Swarthmore to Celebrate Sesquicentennial

In 2014, Swarthmore College will become 150 years old. Much is still undetermined about what should be done in commemoration. But the current list of what is being planned, which includes a book that discusses the history of the college and a commissioned piece of music in the school’s honor, makes one thing clear: Swarthmore wants to celebrate its 150th birthday in style.

“This is a great chance for us to celebrate our history,” said Lisa Lee, the Director of Alumni Relations and a member of the committee charged with preparing for the sesquicentennial celebration. “This is an opportunity to look back and sort of see where we are, and see where we want to go,” she added.

Maurice Eldridge, Vice-President for College and Community Relations and the chair of the sesquicentennial committee, agreed that the event could be a good time to celebrate the “history or ongoing life of the college.”

Eldridge expressed an interest in seeing a variety of events. “The range could be pretty broad,” he said, adding it would include “lectures, symposia, and artistic events of one sort or another.”

As part of the celebration, the committee is hoping to receive submissions from students for ways to celebrate this anniversary. These could be sent to and funded via the Cooper Foundation, an endowed fund dedicated to helping to arrange and financially back such events.

“The Cooper Committee is interested in events which reflect the broad-minded mission of the college to help students realize their fullest intellectual and personal potential with an ongoing awareness of ethical and social concerns,” said Logan Grider, a Studio Art professor and the co-chair of the Cooper Foundation.

However, the Cooper Foundation is yet to have any sesquicentennial proposals, though the first round of applications is not due until February 18th. Eldridge, who also co-chairs the Cooper Committee, did not appear terribly concerned. “I don’t expect to be overwhelmed because people here are already very busy and engaged,” he said. Nonetheless, he did express a desire for more student involvement, adding that if students wanted to lend their assistance to the process he would be “happy to have it.”
Members of the Cooper Committee did not have any particular proposal, or set of proposals, in mind for students. “We are hoping to receive ambitious proposals that will address the wide range of interests present at Swarthmore,” said Grider.

Eldridge did emphasize history’s role in the celebration, and encouraged at least some to consider planning events that take that into account. For example, Eldridge noted that the involvement that many of the school’s founders had in abolitionism might make an interesting topic.

Student involvement need not only be through the Cooper foundation. The sesquicentennial committee is holding a design contest to come up with a logo for the celebrations, and students are welcome to bring ideas directly to the Sesquicentennial Committee. “If people have ideas about what they would like to see to mark the occasion, they are certainly welcome to bring them up to the committee,” said Christopher Densmore, the curator for the Friends Historical Library, and another committee member.

Event ideas are not limited to student input. Densmore said that the Friends Historical Library, for example, as the location of many college artifacts, would likely use its resources to contribute to the celebration. The library contains, among other items, a knife used in the first college kitchen, former President Edward McGill’s ear trumpet, and a 1920s Swarthmore men’s bathing suit. “You may be seeing some of that on display during the year,” he said.

The committee also hopes to involve alumni in the process. “There may well be alumni speakers and alumni panels,” said Lee, who added that the school was planning to make the 2014 alumni weekend an all-alumni weekend. Typically, alumni weekend focuses on individuals who graduated some multiple of five years ago.

Faculty have been considering exploring the history of their departments as part of the celebration. “They’ll probably be symposia on the history of individual disciplines or sciences,” said Frank Moscatelli, a physics professor, and another member of the sesquicentennial committee.

On top of that, the school is considering several general ways to mark its 150th anniversary. Jeffery Lott, the former editor of the Swarthmore College Bulletin, is writing a book that will provide a brief history of the college along with essays from various alumni to commemorate the occasion. The committee is also considering commissioning an opera. And one alumnus who works in the film industry has expressed an interest in making a documentary in conjunction with the sesquicentennial.

But according to Moscatelli, the college has yet to decide when and if it will have an official founders’ day out of concern that the day the college was technically founded might not be the best day to recall a rather serious event. “We don’t actually yet have an official date for the founding of the college, and that’s because the actual charter was signed on April 1st, 1864, and we wonder about going official with the college’s founding day as April Fool’s Day.”

Photo courtesy of thinkwhatyoulike.wordpress.com.

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