Today is Western Illinois University Purple and Gold day. A date that commemorates the State of Illinois signing into law the birth of Western Illinois University Teaching School. More recently is has become the WIU “Day of Giving”. It has also become one of my favorite days of the year because it is a way for Western, as a collective, to come together to celebrate from all over the world, whether in person or virtually. The world has changed quite a bit since the last Purple and Gold day and seems much more somber today. The global pandemic has affected all of our lives in many ways. So too, it has affected how we are marking this important day in Western’s history.
Being a Leatherneck has different meaning to different people. For some it was a time on an athletic court or a playing field. For others it was a concert or recital hall, classroom, or laboratory. For others it was late nights in a residence hall interacting with people that would become lifelong friends and end up standing up in their weddings. There are alumni that consider their fondest memories “Keggers” and camp fires at Lake Argyle or the Fraternity party that no one will ever forget. While other celebrate meeting that first night on Hanson field or Adams Street. We have almost all enjoyed at one time or another the restaurants and bars up town and on the square. The names have changed, but the locations not so much (The Pace, Walt’s Office, The Mill, Boot Hill, Purple Pride, The Forum, Top of the Town, The Café, The Sports Corner, Ski’s, Student Prince, Red Ox, Jackson St Pub, ISS, Chicks and Aurelios to name a very few).
Regardless of your era or generation, true Leathernecks take pride in being there when it matters. They are family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers that step up when things go sideways. Western alum have always been who you want with you in a fight. They are generous, kind, and caring. I have witnessed countless acts of selflessness and sacrifice during my time here, and have been on the receiving end many times of that generosity myself.
As we enter a whole new post-pandemic world it is going to be more important than ever that we exhibit that Leatherneck spirit and lead the fight as the country, small businesses, and universities put the pieces back together. That means that students, staff, faculty, community, and alumni all have to step up. It may mean using your financial resources (if you have the means) or sending a student our way, or just promoting WIU by wearing your Western gear when you are out and about. Tell your story (we all have one) to a prospective student. That is just as important as writing a check. Or it may just mean being a good neighbor and checking in with people that may not have anyone looking out for them. Shop local, buy domestic, and lend a helping hand if you have the ability to do so.
Purple and Gold day is much more than a date on a calendar or a donation. It is about something bigger than all of us. It is about a spirit and attitude that has been fostered by a common place we love, and have an incredibly deep connection to through our time at Western Illinois University. So today, give in your own way. Could be a donation, a good deed or an act of kindness. No matter what, take a moment to pause and treasure your time and memories at Western Illinois University and go out and put that Leatherneck spirit into action. Never forget that we are Leathernecks. The first in and the last ones out. We do more with less. We overcome the challenges presented to us. We preserve through tough times. We never leave anyone behind.