Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Founders Day 2014 celebrates University of Denver legacy in style

The DU marching band helped rouse the crowd at the Founders Day Gala. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The DU marching band helped rouse the crowd at the Founders Day Gala. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Eschewing the typical Founders Day format for a party befitting the University of Denver’s 150th anniversary, the 2014 Founders Day Gala was a grand celebration of the University’s long history. The event took place March 5 at the Hyatt Regency Colorado Convention Center in Denver and welcomed more than 1,100 attendees.

“Our volunteer committee, led by trustee Navin Dimond (MBA ’86), felt strongly that the theme of the Founders Day sesquicentennial gala should be about the fact that we all are a part of the DU story — its past, present and future,” says Kristine Cecil, associate vice chancellor for university advancement and executive director of alumni relations. “We wanted our guests to feel like they were a part of a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock opened the event with comments that highlighted the University’s “faithful partnership” with the city of Denver; this was followed by the screening of a video in which students, parents, alumni and friends wished the University a happy birthday and a recorded video message from Gov. John Hickenlooper in which he proclaimed March 5, 2014, as University of Denver Sesquicentennial Founders Day.

The University chose not to name new award winners at this year’s Founders Day gala; instead, all past award winners were invited to the celebration. Eighty-six of the 150 living past honorees were in attendance, including graduates from the 1940s through 2005.

Current students played a large part in the gala — musicians from the Lamont School of Music performed after the mayor’s remarks, and seven students dressed in costume to bring to life different moments in the University’s history.

Junior Constantine Johns portrayed the University’s first graduate, John Hipp, who collected his degree in 1884, while senior Katy Williams spoke about the University’s first homecoming celebration, in 1925. Paul David Wade, a graduate student in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, looked back to 1958, when the Pioneers won their first NCAA hockey championship; senior Cheyenne Michaels and sophomore Mawukle Yebuah remembered Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech on campus.

First-year student Trevor Fulton recalled 1970’s Woodstock West protest; and senior Megan Fleischmann looked to recent history as she spoke about the 2012 presidential debate on campus.

One student speaker appeared as himself: sophomore business student Cameron Simmons, a Daniels Fund scholar who spoke about the life-changing impact the University has had on him during his time as a student.

“The student narrators really helped to embody the spirit of the evening and to tie the past and present of the University together, and the audience really enjoyed it,” Cecil says. “We are also so thankful to all of our volunteers who not only helped make the evening a success, but who have helped shape who we are today and who we will be tomorrow.”

Spreading the Founders Day celebration to others in the University of Denver community, the March 5 gala was surrounded by seven days of special events on campus. Dubbed “1864 Week,” the series featured a Pioneers hockey game; a musical performance at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts; and the BIG EVENT, a late-night celebration for students and alumni that featured casino games, a zip line, carriage rides, laser tag, a dance party, live comedy and more.

The week also included several academic presentations, including a panel discussion on the legacy of Bill Driscoll (BA ’42, MS ’48), a member of the biology faculty from 1944–83 and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1968–83; University Chaplain Gary Brower’s exploration of religion at DU over the years; a look at the life of DU benefactor Mary Reed; and University Historian Steve Fisher’s slide show on the history of the school.


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