Union’s cherished traditions sometimes change over time

By Gracie Ferrell, News Editor

Men in suits and ties. Women twirling in formal dresses. A table lined with a punch bowl and finger foods. Twelve years ago, this was the scene at Union’s inaugural formal dance, the Millennial Ball. Today, most students have no idea Union ever organized the off-campus event.

“The first (ball) was a huge success,” said Justin Phillips, special assistant to the vice president for student services and assistant dean of students. “There was a good bit of support for it. For those who were not involved in Greek life, this was a chance to have the ‘formal’ experience during college, and it gave students from the different organizations a chance to hang out all together, too.”

After its inaugural year in 2000, the ball became known as the Cardinal Ball. However, 2005 marked the event’s last year.

In addition to the ball, many other events, phrases and ways of life have changed over the nearly 190 years of the university’s existence.

Even less than a decade ago, the campus worked differently. Prior to Facebook, Twitter and the popular use of cell phones, every student’s bedroom featured a landline phone.

“If you were in an organization you could pick up the phone, have everyone’s number already programmed in and call to leave a voicemail for everyone in your organization at one time,” said Josh Clarke, director of alumni relations and Young Alums adviser.

The 2008 tornado almost completely changed the map of Union. With it, some previous meeting places disappeared, such as “the circle” drive, once located between the Hurt and Watters residence complexes, Clarke said. The drive was a point for students across the campus to rally together before events, he said.

“Most traditions that have fallen off needed to go, simply because they no longer fit the reality of what the school has become,” Phillips said. “You just outgrow some things.”

Increasing enrollment forced some campus traditions out the door. An annual enrollment event called “Spring Thing” allowed all incoming students to spend a weekend on campus, much like the current Scholars of Excellence Weekend event.

“It was one of those types of things that really brought you into the Union community,” Clarke said, reflecting on his own experience with the event.

However, with the number of entering freshmen growing each year, the annual enrollment event was not feasible any longer.

One tradition from Union’s past might be making a reappearance, though, Clarke said. The graduating class of 2011, the last class on campus during the 2008 tornado, gave the university funding to bring back the “Sugar Shack,” a pavilion once located in the current Heritage Residence Complex.

Phillips encouraged students to take advantage of the surroundings.

“The campus is much bigger now, so it’s possible to create traditions or events around certain landmarks on campus, whereas beforehand, we were simply making due with what was available,” Phillips said.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.