Founded in 1873, Southeast Missouri State University has a proud history of excellence in education. First founded as a teacher’s college, the institution has grown into a comprehensive University with more than 150 academic programs in five colleges.
Academic Hall, the copper-domed building which sits in the middle of campus on the highest hill in Cape Girardeau, was built on the site of a Civil War Fort. Completed in 1905, Academic Hall was constructed to replace the Normal School building that was destroyed by fire in 1902. It was originally the primary structure on the campus, containing classrooms, a gymnasium and the library.
In 1899, Southeast’s fifth president, Willard Vandiver, coined the phrase “show me,” which became our unofficial state motto. The most widely known legend attributes the phrase to Vandiver who became a U.S. Congressman after his Southeast presidency. Vandiver served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While a member of the U.S. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia. In a speech there, he declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." Regardless of whether Vandiver coined the phrase, it is certain that his speech helped to popularize the saying.
The Missouri state flag was first created in Cape Girardeau, very near the University campus. The flag was designed and created by Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, wife of former State Senator R.B. Oliver. It was adopted as the official state flag by the state legislature in 1913.
The lyrics of the Southeast Alma Mater were written by Bera Beauchamp Foard, a 1931 graduate of Southeast Missouri State Teachers’ College from Doniphan, Missouri. The alma mater’s music was written by Wilhelmina Vieh, a teacher in the music department. In 1924, President Serena announced a contest for original words for the use of a song for the college. This song would be used as a way to build school spirit and first place would get $5, second would get $3, and third would receive $2. The prize was not awarded until November 1931, and went to Foard, who had graduated the previous spring. The Capaha Arrow then held a separate contest with the same prizes to pick the music to accompany the lyrics. This contest was won by Vieh. The song first appeared as the recessional for the Teachers’ College commencement ceremony in 1938.
The Golden Eagles Marching Band existed for many years on the Southeast campus without an official name, until 1957 when its members voted to designate the organization as “the Golden Eagles.” Throughout the years, the band has been well recognized and has marched in numerous parades and special events, including major-league football games. Most recently, the Golden Eagles marched at the internationally known Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland.
For many years, the KRCU campus radio station’s broadcasting tower was housed atop the academic dome, so students were allowed access to the interior of the dome. They often wrote their names or other graffiti in the rotunda.
The steep hill above the Towers complex is known as “cardiac hill” because the football team formerly sprinted up it during training, and they often complained at the end of the day that they felt like they were going to have a heart attack from the strenuous trek up the hill.
At the top of “cardiac hill,” there is a tree upon which students have placed their used chewing gum for many years, earning it the title of “Gum Tree.”The original Gum Tree died and was replaced in 1989, and students have been honoring its successor with their chewing gum ever since.
Family Weekend has been a tradition at Southeast Missouri State University since 1977. What began as a Parents’ Weekend for the parents of football players has grown over the years into a weekend of activities for families of all Southeast students. Family Weekend allows parents and families to visit their student, meet roommates, friends and instructors, tour facilities and attend a variety of events scheduled throughout the weekend.
Homecoming has been a proud tradition since the early 1920s. It is one of the highlights of the football season. Southeast’s Homecoming is a week of fun and spirit-filled events that allow students, alumni and members of the community to celebrate their Southeast pride. Besides the football game, one of the highlights of the event is the annual Homecoming parade, which starts in Capaha Park and proceeds down Broadway to Main Street.
Since 1998, Southeast has hosted the Clark Terry Jazz Festival, an event highlighted by a performance by the jazz trumpet legend himself. Terry began his career in St. Louis during the '20s and '30s while playing for a local bar. After developing his technique with the Navy All-Star Jazz Band during World War II, Terry's musical star rose rapidly with successful stints in the bands of Charlie Barnet, Charlie Ventura, Eddie Vinson, and then, in 1948, with the great Count Basie. Along the way, in addition to his outstanding musical contributions to these bands, Terry was exerting a positive influence on younger musicians such as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, both of whom credit Terry as a formidable influence during the early stages of their careers. In 1951, Terry was asked to join Duke Ellington's orchestra, where he stayed for eight years as a featured soloist. Terry also was a pioneer of the flugelhorn in jazz, a standout with the NBC Tonight Show Band and one of the first black musicians to be employed regularly by a studio. As advisory to the International Association of Jazz Educators and much sought after as a clinician, Terry is often referred to as "America's #1 Jazz Educator." He also is the noted author of Let's Talk Trumpet: From Legit to Jazz, Interpretation of the Jazz Language and Clark Terry's System of Circular Breathing for Woodwind and Brass Instruments.