University celebrates Foundation Day Sept. 21

The University of the South revived an old tradition and celebrated Foundation Day Friday, Sept. 21, to observe the 150th anniversary of the matriculation of its first nine students, which occurred on September 18, 1868. The celebration coincided with Family Weekend, and the Convocation included both remarks by Vice-Chancellor John McCardell and the induction of new members into the Order of the Gown.

The line stretched across the Quad as families lined up early to be seated in All Saints’ Chapel for Convocation. New OG members and their families had tickets for admission and others were invited to watch the special Convocation in Guerry Auditorium.

To commemorate the sesquicentennial, the University asked Waring McCrady, professor emeritus of French, to draw on his knowledge of heraldry to design flags for each College residence hall. The flags, which will be displayed in the residence halls and in McClurg Dining Hall, were dedicated at the beginning of the Convocation.

Academic awards and prizes were announced by Provost Nancy Berner (see the full list here). Berner also announced the election of nine new members recently elected to Phi Beta Kappa (see the story here).

Vice-Chancellor McCardell began his address by remembering the earlier custom of Foundation Day, which goes back to at least the 1890s. While more recently “Founders’ Day” has celebrated the dedication of the cornerstone for the first University building in October 1860, McCardell suggested that perhaps it is time for a transition toward celebrating the second founding, the founding that succeeded.

He recognized that the original founders’ vision for the University was in some ways ahead of its time—a modern, private, comprehensive university, with a remarkably modern proposed curriculum. And he acknowledged that one purpose, though not the only thrust, of the original founding was defending slavery and advancing the case for Southern distinctiveness. “But this founding failed – failed utterly,” said McCardell. “After four years of destructive civil war, everything was lost. Man’s error, as old as Eden, had caused yet another world to fall.”

The larger purpose of the University—to erect “an institution on the most enlarged and liberal scale [and] to engage in its services the best talents, the most erudite learning, and the greatest skill and experience…” as Bishop Otey put it—remained, and was revived by new leadership in 1865. The second founders overcame many challenges to open the University’s doors in 1868. McCardell said: “…this University will draw, from the lessons of the history it has witnessed and experienced and learned, a measure of confidence and courage and hope commensurate with those who opened these doors to our first nine students 150 years ago this week.”

He asked those present to recommit to the profound declaration of the University motto, Ecce Quam Bonum (Behold how good and pleasant it is when kindred dwell together in unity), and strive to sustain that spirit here, and beyond the gates. Read McCardell’s full address.

A new book by McCardell and university historiographers Sam Williamson and Gerald Smith, The Re-founding of Sewanee, has just been published. Find it at the University Bookstore to learn more about the second founding of the University.

Following the address, Kelsey Arbuckle, president of the Order of the Gown, announced the names of about 260 new members as each stood to be recognized before being admitted to the Order by Vice-Chancellor McCardell. McCardell reminded the new members of the privileges and responsibilities of the Order of the Gown, then said “Please accept your gowns,” beginning a happy commotion of gowning and applause. The family members in attendance celebrated the students’ achievement before singing the alma mater.

At the Convocation’s conclusion, the students, families, and faculty spilled into the Quad for an evening picnic.