Katie Cline, Special to the Chanticleer
“If you’re walking through the Talladega National Forest and see a turtle on a fence post, you can be sure that it didn’t get there by itself.”
If you’ve ever been to a formal JSU function that Dr. John M. Beehler deemed worthy of his presence, you’ve heard that metaphor. At graduations, it’s followed by a round of applause for the family, friends and faculty that helped each student to this momentous occasion in their lives.
But let me break down everything that’s wrong with this metaphor and why it’s become more of a running joke among students than an actual illustration:
- Turtles don’t belong on fence posts. Let’s just assume that this is a regular old box turtle sitting on this metaphorical fence post. If the turtle fell—which it probably would, because fence posts aren’t very wide, and the little fella is probably terrified—it could be seriously hurt or even killed. So, is Dr. Beehler saying that our loved ones put us in a potentially perilous situation?
- Anyone over the age of four should know that turtles don’t belong on fence posts, so if someone did put a turtle on a fence post, they’d have to be a pretty cruel and sadistic human being. Does Dr. Beehler think graduates’ families are that mean-spirited?
- There’s the whole matter of being in the Talladega National Forest. If a park ranger were to catch you putting a turtle on a fence post, they would have every right to report you, and you could be charged for animal cruelty. And Alabama’s animal cruelty reads as follows: “Cruelty to animals is a Class A misdemeanor and on the first conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars ($3,000) or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or both fine and imprisonment…” (Section 13A-11-14)
It doesn’t take much thought for the metaphor to fall apart. It’s true that college graduates never get to graduation alone. There are friends, family, faculty and staff, high school teachers and dozens of other people and groups who help us get there. These aren’t the people would intentionally put us in precarious situations.
But what if it’s a metaphor for JSU? It almost makes sense now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a student who hasn’t been inconvenienced by something JSU has done in recent years or is planning to do in the future. From the Financial Aid fiasco of Spring 2016 to signing Landon Rice and the clearly failed “It’s On US” campaign to increasing fees and tuition almost every year, it’s easy to feel that the administration is the hand putting you on a fence post you’re afraid to get off of.
And if I were to extend Dr. Beehler’s metaphor, I would say that a graduate’s friends, family, and teachers represent the person walking past a turtle on a fence post who has enough sympathy and intelligence to help it down and let it go about its way. They are the person who helps the turtle succeed.
So, in summary, if you’re walking in the Talladega National Forest and see a turtle on a fence post, just know that it didn’t get there by itself, it doesn’t want to be there, someone should be facing animal cruelty charges, and you need to be the person who helps the turtle instead of hurting it.