Swarthmore Launches Sesquicentennial Celebration

by Ryan Dougherty
Photo by Laurence Kesterson

President Chopp helps to kick off Swarthmore's sesquicentennial celebration.

The College officially launched its sesquicentennial celebration Wednesday with a ceremonial cake cutting before an overflow crowd of board members, faculty, staff, and students in McCabe Library.

President Rebecca Chopp, Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp '72, and Vice President for College and Community Relations and Sesquicentennial Committee Chair Maurice Eldridge '61 expressed their excitement for forthcoming sesquicentennial events. But they also took a look back, praising the vision of the College's founders in what proved a transformational period for higher education.

From left, Gil Kemp '72, chair of the Board of Managers, Maurice Eldridge '61, vice president for college and community relations, and President Rebecca Chopp.

The College once again finds itself in such a period, Chopp said, with the changes to be seen in the next 10 years "almost unimaginable."

"It's up to us to think those through, to think about how we represent ourselves and the values that we want to express," said Chopp. "My hope is to have a serious conversation about who we are and what we can offer the next generation of students. That is our responsibility, as it was our founders'." Read President Chopp's full remarks.

For Kemp, the sesquicentennial elicits a "mélange of emotions," chiefly a sense of responsibility.

"Because Swarthmore has meant so much us, it's our obligation and happy duty to give back," he said. "The way we benefitted from the commitment, generosity, and enthusiasm of those who came before us compels us to leave the institution strong for those who follow."

Eldridge lauded the vision of the College's founders - "deep, strong, and practical" - before praising the efforts of the Sesquicentennial Planning Committee. He then led the crowd in the singing of "Happy Birthday," backed by a string quartet featuring William Markowitz '14, Zachary Tanner '16, Ted Goh '14, and Shreyas Ravi '14.

Students, faculty, staff, and alumni gathered in McCabe Library for the celebration.

The event also featured chocolate and vanilla cupcakes provided by Dining Services, a display by Friends Historical Library staff to celebrate the history of Parrish Hall and a life-size, cardboard cutout of College founder Lucretia Mott, an influential American Quaker, abolitionist, women's rights activist, and social reformer. But the real star of the party - as measured by attendees snapping photos on their phones - was the rendering of Parrish Hall in cake form, which was Eldridge's idea.

The planning committee worked with The Master's Baker from West Chester, Pa., and mutual enthusiasm abounded. The committee sent historic and current photos to the bakers, whose sculptor came to campus to view Parrish in 3-D. The final product exceeded everyone's high expectations, said Patricia Maloney of the planning committee.

The sculptor nailed the landmark's likeness, down to minor details such as Adirondack chairs on Parrish Beach and the rear loading dock of the College Post Office, and added an element of whimsy, Maloney said. The cake was half chocolate and half vanilla with butter cream icing and included Rice Krispies Treats to support the building.

"Sometimes cakes like these look great but don't taste very good, but this one was amazing," Maloney said. "Everything was edible - even the Adirondack chairs and the American flag!"

Thanks to the remnants of Tuesday's Philadelphia-area snowstorm, the cake endured a long and bumpy ride to the College, giving the planning committee some last-minute anxiety. But it arrived just on time and in one piece - before being cut up into hundreds of pieces and devoured by students Wednesday evening.

"The response of the community told the story - they were as thrilled as we were," Maloney says. "A few students even asked us to cut them out pieces of their actual rooms in Parrish."

For more on the sesquicentennial and its events, visit swat150.swarthmore.edu.