Recently, Clemson has unveiled a new campaign with a giant banner on the side of the Visitor's Center that reads "I Am A Tiger. I Will Lead." Quite simply, I really like it.
First off, this year (and somewhat last year as well), I've really stepped up into leadership roles. I've never really seen myself as a leader, but as I grow up/grow into myself I'm broadening my sense of self. I realize that you don't have to be born a leader to become a leader, and that there are multiple ways to lead. I'm finding the best way that works for me, so that when I leave Clemson I'll be more prepared for a leadership role. So first off, I'm glad that that is the message going out to incoming students - you may not be a leader not, but you WILL Lead...just give it time.
Moreover, I'm writing based more on the tiger aspect of it. I've always really liked mascots in general - not necessarily in terms of a guy dressed up in a costume going around trying to get people to cheer/being annoying, but in terms of an animal/warrior/local flavor or what have you that represents a team or larger idea. As a kid, I enjoyed picturing what a battle between the two mascots would look like - whether that was at a soccer tournament or watching a professional game. Nowadays, I like to keep a Mascot Bracket during March Madness, mainly just for shits and giggles and to see if it will turn out any more successful than my "real" bracket. Point being, I'm drawn to thinking of mascots more than just a representative, but as an actual, tangible thing/character at times.
Perfect is a strong word, but I think a tiger is an almost perfect representative for me. I'm no wildlife scientist, but I have seen my fair share of documentaries and National Geographic segments to have a fundamental understanding of tigers. For a counterpoint, take the lion - the lion spends its entire life with its pride: hunting as a group, defending its kind, and following the herds. Without the pride, the lion would not be long for this world - it is completely dependent on others. The tiger, however, is solitary. It hunts alone, it finds new territory and claims it; it defends this land to the death, and is fully self-reliant. Now, I am by no means fully independent - financially first and foremost - but I like to think of myself as more independent than most my age. I've claimed my own territory - choosing colleges, I headed twelve hours south, away from all friends, family, and with a limited idea of what I could expect. And now? I claim it as mine - I have pride, maybe not so much in South Carolina as a whole, but certainly in Clemson. I define myself with it, it has completely enthralled me; it's my home for the majority of the year, and it has become an inseparable part of my identity. One of my greatest experiences of the summer last year is when I decided to travel to Bologna on my own. I won't get into the details of it, but basically I had researched it and decided I really wanted to go - when nobody else jumped on board, I said fuck it - I'm going anyway. I caught shit for it, but it was an unbelievable experience and something that really allowed me to grow as a traveler and a person.
Furthermore, I don't avoid solitude - in fact, I often find comfort in it. I enjoy strolling through campus - especially late at night - on my own, with my headphones in and hoodie up if the weather calls for it. I had friends freshmen year that, if they couldn't find anyone to eat with, would simply skip meals. That blew my mind that they were so interdependent. I can't even fathom how many times I just went to the dining hall alone freshmen year; surely I preferred to eat with friends, but if no one could go, I didn't let that stop me. And in fact, a lot of the close friendships I made freshmen year were because I jumped into a group of a few people I recognized and started meeting their friends on days when I trekked to Harcombe all by my lonesome. In fact, I'm a little too comfortable with solitude at times - I'm able to spend the day hanging out at my house revisiting old video games or watching stupid movies on my own all summer long. How many people would be driven crazy by that notion? And yet, I find an almost solace in it for a certain period.
You can't discuss tigers without talking about their exterior - the iconic tiger stripes. Amazingly, these stripes help to keep tigers camouflaged in the tall grass or foliage of the jungle; but take them out of their element, and they are easily recognizable and completely stand out. I don't think I need to explain what the color orange means to me as a Clemson student - I could go for over a month easily only wearing orange and never doing laundry - but needless to say this is pretty applicable. On campus or at a game, Solid Orange is a way of life for me. I can easily blend into a crowd decked out from head to toe in orange - hat, shirt, overalls, socks, shoes, the whole nine yards. In fact, as a freshmen on days that weren't Friday or a game day for whatever sporting event I was attending that day, I took advice to avoid orange and wear something unique to me (something from Philadelphia or a favorite band shirt, perhaps) in order to see if I couldn't strike up a conversation with someone and make a new friend those first few weeks. By wearing everyday clothes from high school, here I was standing out. Yet leave Clemson, and people start to look at you funny when your wardrobe consists of all orange all the time. Out of his natural element, the tiger sticks out like no other - and so it is with me when I depart from dear old Clemson.
It's funny - when I look back at my college decision, I invariably wonder what my life would be like somewhere else. I am truly happy here and with my choice to come to Clemson, and so I have no regrets about that. But I do think how my life would be different if I had gone to NC State. Honestly, it doesn't even seem like my second choice any longer; the more time I spend here, the less affiliation I feel to my "backup" or what have you. There's really no way to grasp the changes there would be in me and my personality - maybe in some parallel universe - but I do consider: how would my life be in Raleigh? What would I have chosen to get involved in? What would my friend circle look like - and with that: would I be reflecting on how well I fit into my Wolf Pack?