By Roderick J. McDavis, President
Feb. 18, 2015
We take pause on February 18th each year to reflect on Ohio University’s long legacy of excellence. 2015 marks 211 years since the Ohio General Assembly approved charter plans for the creation of Ohio University. Perhaps even more notable is the fact that 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of our first Commencement in 1815.
It is incredible to consider the formidable challenges faced by our earliest degree-seekers, traversing the unmapped terrain of an infant state in pursuit of higher learning. It is inspiring to consider the thirst for knowledge that surely drove their quest. In the end, only two of the nine students tested in that first graduation year were deemed worthy of college degrees. Thomas Ewing of Lancaster and John Hunter of Circleville made Ohio University history when they received their baccalaureate degrees.
Much has changed in the two centuries that have passed since our first graduation. The wooded trails of our predecessors have evolved into celebrated brick walkways. Our colonial roots have given way to 21st Century innovations. And, to be sure, enrollment and graduation rates have come a long way since 1815! But the transformative power of an Ohio University education has stood the test of time.
Like so many who have followed in his footsteps, Ewing’s graduation from Ohio University served as a springboard for his life of impact … as a United States Senator, as Secretary of Treasury, as Secretary of Interior, and as an advisor to four United States Presidents. Today, Ewing’s spirit endures through the hundreds of thousands of Ohio University alumni who are effecting positive change in communities around the world.
Ohio University’s Class of 1915 embraced this spirit during the 100-year anniversary of our first Commencement. Orchestrated by our first Dean of Women Irma Voigt, the celebration featured a massive historical reenactment on the College Green – an 800-member production that drew more than 5,000 local spectators and helped set the tone for the positive town-gown relations that we enjoy today.
The event culminated in the dedication of the newly-constructed Alumni Gateway, gifted by the Class of 1915 in memory of our first graduates. The Gateway inscription reflects the transformation that occurs not only within our gates, but long after our graduates have departed: So enter that daily thou mayest grow in knowledge wisdom and love…So depart that daily thou mayest better serve thy fellowmen thy country and thy God.;
Though the sole Ohio University building that housed our first Commencement no longer stands, the Sundial located between Galbreath Chapel and University Terrace marks the location of this historical occasion. It’s a relatively obscure landmark, one that is largely overlooked by thousands of passers-by on a daily basis. But its significance to Ohio University’s mission of intellectual and personal development is extraordinary.
Every day, we walk in the footsteps of generations upon generations of graduates who have paved the way for this proud moment in Ohio University history. On this Founder’s Day, I invite you to contemplate the shared history and shared experiences of Ohio University alumni through the ages – a centuries-strong tale of transformation that will continue for years to come.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first graduates to receive degrees from Ohio University, and in honor of that milestone, this year’s Founders Day will commemorate the pioneering spirit of those first graduates with a display on the 5th floor of Alden Library. The display is available for viewing during normal Alden Library hours through the end of March. More information about the display is available here.