Sesquicentennial Weekend


With so much going on, I haven’t had the time to stop and reflect on the wonderful Sesquicentennial Weekend last weekend, and all of the great events we had going on.

From the Water Carnival to the parade to the Sparty dedication to the concerts and shows, there was really something for everybody who wanted to connect to the university.

The Water Carnival drew a good crowd—more than 3,000 by some estimates—despite the cold weather. And it was really a family event and an intergenerational event, with everyone from children to people who attended some of the original Water Carnivals between 1923-1969 and remembered that part of MSU’s tradition. Our executive coordinator of Sesquicentennial celebrations, Sue Carter, and Terry Braverman, who has a long and deep history with MSU, did a great job emceeing the event, particularly with all of the surprises—who could have predicted that the Titanic would be on the front page of the paper again the next day?—and the period music that accompanied each float was a lot of fun.

I want to express my appreciation to Ted Minnick and the folks from Physical Plant who helped us design and build the rafts and who were there to put them in and take them out. Along with the students, who enthusiastically embraced their roles, they really helped us make it a special evening.

Whether the Water Carnival turns out to be a one-time event or becomes an MSU tradition again will depend on a student group taking leadership. They’re discussing it, so we’ll have to wait and see.

We saw Marian McPartland and Dave Brubeck perform at the Wharton Center on Friday night and had the opportunity to meet them backstage. They’re both just treasures, legends of jazz, and still going strong in their eighties. It was really amazing to be able to welcome them to Michigan State and to enjoy their renditions of jazz standards. It makes you appreciate the enthusiasm and commitment these performers still have to really putting on a great show.

The parade the next day was also a great experience. People lined the route all the way from Frandor, up Michigan and Grand River, and onto campus. I know some who attended the centennial parade in 1955 were there with their children and even their grandchildren. There was a young mother who pointed out her son to me and told me how she wanted him to go to Michigan State, even though she didn’t. And the parade was a way for her to start connecting him to our community. So you can never underestimate the way these things make connections for people.

The car I was riding in was an elegant “contemporary classic” and a great parade car: a 1968 Excalibur that belongs to a local physician, Bill Mercer. He bought the car new, and like many individuals and groups, volunteered it for the parade. Most people along the route were quite taken by the car—which, by the way, was designed by Brooks Stevens, the same individual who also designed the Weinermobile for Oscar Meyer Company in 1958 and the Miller High Life logo in 1942—then they noticed me.

We had the Spartan Marching Band four or five cars in front of us, and Sparty right behind us. And you have to give the band a lot of credit for playing the MSU fight song every five or ten minutes.

When we got to the new Sparty statue on Kalamazoo, we got out and watched the rest of parade. Duane Vernon and his crew did an absolutely spectacular job of organizing it.

The dedication of the new Sparty statue after the parade was another opportunity to recognize the links to our past, while looking ahead. We had the picture there of John Hannah at the dedication of the original statue back in 1947. Leo Cropsey, who was there with President Hannah as a student, joined me along with Michael Hanak representing the Student Alumni Foundation, Trustee David Porteous and many others.

Then we saw Jay Leno on Saturday night, while across campus at the Breslin Center, Rufus Wainwright performed for students and the younger members of the community. Wainwright, who is the son of folksingers Loudon Wainwright III ("Dead Skunk") and Kate McGarrigle ("Heart Like a Wheel"), performed as a benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

It all got me thinking about how people connect to Michigan State in a variety of different ways. We have professional colleagues who know us through our intellectual work—we had the Academic Convocation and those speakers a few weeks ago, and that was more oriented to the faculty and their interests. There are parents who know us primarily through the experiences of their students. And of course there’s the community that’s around us that knows us in a variety of ways—people who come to lectures, people who seek out our advice through extension offices, people who attend our athletic events. And last weekend was really an opportunity for all of us to connect to the community in some different ways, as part of our sesquicentennial celebration.


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