On any given day, the center of Clemson’s campus is a unique blend of bustling students rushing to class and relaxed students enjoying the outdoors during their break in the day. The library stands tall and white against the sky, opening its massive glass doors to those who need to work, while just a short distance away, students admire the light gleaming off the water in the reflection pond through the Amphitheater pillars and relax on the concrete, brick and grass steps.
But without courageous students a few decades ago, this image may not have existed.
A gift of the classes of 1915 and 1940 for the stage and seating respectively, the Amphitheater was built in early 1940 and was dedicated to both classes while it hosted its first graduation for the class of 1940. Since then, it has grown to be not only an iconic image and representation of Clemson, but also a beloved host to student organizations, weekly pep rallies, graduations and afternoon naps. In the 1970s, when the students learned of the administration’s plan to renovate and redesign the current Amphitheater and replace it with a low-walled brick structure to better match the other buildings on campus, the student body was appalled.
“There must be more student input into every decision that is made here!” This was the rallying cry of the student organization known as SOAP (Save Our Amphitheater People) that assembled more than 1,200 students and townspeople to protest the proposed Amphitheater renovation in 1977, possibly the largest protest in Clemson University history.
Petitions were signed and students were urged by the student body government to stand up to protect the amphitheater, inspiring several people to speak directly to the president regarding their disapproval and disappointment.
Just a few short weeks later, President Edwards met with his cabinet to discuss the issue and ultimately decided to postpone the renovation indefinitely.
Instead, thanks to the determination of the Clemson student body in fall 1977, the University arranged to have the Amphitheater stage restored to the splendor of the 1940s and the wooden benches replaced with the current tiered concrete seating.
Decades later, the Clemson Amphitheater is still home to not only festivals, theater groups, pep rallies and afternoon naps, but also to the strong Clemson Spirit that protected it so many years ago.