Not just any old bird

Balloons, confetti, cake, music and gator meat? That’s right, it’s Sebastian the Ibis’ 50th birthday and everyone is celebrating. For 50 years, Sebastian has been representing the University of Miami with his unique flair, making him one of the most recognizable mascots in the United States.

In 1955, Sebastian was created by the first Student Activities Director Norman Whitten, after whom the University Center is named today.

“Norm Whitten was a very charismatic individual and everybody loved him,” Allan Herbert, ’55 alumnus, said. “The students loved him and he was a terrific person. Norman was a 100 percent Miami Hurricane and the bird he created was his personality.”

However, it wasn’t until 1957 that Sebastian was brought to life when the San Sebastian Hall residence hall sponsored an Ibis in the homecoming celebration. A year later, student resident of San Sebastian Hall John Stormont showed up at football games in a homemade costume to get the crowd pumped up with school spirit.

“He had great personality,” Patti Herbert, ’57 alum and Allan’s wife, said. “He was an instant hit at Homecoming. The different groups had Sebastian created on their floats. When Norm drew him, everybody liked him immediately. He was the perfect thing for the University.”

Sebastian looked different in the early days, sporting a corncob pipe and a sailor hat with an “M” on the front.

“In the ’50s he was a cartoon character, two-dimensional, but now he’s a three-dimensional bird,” Allan said. “Now he’s a bigger and better Sebastian.”

He’s come far since 1955 and has evolved into the Sebastian that students love today.

“I’ve got a lot of memories about Sebastian,” Sandra Alvarez, junior, said. “I remember meeting him for the first time during Freshman Orientation when I was picked during ‘We All Bleed Orange and Green’ to learn the C-A-N-E-S spell out. He was really friendly and outgoing. He made fun of me when I couldn’t do the spell out right.”

Sebastian’s charisma has earned him quite a reputation. He was recently nominated as a candidate in the CapitalOne Bowl’s 2005 Mascot Challenge and is competing for the title of National Mascot of the Year.

“I love the feeling of unity the entire University of Miami family gets when Sebastian’s around,” Alvarez said. “Everyone knows the vast diversity at the University, but it all seems to melt away when school spirit comes into play. We really do become a special sort of family.”

“Even though he’s 50 years old, he shall be forever young in our memories,” Allan said.

To vote for Sebastian in the Capital One Bowl’s Mascot Challenge, log on to

Christine Dominguez can be contacted at