Terms of Endearment

Kenyon's beauty can be an acquired taste

I was not impressed with Kenyon's campus on my first visit in the summer of 1997. Oppressive Midwestern heat sucked the life out of the expansive lawns while straggly, unpruned mums took over the flower beds long before it was their turn to put on a show. And what was this gravel-strewn dust bowl known as Middle Path? A fine layer of dirt covered my polished black dress shoes while little pebbles nicked at the leather during the campus tour portion of my job interview. If Kenyon made an offer, I would have to remember to request an allowance for shoe polish.

I've spent my entire career in higher education, and I grew up in a college town. I knew what a college campus was supposed to look like, and it was not supposed to look like this. Kenyon's admissions materials touted one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. There must have been a mistake. I must have been shipped to some satellite campus for the interview. Where were the neatly edged and mulched flower beds to which I had become accustomed? The sprinkler systems must have been on hiatus to preserve water. Perhaps landscaping around the historic buildings of south campus had been stripped away to make room for improvements as part of a forthcoming master plan. As for the mums, everyone knows they should be juiced up on steroids and planted early each fall for maximum effect.

I put the aesthetics aside and accepted the job when it was offered. Looks, after all, aren't everything.

Within a few months after I moved to Gambier in August, something magical happened. It was called autumn. As the air grew crisp and the leaves changed colors, I began to understand the spirit of this place. Middle Path, even with its mud in the spring, ice in the winter, and dust in the summer, permeates Gambier's sense of character. I later learned that Collegiate Gothic architecture is supposed to come sans landscaping. I began to understand that Kenyon is a rural campus that embraces its surroundings. Its beauty comes not only from the historic architecture but also from the organic nature of the landscape. Imposing a more urban aesthetic of mulched, edged, and pruned flowerbeds at Kenyon would be a crime.

Comparing Kenyon to other college campuses is like comparing a Manhattan brownstone to cookie-cutter suburban tract housing. Kenyon is really that different. Fall is our most glorious season. In higher education circles, autumn has become a cliché. All over America, glossy admissions materials trumpet campus glamour shots as weary copywriters struggle to find new ways to define beauty. While those of us who work at Kenyon often tire of the scenic photos that adorn so many of our publications, I've come to realize that our alumni and friends do not. In fact, you often request that the Bulletin run more campus photos.

That's why I invited landscape photographer Jeff Corwin to campus this fall to photograph Kenyon and the surrounding countryside in its autumnal glory. The photos featured in this issue of the Bulletin are timeless. Whether you fell in love with Gambier on your first visit or learned to acquire a taste for it, I hope you enjoy the visual delights this issue of the magazine has to offer. I've worked at Kenyon for ten years and I still marvel at the beauty of this place. And I've become accustomed to polishing my shoes on a weekly basis.

Shawn Presley is the editor of the Bulletin. Prior to Kenyon, his exposure to college campuses involved more urban settings in the Midwest and newer campuses in the South.

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