Reflections on Ringing the Bell
By Michelle Hershberger
When a SignUpGenius invitation to ring the bell for the 175th Charter Day Celebration entered my inbox, I jumped at the chance. I did not know where this bell was located, why someone was going to ring it, or the historical significance of the bell. As a lifelong enthusiast of bell ringing, I was eager to accept the task. The bell required two ringers, so I knew this was an important job. I was glad to share the glory of ringing this elusive bell.
Ringing the bell was to happen while the crowd was gathered in McCombs for President Burger’s speech after the photo. I was glad I was still able to be a part of the 175th photo because I would get to have my shining moment twice that day, even if you can’t make out my face in the photo. While waiting for the photo to be taken, the arrangement of which was a true testament to the ingenuity of the human mind, my friends and I discussed the monumental task of ringing the bell. “What is this bell?” they asked. This was the burning question.
Prior to the 175th celebration, I researched the bell so I could be prepared. It is the Rutersville Bell and has permanent residence in the map room in the McCombs Campus Center. On the day of the celebration, we were to ring the bell five times in recognition of Southwestern and the four root colleges—Rutersville College, Wesleyan College, McKenzie College, and Soule University.
Researching the history of the bell turned out to be a great move when three ladies approached me before President Burger’s speech. These ladies were relatives of Reverend John W. P. McKenzie, who founded the McKenzie College. They asked me if this was his bell. Thankfully, I had run that Google search and informed them it was the Rutersville bell. The ladies told me that McKenzie would ring his bell early every morning to gather the students for chapel and that they grew to detest the sound. I told them I was glad our campus did not follow the same protocol. Our conversation was interrupted by the signal that it was time for the big moment and the ladies left so as not to be deafened by the sound of the bell.
This encounter, and my previous oblivion of the Rutersville bell, brought to my attention a pertinent issue, which is relevant to many Southwestern students. Our university has a rich and long history—175 years worth—but the average student is unaware of many of the significant, interesting and formative events of our institution’s past. Hearing the sound of the bell five times for the four colleges that form Southwestern was particularly significant to me. Our university stresses the importance of connection, interdependence between disciplines, and recognition of how the joining of different entities results in a well-rounded experience. I was struck by how the four root colleges, which came together to form Southwestern, signify how the institution was formed by someone’s very own Paideia moment.
We have the honor of immortalizing Southwestern as its legacy lives on in us, the students, as we are part of the community. To “be Southwestern” and to experience “Paideia moments” are concepts that have been articulated in recent years but have been a part of the spirit of the university since the beginning. Ringing the Rutersville bell reminded me of the importance of paying tribute to the spirit of Southwestern in the past and realizing its importance in the present.