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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 20, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 22
Feb. 22: A Day to Celebrate

Feb. 22, 1951: Commemoration Day events were held in the auditorium of Maryland Casualty. Faculty were seated on the stage, with an orchestra below.

Festivities are first step in re-igniting languishing tradition

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Break out your Hopkins garb and school spirit; the university is set to stage a new take on an old and somewhat languishing tradition.

To honor the founding of the university 130 years ago — on Feb. 22, 1876 — a revamped Commemoration Day celebration will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday on Homewood's Levering Quad, which will be decked out in school colors and banners. President William R. Brody; his wife, Wendy; and many senior university officials will be on hand to pass out birthday cake, and all who attend are encouraged to wear Hopkins paraphernalia.

"Most schools celebrate their founding day in some significant manner, and we wanted to celebrate ours in a more visible, festive way — certainly more than we've done in the recent past," said Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education.

Historically speaking, Commemoration Day, Feb. 22, used to be a major event on campus. It marks the day in 1876 that Johns Hopkins inaugurated its first president, Daniel Coit Gilman. In recent years, however, the only marking of the occasion had been a modest event, run by the local alumni chapter, at the statue of Johns Hopkins on North Charles Street.

Feb. 22, 1951: A chef presents a spun-sugar replica of Gilman Hall to Carlyle Barton, seated at right, who served for 17 years as chairman of the board of trustees.

Burger said that a number of administration members felt that the university could and should do more to call attention to the occasion, and such an undertaking is in keeping with the university's desire to foster traditions that strengthen students' ties to Homewood and to Johns Hopkins.

For Commemoration Day 2006, all members of the Homewood campus community are welcome. The event will feature a written Hopkins trivia quiz, with a prize for the person who accurately answers the most questions, and student musical groups have been invited to perform.

The first commemoration ceremony was held in 1877 in Hopkins Hall, located on the university's original downtown campus. James Joseph Sylvester and Basil L. Gildersleeve, two of the university's first faculty members, gave addresses, and flowers taken from the greenhouse at Clifton Mansion, which had been the founder's summer residence, were brought in for the occasion.

Throughout most of the last century, up until the early 1980s, hundreds would gather in the Lyric Opera House, Homewood's Shriver Hall, a Peabody concert venue or elsewhere for a ceremony that typically included an academic procession, a musical performance, a speech by the president and a keynote address by a distinguished visiting scholar or dignitary. Early Commemoration Day ceremonies also included the conferring of academic and honorary degrees. In fact, on Commemoration Day 1886, the university issued its first diplomas; previously, degrees were only conferred. That same year, the board of trustees authorized the use for publication of the official Johns Hopkins seal, adopted just a year prior.

In addition, the Development and Alumni Affairs Office would typically host a Commemoration Day dinner for the board of trustees, administration and invited guests.

Seven of Hopkins' presidents, beginning with Gilman, have been inaugurated on Feb. 22; due to religious observances, that of President Brody was held on Feb. 23 because Feb. 22, 1997, fell on a Saturday.

During the 1980s, the annual Commemoration Day ceremony was held at Shriver Hall. The event would eventually fall out of favor in the 1990s. The last major acknowledgment of the occasion came in 2001, when Johns Hopkins celebrated its 125th anniversary.

With this new ceremony, Burger said the hope is that a Commemoration Day celebration will once again become an annual occurrence.

"We want to create something that will remind us all of the noble history of the institution of which we are a part," she said. "And that is something that bears repeating on an annual basis."

The Homewood Traditions Committee is seeking input on memorable Johns Hopkins traditions and suggestions for new ones. To contact the committee, go to its Web site at or write to


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