The three towering white pines on the UVM Green are a familiar, signature sight. They’re old trees, for sure, but not old enough to date back to the earliest days of the university. Still, I can’t walk past them without thinking about what the Green once looked like, a dense patch of forest on the hilltop in a shaggy frontier town.
As UVM history/folklore has it, two hundred and fourteen years ago UVM’s first president, Daniel Clark Sanders, stood with axe in hand looking up at a tree an awful lot like the one pictured above. Working side by side with UVM’s first students, he would clear the towering white pines then set to work using those logs to construct the university’s original building. Historic accounts describe the Reverend Sanders as a strapping, powerful man, a sort of nineteenth-century higher education action hero. (If Hollywood were to put UVM’s story on the big screen, I’m casting Liam Neeson in the lead role as president/man of the cloth/ass-kicker.)
In the year 1800, President Sanders wrote: “There was everything to be created and many shrunk away from the bold and arduous labor of founding a college in a wilderness.”
Think about it. Everything to be created. A college in a wilderness.
As we walk the campus of the University of Vermont today, it’s all too easy to forget the faith, courage, audacity, and just plain “arduous labor” that went into creating this place in what at the time were the deepest wilds of this country. Easy to forget, but essential to remember. Just as those pines on the Green today very likely trace back to a pine cone that fell from a tree that fell to an axe swung by our hearty president, so too does UVM’s DNA include a healthy bit of bold Daniel Clark Sanders coding. Not only DCS, but also the handful of students who worked shoulder to shoulder with him and the many early Burlingtonians who nurtured the fledgling school.
Shared effort is a force of nature, and it runs deep in UVM’s character.