Imagine visiting Rocky Top for the first time.
You are driving down I-40 east, following the green signs guiding you toward "The University of Tennessee." You slide into the far right lane, exiting onto Neyland Drive.
Imagine: the river runs beside you as you hug the corner of the road and, oh my Butch Jones, look at those mansions. This is Sorority Village, you later learn, where roughly 20 percent of UT females do their southern living.
You keep driving, past the Village, arriving at a large brick wall that again proclaims the name, "The University of Tennessee." Turning left, you enter the Agriculture campus. On your left and right, somber brick buildings look quaint and southern among carefully planted trees.
Do you see that Ushare Bike system? What a progressive environmental school, this University of Tennessee.
Everyone must be so eco-friendly here.
Just down that road, the UT gardens grow, but you and your car trundle farther down Joe Johnson Drive, past the greenhouses and the railroad tracks to Volunteer Boulevard.
Construction looms straight ahead, so you hang a right and roll down a slight hill. On your left, you may notice the state of the art Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatics Center, designed by a future Olympic Games architect. And just beyond that, what a beautiful recreation center.
Students must be so healthy here.
Those houses on your right represent Frat Row. There's the Pike House; such a shame about that "butt-chugging" scandal. But did you hear? The Christian fraternity moved into the recently vacated house.
Just past the Row, a massive work of glass and steel promises the most convenient Student Health Services in the country; the Rock screams positive Big Orange Country sentiments; the Haslam Music Center beckons from behind its green lawn.
Immediately before you, Neyland crouches like some primordial beast, waiting for Saturday afternoon to unleash the roars of a horde 100,000 strong.
As you approach, a half-naked guardian stands watch over Peyton Manning Pass, holding Victory over the world's problems in his left hand and a beacon shining ever daily in his right.
Students must be so inspired here.
Imagine now, after traversing this stretch of campus, that two students walk past, complaining audibly about the construction and the lack of parking and the football team's losing streak against ranked opponents and their difficult classes. They murmur a curious phrase: "The Big Orange Screw."
Would you look back at these impressive facilities and wonder if you dreamt them?
Or would you ask the students if they cherished the environment, ran often, or possessed ambitious post-graduate plans?
Now imagine that you're not visiting UT for the first time. You're a UT student again who just got the third parking ticket this semester after trudging up the Hill for a test you failed because most of the previous evening was spent in Hodges, bent over a textbook cramming half of a syllabus into your skull.
A kind stranger pulls up next to you in a sedan, rolling down his window. Wide-eyed, the tiny high school senior in the back seat gapes at you, a magnificent "college kid."
They ask if you feel academic or inspired or healthy or eco-friendly at the University of Tennessee. Their eyes ask you for the big idea.
How will you answer?
It can be difficult to see Rocky Top clearly when you're living in it. And sometimes life at UT feels a little less shiny than Min Kao's namesake would have you believe. "Big Orange, Big Ideas" is, at its core, no more than an advertising campaign. As students, we are too close to fall for the branding, too near to marvel in the veneer. The Big Idea is bought and sold; we are the skeptical product.
But looking around this campus and envisioning how others see it may change the way you see it yourself. The marketing feels less like a lie if you buy in.
R.J. Vogt is a junior in College Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org