Monday, September 27, 2010

Proud Mary

It was Parent's Weekend at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia this past weekend and, like the devoted parents that we are, we went happily down to visit our son Kevin, now in his second year at this historic and beautifully landscaped liberal arts university no longer tucked quietly away in this famous colonial and Civil War town just north of Richmond, but rightfully claiming its place, according to many college review magazines, books and surveys, among the best public universities in the country.

The campus is expanding and growing, boldly into the future, in spite of today's economy while confidently honoring it's historical heritage as one of Virginia's oldest public, and since 1970, coeducational, state universities.  The new buildings are modern yet sympathetic to the existing ones that have stood on this campus since it's founding in 1908, originally as a college for women.  Today, the splendor and grandeur of this school is not in its size of not quite 5000 students, but in the attention to detail and history here that contributes to the quality of education and the serene beauty of this pedestrian campus.

This makes us very glad indeed because, as we all know, a college education, especially in this day and age, is not easy on the bank account.  So, if you are going to send your child to college, you might as well send him to one that's easy on the eyes.  Okay, so that isn't why we sent him to The University of Mary Washington which is gaining the reputation as a school that provides "an Ivy League education at a state university price."  Actually, Kevin chose it himself and although I'm sure he understands the value of the education he is getting here, I'm not so sure he fully appreciates the Georgian architecture and Jeffersonian influence exuding from the brick lined walkways and boxwood gardens to the neoclassical columns and archways right down to the location of the campus itself, on the edge of an area called Mayre's Heights.  The Battle of Fredericksburg took place here in 1862, right in front of the mansion which now houses the university's President.

Two years ago, when we first visited UMW, part of the Rinek pre-college circuit tour, we were pleasantly surprised to find grand old magnolias, dogwoods, box woods, evergreens and more, all gracing this campus, intertwined among the buildings and common areas.  Both Peter and I, having grown up in the Midwest, are Big Ten Graduates from schools so large and vast, even 30 years ago, they encompassed the towns they were attached to so, walking through a campus that is strictly a campus truly something to behold.

A Landscape Architect by trade, Peter fawned over all of the specimen plantings, thoughtfully placed walkways, fountains and statues and neatly clipped trees and bushes.  I think if he could have justified it, he would have enrolled himself, right then and there, as a beginning freshman.  However, I quickly reminded him that someone had to show up to work, and collect a regular paycheck that would pay for Kevin's education.  (It's Kevin's turn now, Dear.  You did the right thing.  We had our turn at college, albeit long ago, and that was good, too.)  Snapped back into reality, he glumly agreed, put on his game face, and started talking up UMW to Kevin, who I think had already made up his mind to go there anyway, each time we toured another school. 
In the two plus years since we first walked on to that campus, Peter has resigned himself happily to being a UMW Dad always insisting that we walk the campus from end to end--about 15 minutes one way--and take in the sights of this Virginia gem of a school.  Once, last year while walking through the campus, Peter discovered poison ivy dangling from a tree in a manner that anyone not familiar with this vine could easily brush up against.  He emailed the University Maintenance Department the next day and received notification back, almost immediately, thanking him for bringing it to their attention and that they had taken care of the problem.  Thus strengthening Peter's ongoing love affair with UMW! 

Kevin just sighs to himself and, thankfully, humors his parents who often play tourist and ask him to pose just about everywhere around the place.  In fact, last fall, to Kevin's mortification, Peter and I spent some time collecting fallen magnolia seed pods in order to make handmade gifts and crafts from nature.  The magnolia trees had some of the biggest seed pods that I had ever seen and I could not let an opportunity like that pass me by...until the campus police drove by and inquired as to what Peter and I were doing...sigh.

The University of Mary Washington is named for our country's first president's mother, a strong individual in her own right and the town itself, having weathered the tests of time, is quaint and historic.  In fact, before 1970, UMW was known as the University of Virginia for Women and was affiliated with UVA but became it's own entity in 1972.  This past year, I met a women in her late 70's who proudly told me she graduated from the University of Virginia over 70 years ago and I said that my son is now going to UMW and how much we liked the school, too.  She, in all of her wisdom, mirth and denial promptly corrected me and said that SHE graduated from the University of Virginia!...Okayyyyy, whatever! 
I did detect a note of frustration from Kevin, however, this past weekend as we asked him to stand under the centuries old Linden tree, said to be the oldest tree on campus and situated next to the President's Mansion, for yet another picture.  "You know," he said turning to me, "I think you've taken more pictures of me on this campus than you ever took of me playing all of those years of baseball while I was growing up."  Admittedly, that may be true.  But, how can you compare the beauty of a baseball field to the beauty of an historic arboretum-like college campus...I ask you?!  And, by the way, we have plenty of pictures of Kevin playing baseball along with every other sport that came along since he, after all, is our pride and joy.
In any case, if you are driving through Fredericksburg and find yourself with nothing to do, or if you are on your own pre-college circuit tour, I heartily recommend visiting The University of Mary Washington. During the past couple of years, we have also visited numerous museums and homes very close to the campus, most of which at one time or another, belonged to various members of George Washington's family here in Fredericksburg and their plantings and landscapes are just as beautiful as UMW's Campus.  
I  also happen to know a student on campus at UMW who will be happy to stand and pose for a picture along with you and your own college-bound child.  And, by the way, I do have a picture (or two) from last year of that same student playing baseball here, as a matter of fact.  Hmmmmmm, it looks like a nicely clipped lawn and pretty good pitcher's mound, too.  Don't you think?!?

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