Pieces of “The Rock” show KSU’s many layers, changes in recent years

A large, natural piece of exposed limestone near the center of Kennesaw State University’s Marietta campus, known by most around here as simply “The Rock,” has survived several coatings of paint over many decades. It has changed over the years, but is still remembered fondly by many people, especially alumni.

The beloved rock was already present in December 1958 when Southern Technical Institute (later Southern Polytechnic State University) broke ground on its new campus in Marietta. The rock became a top gathering spot for campus events and activities, and still today is continually painted by student groups. The rock became so synonymous with Southern Poly that it was added to the university seal and displayed on diplomas. 

In the summer of 1987, the then Southern College of Technology Student Government Association dedicated a plaque, which stands in front of the rock, recognizing its significance to the campus. The rock was sandblasted clean in the mid-1990s at about the time Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympic Games and in the early 2000s, a couple of students attempted raise funds to preserve the area surrounding the rock.

Dustin GrauOne of those students was Dustin Grau ’02, a current director-at-large for the KSU Alumni Association. Grau, who earned a Bachelor of Science in computer science, has taken great interest in restoring the rock, the area around it and its legacy.

“Around 2002, I had worked with a fellow student, William Burke, in an attempt to get funding to help replace the pavers and rehabilitate the area,” Grau said. “That ended up not getting traction so I revised the idea in 2015 while still involved with the SPSU alumni board. That too had great support but did not gain enough traction, though one day I hope there’s some true TLC (tender loving care) put into the area.”

Grau first became interested in the rock during his time on the Marietta campus in the 1990s and his passion for its preservation has not wavered over the years, especially since the consolidation of Kennesaw State and Southern Poly.

“I started there in ’97 and I was involved, briefly, with a fraternity, so I had part of that experience,” Grau said. “I was a part of the Greek life so I had attended several events and had tagged the rock as a fraternity member. Later, when I met my wife there, she too was involved with Greek life and she, of course, tagged the rock. 

“The rock has been present for all kinds of events. After 9/11, people had tagged it with ‘we will remember’ and patriotic statements, flags and other symbols. It’s been there for Greek organizations and students, used as canvas for political statements, general fun, and it’s just one of those enduring things.”

Rock chipped paintFrom time to time, especially after sandblasting, small parts of the rock can be found on the ground. Some of the pieces are quite extraordinary with their many layers of paint and aging.

At a mid-June meeting of the KSU alumni board of directors, where new executive officers and directors were introduced for 2018-19, Grau passed around a special artifact. He had picked up pieces of the chipped paint in late March and used one of them to explain the ever-changing university. 

“At first when I picked up those chunks of paint I was thinking back to the days of SPSU to occasions when I had painted the rock, and how much has happened in just a few short years,” Grau said. “That’s when it occurred to me that the whole ‘layers of paint’ was a perfect metaphor for how everything has just sort of blended together at this point. You can’t get back to what you had, but you could at least make sure you leave things in their best condition for the next person, for students and alumni.”

In his presentation to alumni and KSU Office of Annual Giving and Alumni Relations staff, Grau explained how the rock correlates with today’s university and its future.

“The process of repeated painting creates an invisible and ever-changing tapestry beneath the top-most layer,” Grau said. “Much like the passing events over the years, the consolidation of SPSU and KSU is just another layer indistinguishable from the next. No single layer can be identified as a good or bad moment, or whether it was placed by an SPSU graduate or a KSU graduate – the only thing that can ever be seen is what’s left behind as the last layer. So too must we keep in mind that the university is what we make of it, and while it’s nice to peel back the layers every now and then, we still have to remember that it’s what we put forward which must be kept looking its best for all to come and put their own mark on top.” 

Marietta Rock

As with the rock, Kennesaw State continues to add coatings, particularly since consolidation. As the university moves forward under its new president, Dr. Pamela Whitten, there certainly will be more colorful layers to come. 

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