How do you celebrate 150 years? That question vexed Maurice Eldgridge '61, vice president for college and community relations and chair of the committee formed to honor Swarthmore's sesquicentennial.
"One hundred and fifty years, going all the way back to the Civil War, is a big block of time to attempt to honor," says Eldridge, whose own association with Swarthmore spans a third of its history. "We knew we wouldn't be able to represent it completely, but I do think we were able to capture a real sense of the institution. There was a real richness of opportunity."
Whether it was a symposium on the future of the liberal arts, performing arts events drawing upon the entire College community, or the procession of the largest Parade of Classes in history, Swarthmore's sesquicentennial reflected the traditions and values of the institution. It crosses disciplines — and generations — to tell the story of Swarthmore.
"These seemingly disparate parts," says Eldridge, "reflect the richness of the liberal arts."
Below and in chronological order are highlights from the College's sesquicentennial year.
Swarthmore introduced its sesquicentennial website right before the start of the year to celebrate the College's 150th anniversary. Highlights include a college timeline, a collection of historic videos, and the Swarthmore 150, a list of things current and past Swatties cite as must-dos before graduating. A one-stop source of information for all things sesquicentennial, the website generated conversation on campus and record traffic across social media.
How better to kick off a party than a cake cutting? Especially when it's Parrish Hall rendered in an entirely edible and three-dimensional form — a tribute to the heart of campus. With the McCabe Library atrium packed with the College community, Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp '72,then-President Rebecca Chopp, and Eldridge expressed their excitement for forthcoming sesquicentennial events. But they also took a look back, praising the vision of the College's founders in what proved a transformational period for higher education. View photo gallery
When Andrew Hauze '04 and music majors brainstormed about how to mark the sesquicentennial musically, it hit them: a concert performance of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic South Pacific, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener '29. "Here you have one of our most prominent alums, who carried our name out into the world and made this interesting impact on musical theater in the 1940s," says Hauze, conductor of the College orchestra. Historical in nature and socially progressive, South Pacific reflected the spirit of Swarthmore and its sesquicentennial. Watch excerpts from South Pacific
An academic hallmark of the celebration was the thought-provoking Symposium on the Future of the Liberal Arts. The College-hosted event featured distinguished alumni leaders in higher education, including keynote Mary Schmidt Campbell '69, dean emerita of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. The panelists explored the future of knowledge and the ways to foster a democratic society through higher education, among other topics. Members of the College community followed along through live tweets before watching an archived video presentation. Watch the symposium
Co-directed by Dan Rothenberg '95, Quinn Bauriedel '94, and Dito van Reigersberg '94, the Obie-award-winning Pig Iron Theatre Company brought its highly successful and buzzed-about production of Twelfth Night to campus. By deploying an ensemble of live musicians on stage alongside 12 actors, the company reimagined the classic text in cursive. Three performances and a student workshop set the stage for what van Reigersberg considered "a really special homecoming." His alter ego, Martha Graham Cracker, returned to perform at the All-Alumni Reunion Weekend in June.
Created by artist Stacy Levy and sponsored by the William J. Cooper Foundation, the Crum Creek Meander turned the heads of the community. The site-specific sculpture on Parrish lawn reflects the ebb and flow of the creek, is illuminated at night, and is animated by changing wind patterns. Levy meant to bring "a sense of the Crum Creek into view, reminding us of the stream below, and of being in college: a place of transparency and reflection. And it manifests in vinyl this concept for passing through something, a threshold. That transition is so part of learning." Listen to Levy discuss the work
In a tongue-in-cheek effort to "fix" 150 years of pronunciation confusion, Swarthmore announced it dropped the first "R" from its name and would now be known as "Swathmore" College. The April Fool's prank, complete with a video of Phineas the Phoenix getting in on the action, was a hit in traditional and social media and even got other schools to follow. The effort earned the Communications Department a silver medal from the CASE District II awards for "creativity on a shoestring." Watch
An overflow crowd of students, faculty, and staff affirmed the excitement for Toni Morrison's talk on campus. Prior her lecture and reading, the Nobel Laureate visited students and campus book-club members who had been immersed in her work for the semester. "I've been asking [the students] to come up with questions for her, going back and forth with them on those, and it's got them really juiced up," says Philip Weinstein, Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Literature, who arranged the visit that coincided with his final semester on campus. "This is an extremely rare thing in the literary world."
Call it a "trans-generational reckoning with the past," says Farid Azfar, assistant professor of history, of the panel discussion, "Queer Histories of Swarthmore," he organized in response to community interest. Moderated by Issac H. Clothier Professor of History and International Relations Pieter Judson '78, the panel of alumni framed its experiences with the College through the conceptual prism of queer history. It also examined how Swarthmore can recast its institutional history to represent the struggles of its queer students, staff, and faculty. The over-arching goal, however, was to spark an ongoing dialogue that incorporates more voices. Watch panel discussion
The first-ever day of giving, "Spring for Swarthmore," was a resounding success. The initial donor goal was set at 864, but 2,258 alumni, current students, parents, faculty and staff, and friends gave $403,878. Thanks to a matchbox couple giving another $1,000 per donor up to 864 donors and $136,000 when the donor count reached 1,500, the total rose to $1,403,878 in support of student financial aid and other areas of College and student life. "The idea of helping to organize a birthday present to the College that has given me so much was something I could really relate to," says Mark Shapiro '88 of the Alumni Council.
A crowd of staff, faculty, and students gathered in front of Parrish for a special ceremony on Memorial Day to witness both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania flag and the United States flag raised high above the College. The flags were originally flown April 1, 2014, the 150th anniversary of the College's charter, to commemorate the sesquicentennial. The Commonwealth flag flew above the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg while the American flag had flown above the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Maintenance Manager Bill Maguire had the honor of raising the flags, while Eldridge spoke to the crowd. Watch the ceremony
Over 2,800 people celebrated reunion this year, a party 150 years in the making. The record turnout of the all-alumni event featured members of 72 classes, dating back to 1934, and 24 countries. Highlights included the College receiving its first Grammy Award, donated by Don Mizell '71; a sesquicentennial cabaret hosted by Pittinger Crumhenge (Quinn Bauriedel '94), and the annual "Bath Tub Debate," [watch here] in which faculty from social sciences, natural sciences, and the humanities hashed out which discipline is most vital to human existence. The largest Parade of Classes in history reached the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater to hear judge Jed Rakoff '64 [watch here].
Displayed in McCabe Library for a month, "Joseph Leidy and the Foundations of Philadelphia Biology," honored the "last man who knew everything." Swarthmore's first professor of natural history, Leidy founded vertebrate paleontology in the America, was the authority on microscopes, and conducted the first known tissue transplantation. Howard A. Schneiderman Professor Emeritus of Biology Scott Gilbert suggested the exhibit to acquaint students with Leidy's "critically important" work. "He was just infinitely creative," adds Leonard Warren, emeritus professor of cell development and biology for the Perelman School of Medicine, who spoke at the opening reception.
The year of sesquicentennial celebrations went out on a high note with Peace Talks. The concert brought the College's chorus and orchestra together and drew from the entire community, also reviving the College's tradition of Founders Day. The College commissioned award-winning composer James Matheson '92 to create an original piece aligning with the spirit of the sesquicentennial, which featured excerpts of speeches given at commencement ceremonies over the years. Matheson enlisted friend and College classmate Jared Green to compose the libretto — "a chance to give something back to a place we both love," says Matheson. Listen to an excerpt
Although this year's sesquicentennial events have ended, the celebration continues in 2015. In February, Professor of History Allison Dorsey's Black Liberation 1969, Black Studies in History class will present a multimedia project on the Civil Rights movement as it manifested on the Swarthmore campus. In May, a host of faculty members will present the opera "The Royal Singer," featuring singers, musicians, and dancers from the College and third- and sixth-grade students from Stetser Elementary School in Chester.