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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 18, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 22
The University Turns 132 — And It's A Time to Celebrate

Faculty members pose for a portrait in the chemical laboratory on the original downtown campus. Seated front center is Ira Remsen, who was recruited as chair of the department in 1876, when he was 30. He was named JHU's second president in 1901 and served until 1912. Upon his death in 1927, the recently completed chemistry building at Homewood was named for him.
Photo courtesy Ferdinand Hamburger Archives of the Johns Hopkins University

On Commemoration Day, take a moment to look back (and have some cake)

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Break out your gold and sable, summon your inner Blue Jay and get ready for a birthday party, Johns Hopkins-style.

To honor the founding of the university 132 years ago — on Feb. 22, 1876 — a Commemoration Day celebration will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday in Homewood's Levering Union lobby, which will be decked out in school colors and banners.

University administrators will be on hand to pass out birthday cake and refreshments, and all who attend are encouraged to wear Johns Hopkins paraphernalia.

Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education, said that when she helped bring back the tradition two years ago, she wanted to give people an appreciation for Johns Hopkins' history and foster a sense of pride in how much the university has grown in size and stature since its inception.

"We want people here to connect with our past and have the students, especially, feel part of an institution that has such a rich history," Burger said.

To offer a glimpse into the past, 23 historical images from the photograph collection of the Ferdinand Hamburger Archives will be on display in Levering's Sherwood Room. The images will document various aspects of the university's history, including photographs of the original campus in downtown Baltimore, the early Homewood campus and student activities from the 1800s and early 1900s.

James Stimpert, the university archivist who put the exhibit together, said that he wanted to document the early appearance of Johns Hopkins and the people who worked and studied here.

But could they sing?

Participants will be able to hear that, too, as the lobby speakers will blare out decades-old recordings of Johns Hopkins Glee Club songs.

Historically speaking, Commemoration Day, Feb. 22, used to be a major event. It marks the day in 1876 that Johns Hopkins inaugurated its first president, Daniel Coit Gilman.

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 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.

The location of the Commencement Day celebration moved several times during the university's history. The ceremony typically included an academic procession, a musical performance, a speech by the president and a keynote address by a distinguished visiting scholar or dignitary.

During the 1980s, the annual Commemoration Day ceremony was held at Shriver Hall. The event would eventually fall out of favor in the 1990s.

Looking to foster traditions that strengthen students' ties to Homewood and to Johns Hopkins, in 2006 the university resumed the practice of formally recognizing Commemoration Day, with a more modest event. However, Burger said that she hopes the celebration will build with each passing year and that she envisions a Commemoration ball or concert in the not-too-distant future.

"Several years ago, we realized that an important tradition had been dropped, and we wanted to revive it and build pride in our history," she said. "It's also just nice to have some things that happen on a regular basis and celebrate this wonderful university."

The event is free and open to all students, faculty and staff.

Long-sleeved T-shirts bearing the likeness of Johns Hopkins on the front pocket, and a marking of the date on back, will be distributed to the first 500 students in attendance with a valid ID and who are dressed in some form of Johns Hopkins attire and/or colors.


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