Alma Mater Forever: Always a Gryphon

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

  • Author takes photo of plant species on Mt. Lady MacDonald, AB. Photo by Anjelica Abarra.

    Author takes photo of plant species on Mt. Lady MacDonald, AB. Photo by Anjelica Abarra.

Written by Dylan Sora

Editor's Note: Dylan completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Guelph, graduating in February of 2015. The following May, he moved to Kananaskis Valley, AB, for 5 months to begin conduting research for his Masters thesis. Returning to Queen's for the start of the 2015/2016 school year, he noticed his experiences on Guelph's campus bore key differences from the first few months at his new school.

After completing the school year, Dylan returned to Kananaskis to conduct a second round of research. He's pictured above, wearing his Guelph Gryphons hat while collecting data in the field. "It's pretty surprising, the outreach and popularity that comes with strangers seeing reminders of Guelph. It makes you feel like you're still really a part of the community, and proud that people are so excited to see a fellow Gryphon." 

Dylan says about twice as many people come up to him and make conversation about his Guelph hat, than they do when he wears his Queen's hat. 

With the start of another school year upon us, I can’t help but reflect on my four and a half years spent at the University of Guelph; specifically, on what it meant and continues to mean to be a Gryphon.

During my undergrad at Guelph I studied biology, specializing in plant evolutionary ecology. In addition to studying there, I had the opportunity to spend two summers working as a research assistant in Dr. Brian Husband’s lab, as well as completing a thesis project under the direction of Dr. Husband and other accomplished faculty. The experience helped me transition into a Masters project at Queen’s University under Dr. Chris Eckert. Although I have a lot of love for my new school in Kingston, I find myself missing many of the small things that made Guelph feel like my home, and not just my school, for the previous five years.

One of the main differences between UoG and Queen’s is the ways they are (or aren’t) steeped in tradition. Although UoG has a truly proud history with both The Ontario Agricultural College and the Ontario Veterinary College being reputable institutions, it did not become a university until 1964. This means there aren’t the same long standing traditions that I see sometimes at Queen’s: like the fact that it’s likely to run into a grandparent who is an alumnus having a beer at a backyard homecoming party thrown by current students. However, because UoG is not fully rooted in the past, it means Gryphons have a chance to mold their own future identity as Guelph students.

Every year UoG is doing something new and innovate. Just over five years ago, our biology department launched their barcode of life initiative to catalogue and “barcode” every organism on the planet, and has since been responsible for the discovery of some 5000 new species. The Turfgrass Institute will be leading the way in transitioning the Skydome into a fully grass field for the Toronto Blue Jays, and are huge players in the ongoing green roof retrofit trend. The Environmental Science, Food and Nutrition, Hospitalities, and Engineering programs have become some of the best in the country, and of course, we still lead the way in agriculture and veterinary science in Canada.

Another unlikely way you can tell our university is newer is the “student housing”. When the university was first being formed, the city passed a bylaw to prevent the creation of a student ghetto. Because of this, there are student houses spread out across all of Guelph. Having lived in several different neighbourhoods in my time here, I always felt that I was more than just a student but a member of the community. In Kingston that same warmth is missing, tangibly: it can be seen in event attendance like at football games, where students are relegated to a section across the field from the rest of the population. This pales in comparison to the way Guelph students, alumni, and members of the community are all seated and cheering together. The spread out student housing also forces you to explore by biking, busing, and walking the side streets, parks, and historic homes that breathe life into the city. There’s a unique warmth that extends onto campus, where you witness acts of kindness that I don’t see as often in other schools, simple gestures such as holding the door open for someone. Things you wouldn’t think of as outside the ordinary, but that actually represent a greater sense of community.

The thing that most endeared me to Guelph was its natural spaces. On my first campus visit, although I was very impressed by the mix of old and new buildings on campus, what really struck me was the arboretum. Larger than the campus itself, the Arboretum is a living museum for tree species, a natural habitat for Ontario wildlife, an apiary, a disc golf course, and a site for ecological and environmental research. Taking a walk along the speed river during a fall or winter day is one of the most peaceful and meditative experiences you can have. If you follow the river north you will end up at Guelph Lake. It’s a fantastic fishing hole, and a great place for a swim while the summer heat extends into September. Preservation Park, established in the 1970’s when subdivisions were being built all around it, is a wonderful example of how cities can expand without eliminating natural spaces, and doubles as a case study for ecological preservation in the introductory biology course at Guelph.  

So fellow and future Gryphons, make sure you embrace the community you are living in, take time to enjoy the natural beauty that Guelph has, appreciate the campus, and explore the city’s rich history. But most importantly, try to leave your own legacy on this wonderful place. 

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