S150 coming attractions

10-06-2005

Michigan State’s sesquicentennial shifts into high gear this weekend.

The celebration will feature, among other things, the Water Carnival and fireworks on Friday evening and the big parade and dedication of the new Sparty statue on Saturday.

There’s a detailed schedule posted on the MSU Newsroom. I hope to see a lot of you at those events—if you see Roy and me, please take the opportunity to come up and say hello.

The Water Carnival is a revival of a tradition that began during the period after World War I, and became an annual event through 1969. There will be some 15 student-decorated rafts/floats and we’ll have bleachers set up behind the Auditorium, along the north side of the river where people can come and watch. The raft parade starts at 5:30 and the fireworks follow at 7:50 PM. This should be a fun event for the MSU and East Lansing communities.

The Sesquicentennial Parade on Saturday should have nearly 150 floats, along with the Spartan Marching Band and bands from seven area high schools. After the parade, there will be a dedication ceremony for the new Sparty statue that was informally unveiled a few weeks ago at the intersection of Kalamazoo, Chestnut and Red Cedar.

I also want to encourage people to try to catch “The Great Experiment,” an excellent documentary about the founding and history of MSU, if you missed it when it premiered on WKAR Wednesday night. It’s an interesting and engaging hour, with some wonderful photos of the original campus, film from different periods in the university’s history, and commentary from a number of MSU professors, historians and leaders, past and present. It runs again at 7 p.m. on Sunday and 11 p.m. on Tuesday.

What I found particularly interesting were some of the contemporary accounts of students and professors from the earliest days of the college, describing first-hand what it was like to come to campus during those formative years. “Seeing” things through their eyes really underscores just how revolutionary an idea “land-grant” was back in the mid-19th century, and how much that idea has changed higher education and our world over the years.

It also reminds us that Michigan State has been a forward-looking place since the very beginning, even when we got some push-back from people who preferred the comfort of the status quo.

There were those who believed Michigan didn’t need another publicly supported university, even if it was going to be a place with a very different kind of mission. There were farmers who sent their sons here to learn “scientific agriculture” and were dismayed when the new-fangled ideas they brought back to the family farms challenged the way things had been done for generations, even if those new ideas produced greater yields and efficiencies. There were those who resisted the inclusion of women, international students and African-American students at times when few other institutions embraced them, even though the democratic values and ideals our society honored and embraced required it.

People don’t always want to prepare for the future, at least not for a future that’s substantially different than the world they live in now. It can be difficult to figure out what its demands will be and to direct our efforts not just toward individual success, but to the common good.

But that’s what Michigan State has been doing for 150 years.

So as we look back at our history during these sesquicentennial celebrations, we also have to be thinking about how we apply the lessons of that history to a vision of our collective future.

In the weeks and months and years to come, we’re going to be asked to make difficult choices, but it won’t be for the first time. And we’ll need to respond with vision and innovation, and by getting outside of our comfort zones and asking ourselves not what do we WANT to do, but what do we NEED to do in order to continue the tradition of path-breaking leadership that has defined Michigan State University since it was first imagined.

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