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Final, Final

A ritual decades upon decades old took place today at Ole Miss. It’s the kind of right-of-Ole Miss-passage that binds us all. Sometimes it’s the little things. It’s that one 24 hrs. with a feel all its own. It’s the last day of finals before Christmas. Hotty Toddy its your final, final!

The Lyceum by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications
The Lyceum by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

If you’ve been paying any attention at all then you know we built The Lyceum in ’47 and started grading papers in ’48. 1848, that is. Some of the earliest accounts from the citizens of Oxford are about the problem with the new college boys who would not stop riding their horses through town at all hours of the night and shooting their pistols…and drinking whiskey. There weren’t any Ole Miss girls back then which was, of course, unfair to women but all the same probably a blessing for Mississippi girls.

Ole Miss rocked along and enrollment went up every year and we started adding more buildings around the Circle and the sciences were flourishing and great telescopes were being made and shipped to Ole Miss, along with some great minds from New England, and old England. It was in those 10-12 early years that the country started to see that the University of Mississippi was going to be something special. But those were Mississippi’s ‘Gone With The Wind’ years.

For Oxford, Mississippi, and its citizens, those first 10-12 years that started with several women’s church organizations forming committees to address the ‘problem with the boys’…to a full and vibrant social calendar and set of families who built the town, from scratch, in a melting pot with educators and administrators from across America.

It was the very beginning of what set, and still sets, Oxford apart from its neighboring North Mississippi county seats. It was in those 10-12 years that Mississippi started too see that Oxford was going to be something special.

 Ole Miss student J. S. Gage died on the battlefield at Gettysburg - Miss. Dept. of Archives and History
Ole Miss student J. S. Gage died on the battlefield at Gettysburg – Miss. Dept. of Archives and History

Then the War. A century before the robust Ole Miss 1950’s turned into the rebellious Meredith 1960’s, the robust Ole Miss 1850’s lead into the Confederate 1860’s. Historians disagree over just how many Ole Miss boys joined the University Greys and how many went home first and then joined their county units.

But it’s agreed that after they rode away in May of ’61, all save one, never saw Ole Miss again. In the fall of 1861 there weren’t enough students to form a freshman class and the University closed. The Old South went down at Appomattox but Ole Miss had already gone down in Pickett’s Charge. Oxford was burned to the ground. It was final, final for The South, but for Ole Miss there was still something there. With southern and northern blood stains all through it…the Lyceum was still standing.

The world has flipped over a 1000 times since the late 1860’s when Ole Miss was getting to her feet again and seeing a future. Ten years later Miss. A & M College was started up in Starkville. Soon Southern and Delta State and Memphis State came along and we became part of the first social and southern academic network.

But Mississippi fun can’t be held down. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” could stop it from the swift completion of its appointed Hotty Toddy rounds. In 1893 we started playing football and in the 2nd season we played both Alabama and LSU for the first time and beat them both! A few years later when State finally got a team together we beat the tar out of them for a bunch of seasons. Hotty Toddy! That’s when The Fun found Oxford again.

train station - om students
Ole Miss students boarding the train at the Oxford Depot, ca. 1920 – The Howorth Collection

And its never left. The complete collection of Ole Miss’ annuals tells the whole tale. Through the Roaring Twenties and beyond you’ll find a yearly supply of great Ole Miss memories with one thing in common. Each volume finds a student body full of Ole Miss smiles. Even through the great wars that stretched worldwide and not excluding the riotous battle on campus in ’62.

And again there is touched upon the thing that binds us. In 1848, 60, 61, 65, 93 and 1914, 41, 62, 68, 86 and coming forward there was and is an Ole Miss spirit that you either know in your heart, or you don’t. “We Are Ole Miss” in our shared experiences of life on the Ole Miss campus. The common experience of the walk to class on that last day before Christmas holidays…it had a different feel. It was quieter. This was it. And that light, carefree, heady, feeling when you walked out of your final, final.

For a generation of 1970’s Rebels and all the Ole Miss generations since, right up until this afternoon on campus, we had never in our lives been so ‘cut loose’ for 3-4 weeks of Christmas as we were then, or are today. Sleeping late…Family, Food, Football, (grades), Parties, Hunting, Grand Ma’s, more football, New Year’s Eve & Day and all the way to the Super Bowl was just laid out there in front of us, with an Ole Miss smile.

In 1848 the ladies of Oxford were looking out their kitchen windows, with a smirk on their faces, at those Ole Miss boys on the horses leaving for home after their final, finals. And this morning the everlasting bond that binds Oxford to Ole Miss was renewed once again when an Oxford lady looked out her kitchen window, with a smile on her face, at those Ole Miss students laughing and loading their cars and leaving for home after their final, finals.

Volunteers help Ole Miss students move out last year - Photo from Ole Miss School of Education
Volunteers help Ole Miss students move out last year – Photo from Ole Miss School of Education

Right now there is a long line of cars on Hwy 6, both ways, leaving Lafayette County heading for home with Ole Miss smiles. And meanwhile, back in Oxford, they are smiling too. The old town, along with the families that built it, and are still serving today, takes a deep breath and eases back into being itself, if only for 3-4 weeks. The students are gone!

–John Cofield

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