A Rousing Affirmation of Intellectual Community
"Fireworks" perhaps summons up the best image characterizing the October 12-15 Sesquicentennial Weekend. But I am not referring simply to that colorful overhead display many of us saw on Friday night.
True, the pyrotechnics over the River Campus (launched from a barge anchored in the Genesee) made for a singularly vivid moment in our celebration. Students and alumni emerged from their dorm rooms and reunion tents for what was probably the best such show ever to grace the campus skies, and cheering crowds along Wilson Boulevard greeted each new salvo.
For me, at least, it was an apt metaphor for an entire program full of quieter (but equally attention-riveting) fireworks of an intellectual and social nature. The Sesquicentennial Weekend was no mere party; it was a wealth of opportunities to become better educated on matters ranging from health and science to sports and entertainment-and to have alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends connect (or re- connect) with the special nature of the University of Rochester. The mix of informational and social gatherings had something for everyone.
As enumerated elsewhere in this issue, the sheer numbers of events and individuals engaged in the weekend (Sesquicentennial Celebration plus Reunion plus Homecoming plus Family Weekend) enlarged the campus population by thousands and energized us all. (Across Elmwood Avenue, of course, were the Medical Center's 75th anniversary celebrations, including the inauguration of three new deans.) Virtually every meeting space on the River Campus (as well as some off campus) was transformed into a venue for one or another gathering. The most serious, but good-humored, complaint of weekend registrants was this: It was very hard to decide which of the competing programs to attend because all were attractive!
"The celebration couldn't have been better." "Fantastic." "Awesome!" Those were some of the comments in letters written to me after the event. One of my favorite quotes appeared in the local newspaper. A '95 graduate noted that she wasn't surprised by the kinds of programs offered, since "the University always emphasized the intellectual." But she went on to say: "The campus looks beautiful. It's so different from when I was here. I'm jealous."
In both senses, she was right. The campus did look beautiful, providing a powerful reminder to our returning constituency of the magic of the place. At the same time, the weekend's celebration-as a manifestation of intellectual community-also served to reinforce our collective sense of what this institution is all about. The distinguished accomplishments of the speakers (many of them Rochester graduates and present or former faculty) matched the talents and interests of those in the audience. And all of the events proved impressively popular: The attendance at a presentation on high-energy physics was as robust as that at our overtime football victory over Canisius.
Intellectual combustion is, of course, nothing new to this University. To one degree or another, the sparks of discussion, debate, and rebuttal are struck all year long, in every University division. The stimulating nature of teaching and research at a university such as ours, on the most routine of days, is what gives our graduates the transforming experiences that stay with them for the rest of their lives.
There was much recounting of University history during the Sesquicentennial year, for all of the obvious reasons, and our past makes plain that this is a phenomenon of long standing. Our institution historically has attracted serious students of the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, engineering, nursing, medicine, music, education, and business who have found the mentors and resources to satisfy their intellectual passions. This has always been a place of discourse and discovery, where new knowledge has emerged in so many fields.
As a particularly dramatic illustration of the intellectual environment here, the Sesquicentennial Weekend served as a clear reminder to all of us about the kind of community we are fortunate to have-one of enduring value. During the formal Sesquicentennial Convocation in Eastman Theatre, I was asked to "imagine the future" of the University. While I don't think that presidents make very good soothsayers, I ventured a guess that the ways of the 21st century-including the Internet-were not likely to make our residential learning community disappear. Not that the Internet and other technologies won't play a role in our community; they no doubt will produce spectacular changes. But the distinctive benefits of a residential community such as ours will be sustained and, perhaps, will become even more special in the lives of future generations of students, as well as faculty and staff.
I know (and as you'll read in this issue) we will soon again find opportunities to celebrate that characteristic sense of community-long before the next "big anniversary" rolls around.
Thomas H. Jackson
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