As students made their way to classes on a typical winter day yesterday, some paused along with faculty and alumni to celebrate University of Wisconsin’s Founders’ Day, marking the 164th year since the start of classes.
Wisconsin Alumni Association spokesperson Kate Dixon said the purpose of celebrating Founders’ Day is to commemorate Feb. 5, 1849: the first day of classes at UW.
Dixon said inaugural Founders’ Day celebrations took place 75 years after the first day of classes in 1924. Alumni participated in WAA chapters in almost 70 cities across the nation Tuesday, she added.
“[Founders’ Day] is a grand tradition,” Dixon said. “It is at the core of what our university is and will be.”
Dixon expressed WAA hopes to help students on campus understand what Founders’ Day is and what it means to be part of the alumni community. She said the spirit of the day regards UW’s academic tradition and legacy.
Speaking to the importance of having a Founders’ Day, David Null from University Archives and Records Management Services said he believes it is important to remember the past and when things started.
“I think it is important to remember where the university came from,” Null said.
Vice Chancellor for University Relations Vince Sweeney described Founders’ Day as an early spring tradition of celebrating the anniversary of UW.
Sweeney said the day provides an opportunity for recognition UW became what it is today because of the work of so many people over the years.
“I think it’s always important to go back, to pause, look back in history and see where we’ve been to help us look where we want to go,” Sweeney said.
According to Null, UW’s founders did not think students in the area had the educational background for university level courses. He said the first UW classes were preparatory, meaning similar to high school classes designed to bring students to a level where they could take university classes.
University classes did not begin until the following year, Null added.
Dixon said WAA celebrations of Founders’ Day continue through May. During this time, she said they ask people to share “academic ‘aha!'” moments and other profound memories in academics or research that will be shared online.
Those interested can also interact on Twitter, using the hashtag “UW1849,” Dixon added.
“To have a day or season when we can celebrate our alma mater,” Dixon said. “It’s wonderful to recognize that area of history.”
According to Dixon, yesterday WAA handed out cake to students in the residence halls. She said this activity helped introduce younger students, who might not have heard of WAA’s goals, to the idea of Founders’ Day.
This year, Founders’ Day holds the theme of giving back, Dixon said. They ask alumni to recognize, remember and reflect on the role they have had on the academic legacy of this university and consider what they can do to give back to the university to help that legacy continue.
Dixon expressed that Founders’ Day is a real highlight for alumni, and Sweeney said he expects the tradition will continue for years to come.
“[Founders’ Day has] lasted since 1924, so I see no reason why it’s not going to continue for many, many more years,” Sweeney said. “I certainly hope they continue.”