Of all the hats Joe Crowley has worn during his 42-year association with the University, perhaps his newest was the most appropriate during Thursday's dedication ceremony for the building that bears his name - the Joe Crowley Student Union.
"I'm a student again," Crowley, the former president of the University, said with a wry smile before a crowd of several hundred gathered on the union's plaza. The crowd cheered and applauded Crowley's announcement that he had spent the semester enrolled in a poetry workshop class taught by the campus' well-respected English professor, Gailmarie Pahmeier.
"And I'm just having one helluva good time," he said. "It's great to be a student again, and I can prove it because I have a piece of paper at home from a high-ranking administrator admitting me to the University of Nevada."
So it was doubly notable Thursday that not only was the campus' newest building officially opened, it was dedicated in the name of a man who held the University's presidency for a record of nearly 23 years, and was now, at age 74, just like any other student on the campus.
As much as he felt honored to have his name on the building, though, Crowley was quick to point out that "The Joe," as University President Milton Glick christened it during his remarks, belonged to the students.
It was a typical sentiment from a man who throughout his 42 years at Nevada always understood the big picture without feeling the urge to stand in the middle of it.
"People have asked me as this wonderful structure has gone up, about it being 'my' building,'" Crowley said. "'How's your building going?' as though I owned it. But it's not my building. It's the students' building. It belongs to the students. They are the ones paying for it. It is their vision. It is a product of their ideas, their design".
"It's a place where if something significant is going to happen, it will be because it is the students' priority to decide that it is going to happen."
Thursday's ceremony for the 167,000-square-foot facility began with a parade of letters from the old student union, Jot Travis. The symbolic transfer of the letters was handled by about 130 students from 10 different student organizations. They were led by a drum corps and cheerleaders during their march, on a day where the campus felt like fall: full of fallen leaves, the air brisk, clear and kissed periodically with sunshine.
Master of ceremonies Shannon Ellis, vice president for student services, welcomed those assembled and noted that, "Vision, teamwork and a man named Joe characterize this moment."
Ellis, always energetic and ever the ardent campus recruiter, also noted that Crowley's wife, Joy, the couple's four children (Theresa, Neil, Margaret, Tim - and all Nevada graduates, by the way) and seven grandchildren were also in attendance.
"We'll be giving you those admission applications very soon," Ellis said with a smile to the Crowley grandchildren.
With the transfer of the letters, said ASUN president Sarah Ragsdale, "The new heartbeat of the University is here, at the Joe Crowley Student Union. This is our living room. I hope it entices all to stop by and come inside and get involved."
Rebecca Bevans, Graduate Student Association president, recalled the effort that it took to build the building. She was a member of the student committee in 2002 that took the question of, "Do you want a new union" to the student body at large.
"The answer was a resounding yes," she said. "I can honestly say that this building was designed by the students, for the students. Both GSA and ASUN put a lot of energy into making sure this building was what the student body wanted ... I would encourage all of you to use this building to its fullest.
"It's designed for everyone."
Glick heralded the opening of the building as a "new opportunity for student success. That is what this building is about ... This facility will be a place where students engage."
Glick asked the crowd to picture a day - probably not very far off in the future, as the campus continues its record growth - when the new union becomes the front door of the campus.
"This will become the new entrance to our campus," he said. "Try to visualize this plaza with 1,500 students on it each day. This will be where things happen, and I am very excited about it."
With a nod to Crowley, Glick smiled and added, "We enter a new era ... yet it has continuity to the past and we would not be here without the people who built the University."
Crowley, clearly touched by the honor, said he had spent "the last several days" wandering through the new building. He said he was struck by its energy, and its compendious value to the campus and to its student body.
"It's magical," he said. "It's tangibly exciting. It's full of buzz and activity. You can just feel the place. I think it's going to be that way for, who knows, the next 50, 60, 100 years ... however long buildings last these days."