Fifth-generation Jayhawk proud to pass on family tradition of education

Over winter break, as I baked my grandmother’s recipe for Peanut Blossoms and counted down the days to Christmas on the Advent calendar, I thought a lot about tradition. Tradition is often the reason that we continue our perpetual behavior, without question of the origin or meaning. But while the tradition of being a Jayhawk runs incredibly deep in my family, I couldn’t help but stop and question, why?

Although I started my education at another Kansas school only 87 miles west on I-70, I ended up (as my father simply states) seeing the error of my ways and transferred to KU to finish my degree. Receiving my degree made me a FIFTH-generation Jayhawk, and on my graduation day, I followed
tradition and walked “the Hill.” However, I did it hand in hand with my grandfather. At the time, I hadn’t understood the importance of parading with my classmates through the Campanile, but he did. A 1949 graduate of KU, he returned to college on the GI Bill, running out of money before being able to purchase his cap and gown. My grandfather received a diploma but did not get to experience the camaraderie of “the walk.” During our walk, mine on graduation day and my grandfather’s nearly 60 years later, I finally understood the importance of belonging to this family. Sharing this bond with him was more than wearing crimson and blue or cheering on the Hawks during basketball season. We shared a valuable education obtained at an amazing university, and a continued love of learning.

It was this same bond that brought my father to return to KU for law school, and his sharing of those memories with me that brought me to KU Law. He shared with me the traditions of camping out for basketball games, 1L Bluebook Relays and the 3Ls Walk to Old Green Hall. The bond is evident in the friendships he still shares with members of his 1L small section, and with the colleagues he works with that he knew from ol’ KU. It’s obvious in the respect that he receives because his law degree has a small Jayhawk on it and in the glow I see in him when he wears a polo shirt with a Jayhawk on the chest (which is QUITE often).

Yes, affordability, value of education, and location were all attractive features of KU Law when I was deciding where to receive my education. But the traditions of wearing a Jayhawk, studying in a library carrel just like my dad, walking the Hill with my grandfather or seeing my little (6-foot-tall) brother on campus are why I chose KU.

I’m now a parent and am reflecting on the traditions that I may someday pass on to my son. I’m proud to dress him in KU clothing and teach him how to say, “Rock Chalk!” But the tradition that I’m most proud to pass on to him is that of education. I want him to know that with hard work and the right education, a person can achieve anything. KU is an institution committed to excellence, and dignity and integrity are valued within the education the university offers. But this isn’t something I’m going to have to teach him. He’ll know from the way that I live my life, just as I did from my family.

Of course, the polo shirt with the little Jayhawk can’t hurt!

Suzanne Billam, 1L and Student Ambassador

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