Granite State of Mind, #71: The Wildcat Sculpture, University of New Hampshire, Durham
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
I like traditions. I'm a sucker for them. The problem is that getting new ones established can be a tough slog, especially at venerable institutions like universities. Too often a new event or program can feel artificial and lack authenticity, and consequently fails to earn buy-in from the community. And while not everything the University of New Hampshire has tried to do to build school spirit and deepen the physical connection to campus has worked, there's one undertaking that has succeeded brilliantly.
The Wildcat sculpture in front of the Whittemore Center was unveiled in 2006, nine years after I graduated from UNH, so it wasn't a part of my undergraduate experience. But when it was installed, it immediately became a favorite of students and alumni alike, and it's easy to see why. First of all, it's gorgeous. 850 pounds of bronze, in a kinetic and regal pose, this wildcat stands, paw upraised, ready to defend its home turf. And yet it is unafraid, ears peaked and eyes unblinking, sleek and majestic. It's also a tangible thing, touchable, participatory. Students stroke the warm metal with fraternal affection, and alumni bring their children to clamber on its rippling haunches. Within a very short frame of time, it became a touchstone of commonality across the broad UNH family, a place where we can all celebrate our connection to the school we love, even if it wasn't here when we were. It's impossible to convey how difficult that is to achieve - it has to happen organically, and it has in this case, spectacularly.