of our schooling will continue to degrade right along with the very meaning of the university itself.

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