What does it mean to be a Southerner? It’s hard to define, but I know it’s a lot more than a “hey y’all” and a strand of pearls. Nowhere else in the country is there a population that identifies so keenly with its region that the identifying label receives a capital letter-Southerner. By the same token, no other region of the country has experienced such a dichotomous history and still struggles to this day to hold close the values that mean so much to its communities while moving past the terrible mistakes and acts that will forever be connected to its name. I’ve spent my entire life in Atlanta, Georgia, including attending college at Emory University.
I’ve been raised by a village of a Southern family that stretches from the neighborhood of Virginia-Highland, where I grew up, all the way to the mountains of Tennessee and the small towns of North Carolina, where most of my extended family lives. When I think of what it means to be Southern, I think of lots of family, good food, and storytelling. These are the staples of our culture and community in the South. I think of one of my aunts who has turned deviled eggs into an art form (which is as it should be) with six different deviled egg recipes, including every ingredient from cornichons to shallots. I think of my grandmother who made clothes for all of her six children and to this day is incapable of being caught off guard by unexpected guests with her ability to make an entire meal from scratch on the fly. And I think of my mother, who has taught me so much about being Southern, from instilling in me that sense of Southern hospitality our region is known for, to ingraining in me the notion that a Southern woman never goes anywhere without looking her best out of respect for herself. I’m sorry to say I disappoin ted her on the latter point many times during my college years when I had an 8AM chemistry class three days per week.
My travels as an admission counselor in Emory’s Office of Undergraduate Admission have taught me a lot about what the rest of the world thinks about the South and its culture. There is a surprising fear and trepidation instilled in this generation when it comes to moving away for college to the “Deep South,” which has become the vague definition of everything between Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, and the Florida state line.
Ironically, many people I meet are completely shocked to find out that I am a born-and-raised Southerner. The very things that they feel go against the stereotypes of being a Southerner are in fact the most Southern things about me. Take my name, Farish, for example. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by people that they expected me to be a male and most likely Middle Eastern. My name is in fact extremely Southern, both in its origin and in the way it was given to me. Several generations ago, it used to be a common last name in Virginia, where my family lived at the time, and it was given to one of my female ancestors as a middle name. My mother gave it to me as a first name, which is not uncommon in the South—the giving of a last name, even a slightly androgynous name, as a first name. Another example is my lack of accent. Yes, “y’all” is a very important part of my vernacular, but I do not have much of an accent. This is also not uncommon in major southern cities where populations have steadily become more diverse and a multitude of languages and accents have blended.
So with all of this in mind, I encourage you to get to know Atlanta and Southern culture, and I’d like to help. Each month I’ll round up some of the best events happening in Atlanta and share them with you. For those of you visiting Emory or Atlanta, I encourage you to partake of the Southern culture and festivals. (You will come to find, either the more you visit or the more you read this blog, that Southerners love their festivals. We will seriously have a festival in honor of anything and everything-seasons, flowers, fruits, vegetable, holidays. You name it, we probably celebrate it.)
Here are some of the unique events happening in October:
“Ogre-tober” at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Available all month.
Whether your thumbs are green or not-at-all agriculturally inclined, a visit to the gorgeous Atlanta Botanical Gardens, located in the heart of midtown Atlanta, will always be memorable and fun. This 30-acre plant sanctuary includes rose gardens, an orchid center, an edible garden and bar, the famous Storza woods with its canopy walkway, and much more. There is always an art exhibit or two in the gardens throughout the year as well. Currently being featured is the Imaginary Worlds Exhibit, which has transformed the garden into a home for 28 larger than life, living sculptures of mythical and forest creatures. Each living sculpture is made of different plants and flowers that grow from a dirt and nutrient-rich lining inside the sculpture, giving the impression of movement and life. Cameras are allowed and encouraged, whether you’re capturing The Unicorn grazing, The Earth Goddess creating water, or the Gigantic Cobras bookending the Midtown skyline from the highest point in the gardens. During the month of October, or “Ogre-tober” as it’s being called, the garden will also play host to almost 100 scarecrows, created and donated by local businesses, schools, and families and friends of the garden.
“Halloween Tours” at the famous Oakland Cemetery. Available all month.
For those that have never visited Oakland Cemetery, it is the oldest cemetery in Atlanta (founded in 1850) and one of the few areas of the city to survive Atlanta’s burning during the Civil War. It also stands as one of the most honest depictions of Atlanta’s fraught history throughout segregation, war, and progressive rebuilding, all of which can be traced in aspects like the blatant separation of the burial grounds in the older areas of the cemetery, the variety and evolution of tombstones and grave markings, and the multi-generational Atlanta families and prominent city leaders whose grave sites are flanked by exquisite statues and fine words in honor of their legacies in the city’s history. It is a hauntingly beautiful place (no pun intended) near the heart of downtown Atlanta. There are a variety of specialized tours offered on the weekends at Oakland Cemetery, and what better time to take one than the month of Halloween!
“Pumpkin Festival” at Stone Mountain. Available all month.
Considered one Atlanta’s more iconic venues, Stone Mountain is rife with history and activity. You can explore the 3,200-acre park via the hiking trail up Stone Mountain itself, one of the largest pieces of exposed granite in the world, on the side of which is the largest bas-relief in the world, depicting Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. Or you can explore the mountain and park via a scenic train ride or on SkyHike, the largest adventure ropes course in the US. Feel free to bring a picnic, grill out, fish in the lake, or walk/run on the numerous trails throughout the park. Stone Mountain Village also offers a variety of retail, dining, and entertainment to while away the hottest parts of the day. Friday-Sunday, during the month of October, there are extra events in honor of Halloween.
L5P Halloween Festival in Little Five Points, Atlanta. Saturday, October 18 from 12PM-11PM.
The Atlanta metro area is made up of a collection of neighborhoods, each with their own distinct personality and customs. Virginia-Highland, where I am from, is one example and so is Little Five Points. Known to be the most eccentric of Atlanta’s communities (you’ve been warned!), L5P offers a great diversity of retail, restaurants, and events. One of their most notable events is their annual Halloween Festival, which is hosted by the L5P Business Association. There will be live music throughout the event, an artist market, a costume parade (it is no joke), and extended patio seating at local restaurants (for better parade viewing, of course). Parking will be limited in the festival area but you can experience MARTA (Atlanta’s form of public transportation) in order to make your way over or park on one of the neighboring streets and enjoy a scenic walk over to the festival.
If you are visiting during another month or want to keep learning more about Atlanta and its communities and traditions, check in with us early each month to see what’s coming up. We hope you and your family enjoy getting a Southern sense of Atlanta, and we welcome you to visit our family here at Emory University soon!
‘Til next month,
Farish Jerman 11C
Senior Admission Counselor
Office of Undergraduate Admission