Tennessee Alumnus

Conquering the Hill

By Marshall Ramsey

On a crisp fall day, a little girl clutched her doll and looked up at the steep concrete steps in front of her. Her tiny heart raced from her nervousness. She looked up again. It felt like she was about to climb Mount Everest. At the top was her dad. He was standing there in his Condredge Holloway jersey and was waiting for her to join him. “C’mon, sweetheart, you can do it. Be brave and take your first step. I’ll be here waiting for you.”

The red-brick buildings stood out boldly against the bright blue East Tennessee sky. She lifted her foot and took her first step. And then her second. She was determined to conquer the Hill.

Fourteen years later, she stood halfway up the stairs. She paused and readjusted her book bag. Her lungs burned as they tried to catch up with her heart. As good shape as she was in, walking up the Hill still took her breath away.

She turned around and marveled at the view. Off in the distance was the new John C. Hodges Library. The Humanities Building across Andy Holt Drive was to its left. She could see “The Spam Can,” or Stokely Management Building, as it was officially known. And there was Glocker.

She had classes in the business building just as her father had so many years ago. Off to her left was Alumni Memorial Gym. And Neyland Stadium. The mighty Neyland Stadium. She always thought it looked like a steel erector set. When her dad was in college, it was a one-level horseshoe. That horseshoe still lived beneath the maze of steel beams.

She admired the view in front of her. There it was — the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She smiled. She was determined to make her mark on it. To make a difference. And to never be forgotten. She was determined to conquer the Hill.

She looked down at her watch.  Her math class in Ayres Hall began in five minutes. The backpack was slung back into place. She turned around, lifted her foot and took her next step.

Two years later, she was standing three-quarters of the way up the stairs. Later that afternoon, she would walk across a stage in Thompson-Boling Arena. It was graduation day — a day she had raced toward with a laser-like precision. She thought about the ballgames. The concerts. The nights studying in the library. The old bowling alley in the University Center. Hanging out after the ballgames on the Strip. She thought about the hikes in the Smokies with her boyfriend. She turned back around and looked out on the campus. Soon she would have her diploma in her hand. Soon she would conquer the Hill.

Twenty years later, a little boy clutched his Smokey and looked up at the steep concrete steps. His tiny heart raced from his nervousness. He looked up again. It felt like he was about to climb Mount Everest. At the top was his mom. She was standing there in her Peyton Manning jersey, waiting for him to join her. “C’mon, sweetheart, you can do it. Be brave and take your first step. I’ll be here waiting for you.”

The red-brick buildings stood out boldly against the bright blue East Tennessee sky. He lifted his foot and took his first step. And then his second. He was determined to conquer the Hill.

The woman in the Peyton Manning jersey watched her son climb the steps just like she had 36 years ago. She turned and looked at her dad, who was standing next to her. He hugged her, smiled a wise smile and said, “You now realize that UT is eternal. You thought you’d leave your mark on it. But, moments like this, you realize that it left its mark on you.”

And, on that day, while standing next to her dad and watching her son, she realized that she had finally conquered the Hill.

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Marshall Ramsey (Knoxville ’91), a third-generation UT graduate, is a staff cartoonist for the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and syndicated by Creators Syndicate. You can follow his blog at marshallramsey.com.