Most of us have been on a college campus and have a general idea of how life is there. But then, there are differences. Each college or university campus has a personality of its own.
I’ll wager you will never hear about a campus that is as equivalent in grandeur as the one my wife and I visited. We heard and saw the performance of Freedom.
It was Oct. 17, and we were invited to attend the homecoming game. The stadium was full, a sellout. The field was full with football teams, a marching band and cheerleaders. They were standing silently and waiting. It was hard to imagine such silence in a stadium with fans eagerly awaiting a game, but there it was.
Attention was called to a far corner of the highest part of the stadium. The national anthem began, and Freedom was waiting. Moments later, he was released from his perch and took flight, spreading his 8-foot wings, making several passes over the crowd, hovering, then returning to his perch. That majestic, soaring raptor depicted the pride of the university. I have never heard such a roar and applauding.
A lump formed in my throat, feeling proud to be an American. Everyone was shouting and chanting, “F-r-e-e-dom! F-r-e-e-dom! F-r-e-e-dom!”
How did Freedom become such a figure? What were his beginnings? As the story goes, he was knocked out of his nest when just weeks old, resembling a brown ball of fuzz. He was rushed to the Florida Audubon Center for birds of prey to be treated for an infection and injury to his beak. He recovered from the infection, but had a permanent injury to his beak, preventing his return to the wild.
In May 2004, with the permission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Southern University acquired Freedom. He was nourished, trained and groomed by the university’s Center for WildLife Education until he matured at the age of 8. His head and tail feathers are bold white plumage.
Freedom assumes the role of the university’s mascot and is the only bald eagle in the nation flying during football games. His presence at games and other events inspires and educates Eagle fans.
There’s one other note, and even I missed this one: The word “bald” is a word in French meaning “white.” It does not mean “hairless” or lacking feathers.
For what he represents, being America’s national emblem, the university named him Freedom. He is now serving as an ambassador for wildlife and as a symbol for Georgia Southern University.