I’m Steve Smith, a founding member of the Wentworth Military Academy Alumni Council and a member of the Wentworth Junior College class of 1983. I’ve been following via the internet the lively and sometimes very funny discussions (AC/DC – awesome!) surrounding the placement of the Wentworth Griffin and wanted give you some context about its origin and my involvement in how it came to be at William and Mary.
It’s true, as one of your students observed, that Wentworth is a “failed” college but only in so far as our alma mater closed due to financial insolvency two years ago. Founded in 1880, Wentworth thrived for many years and at one time operated a junior high school, high school, and since 1920 a junior college on the same campus.
Although tiny by most comparisons we number among our alumni many successful business, political, military, clergy, medical, and educational leaders. Our former president, William Sellers, is now your neighbor in Virginia and is the director of Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the National History Camp. He also commissioned the Griffin now at William and Mary. Wentworth athletic teams were known as the Red Dragons and the Griffin was our mascot.
And yes, I get a Griffin is not a Dragon – much less a red one. Others might know the reason but I don’t. While president, Mr. Sellers solicited funds from an alumni to have the Griffin statue placed in front of the administration building. I was present at its dedication and believed we were placing a statue that would stand for another hundred years. No one wants to think their much loved school might ever close. But close it did.
After Wetworth’s closing its assets were put up for auction and an alumni group began soliciting funds to buy and retain most of the memorabilia. They were very successful and much of the memorabilia, plaques, flags, and statues are now in a museum. At the time though, I feared a non-alumni buyer would outbid the alumni groups’ limited assets and the Griffin would end up literally in someones’ front yard.
A little online research brought me to William and Mary – one of the few universities in America to adopt the Griffin as a mascot. I also considered Reed College in Oregon and even Kirby High School in my hometown of Santa Cruz CA who also adopted the Griffin.
Back in the 1980’s I had visited your campus when I was stationed at Yorktown in the US Coast Guard and loved your beautiful buildings and grounds as well as your unique place in US history. I read about the controversy surrounding the use of Native American symbols and the process by which you settled on the Griffin. I don’t know if Wentworth chose the Griffin as a way of recognizing its Anglo American heritage by choosing to combine the English Lion and the American Eagle but I thought that William and Mary chose a Griffin for the right reasons. In the end, I sent an e-mail to then President Reveley suggesting that William and Mary would be an appropriate home for the Wentworth Griffin and gave instructions on how to bid through the auction company in Missouri. He agreed and the the rest you now know.
I confess I had not considered at all that there would be controversy over the size of the Griffin’s genitals. As the father of three daughters I would not want them to be the victims of discrimination or subjected to gross or triumphal distortions of masculinity.
I hope you will conclude that the Griffin, being an ancient and mythical creature nearly as old as civilization itself, is uniquely separate from such controversy. At the risk of being melodramatic, medieval lore tells us that Griffins mate for life and upon losing its mate will never take another. We’ve lost our school – please make a home for our Griffin at yours.