A tradition is born: ‘Welcome to KU’

Posted on Aug 25, 2014 in Alumni News and News

The goosebumps-inducing video “Welcome to KU,” which debuted on the big-screen scoreboard at Traditions Night Saturday evening in Memorial Stadium, quickly rushed to Internet stardom among Jayhawks old and new after being posted to KU’s Facebook page Sunday, and for good reason: Spoken-word poet Topher Enneking (who went by Chris in his playing days as a KU offensive lineman from 1995 to 1999) delivers an inspirational message of growth, inclusion and tradition that mirrors his own personal journey through KU and beyond.

“We don’t want to be heavy handed about all these great things that KU is about because what KU is really about is providing a place for people to come and to grow, and that grows our tradition,” Enneking, c’08, a para-educator at Lawrence’s South Middle School, said Monday. “It was a unique experience for me, and a cool dynamic, because I was asked, as a poet—something I wasn’t when I was at KU—to come back and try to bring out some more of that tradition while also being asked to add to it.

“So I was kind of asking them [incoming freshmen] to do that same thing.”

Enneking discovered his voice as a writer and poet while coaching at a private Jesuit school in Colorado. He also worked as a maintenance man at a state park in return for being allowed to pitch his tent, and while there he began keeping a journal.

“One day I saw what I had written and I was like, ‘Hey, I think that’s a poem. Let me try that and see if that’s something that I could do,'” Enneking recalls. “It kind of fell into place. I really enjoyed it and really liked what I got out of it, so that’s when I started writing, and I actually started performing when I happened into an open-mic night.”Topher Enneking

Last year he performed his poem “Son of Lawrence, Kansas” for incoming freshmen at Traditions Night; eager for more, officials at KU’s Office of Marketing Communications asked Enneking to write another poem, this time about KU traditions, and perform it for a video production.

Enneking wrote “Welcome to KU” in collaboration with Tim Seley, associate director of digital media, who emphasized that he wanted to hear Enneking’s personal take on the KU experience.

“I’m a fan of spoken-word poetry, that style and that format,” Seley says. “I think it adds a lot of gravitas, and Topher, he’s just this kind of guy that when he speaks, people listen. We had a few meetings back and forth, so it was a little bit collaborative, but the majority of the poem was him. We tried to be intentional about not making it be the voice of Marketing Communications. We wanted it to be the voice of Topher, speaking on behalf of KU.

“Topher did his thing and we just tried to support that and let the words speak for themselves.”

Andrew Lee was the video’s lead editor, with help provided by student video assistant Dylan Snyder. Seley directed, MarComm’s Frank Barthell was producer, and production assistant Steve Rausch also helped with the camera.

“KU is a 150-year-old institution next year, and we have all this nostalgia, so tradition is a really big word,” Seley says. “But we wanted to sort of invite students into this tradition, as they’re going to carry that forward.”

… The top of the world is just up that Hill, where our natural history is an awestruck echo of worlds, fair and equal, past, present and future, prelude and sequel, where our flags fly above plains, where we build in chalks that can’t be erased, stone edifices made to last so you would walk past their doors, down their halls, and let your voice fill their rooms, because only in an empty silence can destruction loom.

So stand tall, wrap your arms around this crowd, sing our alma mater and sing it out loud. Let your voice join in chorus and reach other nations, beckoning new Jayhawks to spark new collaborations, because you are the mortar that will hold these walls upright. Your future, your dreams, are why Jayhawks did fight, for the tradition before you was merely prelude to what will come next now that you’re at KU.

“We wanted it to be something that people would connect with in different ways than they get from the standard fare of tradition videos,” Enneking says, “to breathe some life into it so that people would see how that tradition ebbs and flows and how much they’re a part of it.

“Hopefully people see that and start thinking, ‘Wow, I wonder what my look on it is going to be?’ Most of these traditions that we have weren’t intentional traditions; it starts out from something and then it builds from there. You plant that seed.”

—Chris Lazzarino

Watch an interview with Topher Enneking from 6 News Lawrence.

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