Chocolate Brown, Sky Blue, and Elephants

In honor of National College Colors Day – here’s the story of how I became a Jumbo.

Jumbo Logo

A few days after my high school graduation, a family friend delivered a beautiful box to my home. The box was large, and wrapped in lovely paper, adorned with ribbons and a bow–and best of all, my name was on the card.

“A graduation gift!” the family friend exclaimed. “Something to help you settle in when you arrive at college.”

She didn’t have time to stay while I opened the present, but I didn’t waste any time when she had gone. The box contained two lovely (and expensive) towels, with matching hand towels and washcloths — one set of each in chocolate brown and one in pale blue. I was delighted with the present, but bewildered at the color choice.

Blue, I understood–it was my favorite color at the time–but why would anyone choose brown ???

My mother looked at me and smiled. “What are your college colors?”

I had no clue.

The decision to go to Tufts University hadn’t been a hard one. I adored the campus, loved the faculty I’d met, and couldn’t wait to start my studies there. It snowed in the winter! (Something this California girl still loves.) But all this time, I hadn’t even thought about school colors. Tufts had a terrible football team (as far as I know, that hasn’t changed) and though I had school spirit, it didn’t extend to knowing my college colors.

Five minutes and a little research later, I had my answer.

“Mom…the colors are CHOCOLATE BROWN and SKY BLUE.”

She nodded. “That’s what I expected. They looked them up before they bought your towels.”

I patted the towels–so soft and fluffy, I couldn’t wait to use them. They meant even more to me now that I knew our family friends had cared enough to choose the colors that represented Tufts–colors that now represented me.

But my research hadn’t only revealed the official colors of my school. I’d learned something else as well.

“Mom…do you know what the Tufts mascot is?”

She laughed. “I take it you didn’t?”

“This isn’t funny, Mom!” I couldn’t believe that she was laughing. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life being called a JUMBO.”

Tufts University’s mascot, Jumbo the elephant, was chosen to honor early contributor P.T. Barnum (yes…THAT Barnum) who donated the original “Jumbo” to the university after the elephant’s tragic death in 1885. The elephant was stuffed and placed on display in the Barnum Museum (which I believe has now been renamed “Barnum Hall.”).

In the years since I received those towels, I’ve graduated college (and law school), practiced law and taught it, written novels and worked in a variety of places. I’ve seen people who loved their colleges with a passion rivaled only by NFL football fans, and those whose appreciation takes a quieter tone.

I’d place myself somewhere in the middle, but somehow, I’ve never forgotten those towels, or the generosity and kindness of the family friends who taught me — quite by accident — what it meant to belong to a school … even if doing so DID make me a Jumbo.

Tell me: what are your school colors? And what’s your mascot?