by Beth Fox
Peabody undergraduates will be carrying an iris as they walk down the Commencement aisle Friday, thanks to the ingenuity of one student.
As part of Professor Terry Deal's Challenges of Leadership class, Ann Marie Skelton was assigned a personal growth project, a chance to give back to the University something that has personal meaning to her. Skelton chose the iris project in honor of her mother, Joyce Halmontaller Skelton, a 1967 Peabody graduate. For years, Peabody graduates were given an iris bulb upon graduation. The weekend of Skelton's 1967 graduation, her father died; all that she remembers of that weekend is receiving her iris bulb, from which she created an iris garden. Growing up, Ann Marie was never allowed to play with the irises, which had taken on a special meaning to both her and her mother.
Due to Skelton's initiative, a donation of cut irises has been made for Commencement from two individuals who choose to remain anonymous. Skelton has worked to ensure the gesture will become a tradition - she has already chosen five Peabody students to carry it on for the next five years, including her sister, who is entering Peabody College in the fall.
Peabody has had a long-standing association with the iris. When the College was established at its present location in 1914, its environs were rocky and austere. President Bruce R. Payne felt strongly that a college campus should be a place of beauty and quickly set about to transform the landscape. Local gardeners were happy to provide flowers, among which the tall bearded iris soon became the dominant motif. Large iris gardens were located on the present sites of the Hill Student Center and Gillette Hall.
Among Peabody's botanical benefactors was a group of avid hybridizers of the iris, one of whom was Vanderbilt Chancellor James H. Kirkland. Peabody became one of the primary sites for varieties originally cultivated in his gardens, and the two institutions were bound early on by a shared love of the flower.
Posted 5/04/98 at 10:00 a.m.