Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Frank E. Everett Jr. and ‘The Heart of Ole Miss’

If you find yourself speechless, unable to put into words the feelings or beliefs you hold deeply about somebody or something, don’t despair. Many psychologists agree that such a belief is a fundamental part of who we are as individuals and is to be cherished.

Photo courtesy Robert Jordan, UM Communications
Photo courtesy Robert Jordan, UM Communications

This rings true for the thousands of us who come to Ole Miss, whether to visit, work or study, and upon leaving, feel an uncommon attachment to this special place. More than 2,500 spring candidates for degrees may experience such nostalgia for the first time on May 10 as they march through the ever-inspiring Grove for the school’s 161st commencement, a benchmark occasion and glorious time for each of them. And should they search for words to match their feelings, they might well recall verses of a poem that alumnus Frank E. Everett Jr. penned in the early 1970s, after having received his bachelor’s degree in 1932 followed by the Bachelor of Laws in 1934.

The University is buildings, trees, and people. Ole Miss is mood, emotion, and personality. One is physical, and the other is spiritual. One is tangible, and the other intangible. There is a valid distinction between The University and Ole Miss even though the separate threads are closely interwoven.

The University is respected, but Ole Miss is loved. The University gives a diploma and regretfully terminates tenure, but one never graduates from Ole Miss.

While the history of Everett’s original 600-word rhythmic composition is not widely known, these three verses are familiar to Ole Miss alums and friends everywhere, as they are printed in a red and blue design on cards and framed copies bearing a likeness of the historic Lyceum. And every student who passes this way will surely remember the third verse that is presented on a plaque displayed on a stairway wall in the Ole Miss Student Union, placed there when the building was constructed.

Everett probably searched for words over the years to describe his feelings for his alma mater but was moved to write them down in the early 1970s to present at a meeting of the Warren County Alumni Club, according to Ole Miss alumnus Ed Canizaro of Vicksburg. The two were close friends, brought together by their mutual love of Ole Miss. Canizaro attended the alumni gathering and relates an interesting account.

“The meeting was at the Downtown Motor Inn (in Vicksburg),” he said. “Frank got up and read his poem and everybody was overwhelmed. Joanne Sharborough was president of the club and she called him the next day to get a copy of what he had read. He had thrown it in the trash that night but was able to retrieve it.”

Canizaro has a copy of his friend’s original handwritten version of the poem that Everett presented at the alumni meeting. He shared a copy of the final version with me, which reads as follows:

OLE MISS

There is a valid distinction between “The University” and “Ole Miss”, even though the separate threads are closely interwoven. The University is buildings, trees and people. Ole Miss is mood, emotion and personality. One is physical and the other spiritual, one tangible and the other intangible. The University is respected, but Ole Miss is loved. For anyone without that love it does not exist. The University is geographical, but Ole Miss is universal. There are many universities, but there is only one Ole Miss.

What then is Ole Miss?

Ole Miss is intimate and personal with a special meaning to each one. It is as elusive to define as capturing a cloud.

Ole Miss is agony and ecstasy, with no middle ground. Anything less than glorious triumph brings sheer misery and utter despair.

Ole Miss is the citadel where beauty dwells.

Ole Miss is lacy moon shadows on the great white columns of the Lyceum.

Ole Miss is the Grove where in the Spring the soft whispering breeze sings through the high lifted branches of the trees its sweetest songs, and where on crisp Autumn Saturdays are lavishly spread the most massive picnics ever conceived.

Ole Miss is a six year old, proudly labeled with a big “18” on his back. Ole Miss is in Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, Atlantic City and Tulane Stadium or wherever its people are, together or alone.

Ole Miss is in a service club in distant Heidelberg where among hundreds more, a young soldier far from home scribbled his name on the wall with the sole identification “Ole Miss, By Damn!”

Ole Miss is a lonely white cross in an endless row of crosses on a remote and rocky mountainside at Casino.

Ole Miss is an impromptu reunion at a South Pacific crossroad somewhere between Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.

Ole Miss is a smile of recognition, an excited embrace, a warm handshake, a friend in every town, village and hamlet from Tunica to Tylertown and Pontotoc to Pascagoula.

Ole Miss is a quiet little bald man from the red hills of Georgia smiling near the visitors’ gate at Sanford Stadium in Athens wearing a battered old button with wrinkled red and blue ribbon hungry to hear voices and see faces from home.

Ole Miss is an eager freshman yelling, shouting and jumping with uncontained excitement in the line ahead of me at Legion Field in Birmingham. I was numb and silent with apprehension. He demanded, “Who are you for?” I said, “Son, I was for Ole Miss before you were born.” Looking at my gray hair he said, “I guess you are right” and stuck out his hand. We shook and the generation gap dissolved. Ole Miss knows no boundaries of age.

Ole Miss is the deep throb of drumming music that beats a battle song—the lithe steps on long young limbs that measure the marching cadence heralding that the Rebels are on the move again.

Ole Miss is Bourbon Street at its best, or at its worst.

Ole Miss, too, is a quiet meditation under blue skies on Sardis Lake or in an ancient country church at College Hill.

Ole Miss is an unbreakable unity, a lasting living bond between those past, and those present, and those to come.

Ole Miss is a million memories, a million dreams, a million hopes, a million aims blended into one viable regenerating totality of experience and aspiration.

The University gives a diploma and regretfully terminates tenure, but one never graduates from Ole Miss.

In short, Ole Miss is us!

A native of Indianola, Everett made his mark as an Ole Miss student. He was named Colonel Rebel and elected president of the Associated Student Body. In Vicksburg, he worked at the law firm Brunini, Everett, Beanland and Wheeless. He served as president of the statewide Ole Miss Alumni Association and was a member of the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame. He died in 1986.

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