Carolyn Hardin Smith ’56 and granddaughter Maddie Penn ’20 share a moment at Ohio Wesleyan before the University closed in spring. Smith wore OWU T-shirts every day after the announcement to support Penn. (Photo courtesy of Maddie Penn)

‘OWU Love Runs so Deep’

Grandmother Wears Ohio Wesleyan Gear Every Day from Campus Closure to Commencement Day

By Cole Hatcher

Carolyn Hardin Smith ’56 still recalls her Ohio Wesleyan University graduation. She and her classmates donned their caps and gowns and gathered for a sunny outdoor ceremony in Selby Stadium.

When she learned in March that the University was closing to help protect current students during the coronavirus pandemic, “Mamaw” Smith knew she wanted to do something to support her granddaughter, Maddie Penn ’20, who was scheduled to graduate May 9.

This time, instead of a cap and gown, Smith donned an Ohio Wesleyan T-shirt – and she vowed to wear OWU gear every day until what would have been Penn’s commencement.

“I’ve had to wear the same one more than once,” Smith says, but she is proud that her collection includes shirts supporting the Bishop swimming and diving team. (Penn was captain of the varsity women’s team this season.)

Penn recalls the day Ohio Wesleyan announced that students would need to complete their spring semester via remote learning.

“I got a text from my grandma the day that I told her I had to move home,” says Penn, an early childhood education major from Columbus, Ohio.

“I posted a photo on Instagram and my parents showed it to her. She responded: ‘Your tribute to Ohio Wesleyan made me cry. It made me remember my own last days at OWU. It is a place we want to stay forever. Reunions help us remember and bring friends back together. Tomorrow will be a great Bishop Day.’”

“Her response, of course, made me cry,” Penn says, sharing that her grandmother’s gesture “reminds me that OWU love runs so deep. She and I will always share the bond that only a Bishop could understand. Most importantly, it reminds me that no matter what may be going on in the world, tomorrow will always be a great Bishop Day.”

It’s the same strong grandmother-and-granddaughter connection that helped Penn decided to attend Ohio Wesleyan.

“I decided to come to OWU because I immediately felt at home on campus,” Penn says. “My grandma lives with my family, so I grew up hearing all of her stories. I knew I wanted a community like that, a place where you still want to relive those moments 50+ years later.”

During her time at Ohio Wesleyan in the 1950s, Smith majored in speech and minored in English. Indeed, she remembers her OWU days with great fondness, including working as a costume dresser for drama productions, participating in speech contests, waitressing in the campus dining room, enjoying formal dances, and, even, falling victim to panty raids.

Smith is proud that her 60th reunion in 2016 set a record as the largest such reunion in OWU history. She wants Penn to have many large and memorable reunions, too. “I hope so,” Smith says.

In addition to watching the Class of 2020 video that will debut May 9 on OWU’s YouTube channel, Smith says the family will celebrate Penn’s competing her degree with a big dinner and OWU-decorated cookies.

“We’re saving the cake for graduation,” Smith says, whenever the event is able to take place.

Congratulations, Maddie, and all of the members of the Ohio Wesleyan Class of 2020!