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Happy Birthday to U: How Universities Celebrate Their Anniversaries

May 13, 2011

Most of us celebrate our birthdays with parties, cake and presents. Many universities around the world do the same, but they add a few touches: operas, symposiums or massive fundraising drives, for instance. What do various schools do to mark the passing of time?

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By Eric Garneau

University of Warwick vice-chancellor Nigel Thrift recently wrote a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on how various schools mark the passing of time. Each region's universities seem to have a different way of celebrating milestones. Of course, there are a few standards no matter where you go: an embracing of nostalgia, a hopeful look to the future, an expression of gratitude to supporters. That said, here's a look at how schools in a few different regions throw a party.

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The United States

Thrift notes that in the U.S. school anniversary celebrations often have 'one eye fixed on donors.' That doesn't stop them from throwing serious parties, though. For instance, the University of Alabama reached its 175th anniversary in 2006; to celebrate, it sponsored an elaborate exhibition that allowed visitors to experience the campus' rich history. Rhode Island's Roger Williams University, which hit its 50th birthday in 2006, marked the event with several major lectures and social events, including a gala and concert. Chapman University, currently in the midst of its 150th anniversary celebration, held a weekend-long campus-wide open house that promised 'entertainment, birthday treats and fireworks.'

Asia

According to Thrift, Asian university celebrations tend to be the most grand. Consider Osaka University, which reached its 80th birthday this year. Despite altering its celebratory plans due to recent catastrophes in the country, the university still intends to host a series of lectures open to all Japanese citizens. China's Xiamen University celebrated its 90th year of operation with massive gatherings of notable academics and educational leaders from around the world. Meanwhile, Tsinghua University, also in China, reached the 100 year mark in 2011, which drew 50,000 alums. A convocation there included speeches by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Yale University President Richard Levin.

Great Britain

The United Kingdom's institutions of higher learning have a lot of history. Despite Thrift's assertion that British university celebrations tend to be 'relatively subdued' and 'cost conscious,' U.K. schools can throw parties with the best of them. For instance, the University of Essex reached 40 years of operation in 2004, and in commemoration it hosted a series of over 80 events including lectures, dinners and even operas. Currently the University of St. Andrews is gearing up for its 600th anniversary in 2013; among the events already confirmed are an 'antiques roadshow,' a 'street party' and a series of 600 lectures. One of the world's oldest schools, the University of Cambridge, celebrated 800 years of existence in 2009, which netted the school 10,000 visitors and featured a light show, concerts, a series of podcasts and a festival dedicated to Charles Darwin.

British universities have a lot of history. Read about how a U.K. non-profit group is attempting to make that history accessible to more students.

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