I recently tried to quietly join a group taking a guided tour of the Lawn at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

I was swiftly detected by someone in the group, who noticed my business dress, Nebraska accent, and height; all of which made me distinct from the typical Virginia third grader.

They let me tag along anyway. One of the teachers was a former Virginia tour guide and was glad to share.

The Lawn contains the original classrooms, faculty lodging, and student housing at Virginia. The whole area was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University in 1819. It was fascinating to find the rooms occupied by seniors even though they lacked running water, air conditioning, or heat, beyond a fireplace. One student, who was kind enough to show off his tight quarters, spoke with excitement of living at the center of campus and sleeping in rooms Jefferson designed and likely visited.

Behind the Lawn were a number of English gardens for walking and sitting. One contained a fifteenth century pillar brought from Oxford to Virginia in 1928 to honor Jefferson.

The gardens were very peaceful and are beautiful places to eat lunch, stroll, read, or simply ponder and observe. As I sat in those gardens, I was reminded of the strength and history of the American university. No other institution transfers so much human capital so well to so many.

While America is challenged and fractured on so many fronts, the University remains strong and curiously united toward educating the next generation.

It is a place where ideas are exchanged and thoughts sharpened. Professors teach and convince, corporations search for employees, and students grow. Unlike my third grade companions, you don’t need a permission slip to drop by campus and listen to what young people are thinking and doing. My trip to the Virginia campus left me inspired by our history and looking forward to our future.