College students tend to live in the present, and well they should, given all the opportunities offered every moment of every day at Saint Louis University. And when students do look beyond the everyday rush of life on campus, they tend to look in only one direction: forward.
After all, the whole point of a college education is to prepare for the future, right? And with an impending avalanche of activities always on the horizon, how can you not think about tomorrow? Even the most lackadaisical students get that nagging, “I should really be doing homework” feeling every once in a while. So the future makes an imprint on life in college, even just insofar as it’s inevitable.
But how often do students think about the past? And how far back into the past do those thoughts reach? For many SLU students, their interaction with the past is limited to mandatory history classes and stories told over breakfast on Sunday mornings.
Unbeknownst to much of the Billiken population, the past is all around us. Frost Campus was once the site of Camp Jackson, a Civil War encampment where Union forces once clashed with rioting civilians. Indeed, the entire city of St. Louis is full of history. It would be a mistake to consider St. Louis a drab, commercialized Midwestern metropolis; this city was once the fourth largest in the country, and it has its own unique story, full of fantastic and captivating characters. And since 1818, a little over a decade after the U.S. obtained Missouri in the Louisiana Purchase, SLU has been a part of this city’s history.
Every SLU student has seen the flags that fly around campus, touting a long list of SLU “firsts.” “First University west of the Mississippi” is perhaps the most repeated one. And most people know about SLU’s football claim to fame: the first legal forward pass in 1906. But flags, facts and figures don’t give a full picture of this university’s history.
There’s a human side to the SLU statistics, one that too often goes unseen. Consider just a few of our notable alumni. Gene Kranz, an alumnus of Parks College, was the flight director at NASA during the Gemini and Apollo programs. In the film “Apollo 13,” he was portrayed by Ed Harris, who offers the movie’s tagline “Failure is not an option.”
In athletics, SLU soccer legend Brian McBride was the first American to score in two FIFA World Cups, and Billiken basketball star Ed McCauley was the youngest male player ever to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
SLU faculty members deserve many accolades as well. Fr. Walter J. Ong, both a SLU alumnus and faculty member, conducted groundbreaking research on the effects of writing when it is introduced to primarily oral cultures. Edward Adelbert Doisy, after whom Doisy College is named, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1943. And Fr. Claude Heithaus, professor of archaeology, is remembered for delivering a powerful sermon in College Church that motivated the racial integration of the university in 1944.
SLU students have much to be proud of: our beautiful campus, our athletic programs, our impressive academics and our commitment to service. But we should also take pride in the foundation on which all of that was built, in the historical Saint Louis University and its achievements through the years. This decade, SLU will celebrate its bicentennial anniversary, but there’s no reason to wait for arbitrary dates to commemorate our history. We should always keep SLU’s distinguished past in mind, and let it inspire us as we create tomorrow’s history today.