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It’s amazing how a scent or familiar walk can transport one back to student days. The Vanderbilt campus—known for its beautiful trees and plants, stately stone and brick buildings, and even its scrabbling squirrels—makes up as much of the college experience as do classes, professors, dorm life and even friends. Every year, the College of Arts and Science welcomes alumni back to campus. Many come in the autumn for Homecoming or Reunion. Some come for campus visits with their own soon-to-be-college students. Still others come to attend meetings or to speak to classes. When they come, many experience the feeling of being home again and a bond with the campus that ignites memories, experiences and emotion.

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This white oak, located at the top of Library Lawn between Buttrick and Garland, served as a meeting place for (from left) Kelly Collins Cunningham (BA’84, history), Mary Beth White Kirsch (BA’84, Latin American studies) and Ellen Haddock Chandler (BSN’84, M.Ed’89). As students, the three would meet when coming from different classes or heading off campus for a weekend brunch at the Laughing Man Cafe or Elliston Place Soda Shop.
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The three women met as freshmen in 1980 and stayed close throughout their college years and beyond. Kirsch, who lives in the Boston area, serves on the Board of Visitors for the College of Arts and Science.
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Originally from Houston, Cunningham now lives in the Grand Canyon State. Her observations about life at Vanderbilt reflect those of so many other alumni. “I look at my college years not so much as an educational experience in regard to academics as I do an education in friendship, identity and life,” she says. “Those years helped define me as an adult.”
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In addition to reuniting with her two friends, Chandler was visiting the campus with her family. Her daughter Julia just entered the College of Arts and Science as a first-year student. The Chandlers—Ellen and her husband, Jimmy (BS’79)—met while she was a senior at Vanderbilt.
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Since the campus holds special memories for so many alumni, the university tries to keep its Reunion and Homecoming celebrations on site. In 2009, more than 1,400 Arts and Science alumni attended Reunion events.
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The more than 6,000 trees and shrubs on the Vanderbilt campus helped the university receive the designation as a national arboretum in 1988. In 2005, Steven Baskauf, senior lecturer in biological sciences, created an interactive walking tour of the trees on campus. It can be found at http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/vu/frame.htm.
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White oak is common in Middle Tennessee. The third most common oak on the Vanderbilt campus, its leaves and acorn are symbols of the university.

photo credit: Andrew McMurtrie

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