Northwestern University is always casting about for icons and traditions. We keep building things and sticking things in the ground and telling people they’re historical, but we’re not fooling anybody. What do you think of when you think of Northwestern? What is the physical definition of this place? What object will act as our representative to the world? Every likely option has serious shortcomings. The Technological Institute is too functional, Lake Michigan is too impersonal, and University Hall is frankly unspectacular. We erected The Arch in the glorious and thoroughly historical 1970s and, while iconic enough for parents, photographers, and visiting dignitaries, it has proven to be too modern and disingenuous to truly capture the spirit of our beloved University in physical form.
Lacking a more magnificent option, we Wildcats resort to worshiping The Rock, that ragged, chintzy flake of granite awkwardly plopped at a random south campus crossroads. The dubious and unwelcome “gift” of the class of 1902, The Rock was originally a fountain; naturally, it failed very quickly at this purpose, then failed again as a drinking fountain before administrators decided to cut their losses and just let it be a solid piece of stone. Even this rather modest role proved too much in 1989, when to accommodate new landscaping, The Rock was stripped of its remaining dignity and moved some 20 feet (The Rock should move us, not the other way around.) and dropped along the way: it cracked and crumbled and had to be glued back together like a broken lamp in a poor home, or some soulless, overgrown Humpty Dumpty.
For all its many deficiencies in historical value, moral character, and aesthetic pleasantness, if we could only correct the most conspicuous of The Rock’s failings I believe it could finally fulfill its purpose as the symbol of our University and lead Northwestern into a brave new era of light and justice. I speak, of course, of The Rock’s inferior size.
I for one am sick and tired of The Rock being so small. Our college’s rock should be grand and imposing and monumental, as big as the combined power, potential, and hope of every student and scholar at Northwestern. A glimpse of The Rock should fill each student with the same warm spreading feeling of pride and belongingness associated with barn raisings, World Series victories, and The Star Spangled Banner set to fireworks.
Every time I see my university’s rock I should think, “This rock has shattered my conception of vastness.” I walk by our current Rock and think, “This rock is about the size of a large van.” This thing doesn’t even really deserve to be called The Rock. It is more of a Rock, or just a rock, as in “There is a rock in front of Kresge Hall” or “I have a rock in my shoe.”
I want it to be vast beyond reason. I want people to mention it in whispers, if at all.
Imagine The Rock as it could be, a creaking purple monolith towering over campus like the maggot-polished skull of some elder god. It emits a curious odor with a hint of prestige, like graveyard soil and mulled wine. People seem drawn to the Rock, and when they walk by they move like iron filings in a magnetic field. Alumni snap off involuntary salutes. Passing eagles are moved to tears.
This is The Rock Northwestern deserves. This is The Rock Northwestern needs.
Like every goal worth pursuing, the expansion of The Rock will require sacrifice. This need has arisen when times are thin, resources scant, circumstances straitened. Buildings, jobs, and even lives will have to be given up for the sake of a larger Rock.
But can you put a price on pride? On happiness? As goes The Rock, so goes Northwestern. Let’s keep our University relevant and thriving. Let’s bring honor and majesty back to campus. Let’s enlarge The Rock.