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(Marie Romano)

With the University of Texas' iconic "Eyes of Texas" song currently stirring up controversy, it might be time for some to find a more wholesome way to celebrate the alma mater. Many have already found a reminder of college life with UT's iconic blonde squirrels.

UT alum Marie Romano found out just how special the squirrels are to campus life when she created an Instagram and Facebook account dedicated to the university's furriest residents. Since its founding in 2018, the Squirrels of UT Instagram has grown to nearly 10,000 followers.

It's no secret that UT squirrels are remarkably unafraid of humans, especially when food is around. Because of their friendliness, Romano got a chance to take up-close-and-personal pictures with the animals back when she was pursuing a philosophy degree at the university in 2016.

A native of Brownsville, Texas, a less likely place to find squirrels, Romano instantly connected with her new furry friends. It wasn't until she revisited her camera roll years later, however, that she realized how closely intertwined the squirrels were to her experience at UT. She decided to spread that feeling of nostalgia with others.

Marie Romano at UT. (Marie Romano)

Soon recent graduates and long-time alumni found her page, and Romano realized that the squirrels may be more of a UT mascot than Bevo himself.

"I think they're kind of like the secret mascot," Romano said. "You'll see Bevo at the football game, but with the squirrels, you see them every day. You can't escape them—they're going to come up to you and ask you for your waffle fries from Chick-Fil-A. And I think that's why a lot of people, when they think back to their time (at UT), they're going to remember this squirrel."

After visiting campus and posting squirrel updates for a year, Romano came up with a new way to connect her audience to each squirrel's individual personality. She used Kickstarter to fund her new project, a Squirrels of UT yearbook. The book was an instant hit.

"It was the most fun project I've ever done," Romano said. "I felt like I was in the yearbook club at high school or something, but it was really fun, especially photoshopping graduation caps on the squirrels."

When the pandemic hit the following spring, Romano decided to follow up her former project with a special commencement video. Thanks to Romano, students who may not have walked the stage themselves could cheer themselves up by watching graduates like "Cashew, B.S. in Nutology" get the recognition they deserve.

While their diplomas may not be real, the squirrels' names certainly are. As the hustle and bustle of campus life goes on, UT squirrels have their own goings-on right underneath our noses. Renowned family dynasties can span generations, including the most famous example, the blonde squirrel clan.

Romano found herself learning about much more than just squirrel clans as her relationships with the creatures grew stronger. By now, she can use a three-step process—location, appearance and personality—to tell each squirrel apart. She's been so successful with telling each squirrel apart that she did a presentation about her process in a human anthropology class. She says it's like "reading human faces;" it takes practice, but soon it becomes natural.

Each post on her Instagram not only gives a close-up shot of a chubby-cheeked creature but also gives a little tidbit into what makes that squirrel so special.

Although she is a fan of all of the squirrels, she's partial to a few: Teacup, who loves humans but doesn't like other squirrels, and Nutter Butter, an older gentleman with chubby cheeks who loves to share.

"The more flamboyant they are, the more I like them," Romano said. "They're individual squirrels with their own individual personalities."

While the pandemic has halted some of her creative processes, Romano won't stop posting UT's nuttiest residents anytime soon.

"At the end of the day, it's pure, light-hearted content that brings a smile to people's faces," she said.


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