On Tuesday of this week, an 18-wheeler arrived on campus, loaded with several hundred boxes of auditorium chair parts. A crew of three men arrived at the same time and spent their day unloading it all. For the rest of the week, they put in 10- and 11-hour workdays installing those chairs. When I left campus on Friday afternoon, they were loading their equipment to head home to Northwest Arkansas.
That’s right: Our chairs are ready! When students arrive on campus next Tuesday, they’ll see (and sit in) them for the first time. While I’m not an unbiased party by any means, I have to say that the auditorium really looks great. Gone are the (very) old red chairs that capably served students and guests for 31 years. The new seats are a very dark gray with black trim. The rows and seats are neatly aligned, and numbered and lettered sequentially.
The Emmett Smith Auditorium is older than the Americans with Disabilities Act, which meant we had to make some adjustments to the floor plan with these new seats. There are seats in each aisle with fold-up armrests, allowing easier entry in and out of the seat for folks with mobility issues. The front row, which will be installed after new carpet goes down in a couple of weeks, will feature a few removable seats to accommodate wheelchairs and other transportation vehicles. (We’re losing a little space up front by the stage, but that’s a great trade-off.)
The improvements made this week, and those coming in the weeks ahead, were made possible by some herculean efforts through the summer by our employees. When school ended last May, they started tearing out the old chairs and carpet. They loaded hundreds of chairs in trailers and trucks, used a dozen methods to strip down old sealant and carpet glue on the bare concrete floors, broke off a thousand old bolts mounted in the concrete and then patched each hole. It was hot, frustrating and strenuous. We wouldn’t be seeing this week’s amazing improvements without the summertime labors of Joey Becerra, Daniel Summitt, Leann Pillow, and student workers Jude Stewart, Lathan Brinkley, and Cole Oxley.
I’m looking forward to the time when you can see the fruits of their labor. I think you’ll be impressed. As we put a bow on these improvements, I want to note that it’s really just Round 1 of improvements we need to make in the auditorium. Air conditioning, stage curtains, stage flooring, and better audiovisual equipment are all in the plans for Round 2, which is coming soon.
As I look at today’s improvements and dream of tomorrow’s, I am reminded of two groups. First, I think of the initial efforts to design, build, and furnish the auditorium in 1989 and 1990. The old seats weren’t brand new when they were installed, but they were what the school could afford and that was what mattered. We need to remember how the giants in our school’s past did the very best they could to set a foundation on which we build today. Their tireless work and sacrifice then pays dividends for us in 2021. Which brings me to the second group: You and I have the same opportunity and responsibility to build well for those who will follow us. It is neither cheap nor easy. I will call on you to help in numerous ways, and I hope you will respond, not just with an eye on what happens today, but on what it can mean for people 30 years from now.
We stand on the shoulders of giants today. Someday, someone will stand on our shoulders. How high will they be able to reach?