This year, the college will hold a variety of events to celebrate its sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, ranging from a symposium of alumni to the premiere of a documentary about the college.
The sesquicentennial events aim to engage alumni, students, faculty, and other members of the college community in a collective celebration of the college’s history and the college’s role in shaping the future of liberal arts education.
To begin the celebrations, the college held an Open House in McCabe Library on January 22nd. Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp ’72, Sesquicentennial Committee Chair and Vice President for College and Community Relations Maurice Eldridge ’61 and President Rebecca Chopp made opening remarks to kick off the celebration.
Highlights of the event included a large, lifelike cake of Parrish Hall, an exhibition by the Friends Historical Library showing large pictures of Parrish Hall in the 19th century and a life-size picture of Lucretia Mott. Around 100 people came to the Open House, and more came later for the cake.
“The intention was to create a soft event to welcome everyone back,” Eldridge said.
The Open House was the first of many events that the college will hold to commemorate its 150th anniversary. For example, on February 22, the college will hold the Symposium on the Future of Liberal Arts. The symposium will feature several alumni leaders in higher education, including Sean Decatur ’90, president of Kenyon College, and Phyllis Wang Wise ’67, president of Washington & Jefferson College. Chopp will moderate a discussion called “The Future of Knowledge,” which will explore the future of liberal arts in our rapidly changing world. Janet Dickerson ’92, former dean of the college, will moderate “Fostering a Democratic Society through Education,” which will evaluate the role of liberal arts colleges in creating better citizens and nurturing a more democratic society.
“I think [the symposium] sets the tone for recognizing the essence of this place,” Eldridge said.
In addition to the symposium, the college will hold a special Alumni Weekend this year from June 6 to 8 open to all alumni are invited to attend, instead of just those celebrating a milestone year. On average, 1,400 to 1,500 alumni come to the event, but the Alumni Relations Office expects a turnout of approximately 2,200 this year.
“I do think [the sesquicentennial] is drawing their interest, which is going to continue to build as we do some of the activities,” said Lisa Lee ’81, director of Alumni Relations. “As people become more aware, they will certainly be more interested in our history.”
During Alumni Weekend, a film directed by Shayne Lightner ’87 about the college’s history will be premiered. Like the founders of the college, Lightner is a Quaker, and will incorporate into the film how the Quakers will continue their tradition. After Alumni Weekend, the film will be available on the college website.
Another alumni-oriented project is a month of service in April. The project encourages all alumni to engage in community service during the month of April.
“It is so much a part of our heritage that it seemed fitting that one of the ways that we show our loyalty and support of Swarthmore is by doing something for others,” Lee said.
The Alumni Relations Office hopes the events will strengthen alumni relations.
“The year-long celebration of Swarthmore’s sesquicentennial has the potential to engage alumni and enhance how they see and interact with the college,” said Karl Clauss, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations. None of the sesquicentennial events directly ask alumni for donations. But the college hopes that they will increase alumni donations and involvement in the school.
Over the next few months, the college will distribute copies of a new book, “Swarthmore College: A Community of Purpose,” to all alumni, parents, faculty, staff and current seniors.
“The book focuses on the themes we think are important to Swarthmore,” Lee said, “like academic rigor, like service, like community, as well as how those played out in our history and play out now.”
Chopp closes the book with a chapter about the continuing importance of a liberal arts education and the college’s role in leading the future of liberal arts. To accompany the book, the college will hold a series of panel discussions around the country about the themes in the book. The panels will consist of alumni and faculty, who will share their experiences and their perspectives on the essence of a Swarthmore education.
The college has also created a sesquicentennial website. The sesquicentennial website features a timeline that spans the history of the college. The website also features a “Swarthmore 150” list, which fuses elements of contemporary college life with the traditions and history of Swarthmore’s past. A number of students worked on the sesquicentennial website, including Roy Greim ’14, Jenni Lu ’16, Abby Holtzman ’16, Sam Cleaves ’14, Sera Jeong ’14 and Liz Casey ’14.
“We knew in planning the sesquicentennial website that we wanted it to help build excitement for and then reflect all that is happening this year, as well as engage the entire community and provide ways for them to connect to the college,” said Alisa Giardinelli, director of web and media communications.
Several more sesquicentennial events are planned.
In April, there will be a large exhibit of the history of Swarthmore by the Friends Historical Library. “It will incorporate a combination of things we think are visually interesting that tell a story,” said Christopher Densmore, curator of the Friends Historical Library.
The Friends Historical Library has been integral to the Sesquicentennial preparations, providing the material for the timeline of the college on the sesquicentennial website.
On December 5, composer James Matheson ’92 will premiere an orchestral and choral arrangement commissioned for the sesquicentennial. There will be a universal moment of silence on the day for all alumni.
The performance will be streamed live on the college website.