217th Founder’s Day celebration


By Katie Ziemba

Thursday, Feb. 23 marks the 217th anniversary of Union’s charter.

Founder’s Day is packed with various events that celebrate the strides Union and remind community of the history behind such our institution.

Founder’s Day begins with a lunch with faculty in Hale House at 11:30 a.m., which then progresses to Memorial Chapel at 12:15 p.m.

Author Richard Russo, a native of upstate New York, will be giving the Founder’s Day speech for the campus community. Russo received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel Empire Falls. At 1:30 p.m., Russo will also have a book signing in Memorial Chapel.

At the opening convocation for the school year, President Ainlay encouraged the Union community to take advantage of the opportunities available in upstate New York; therefore, Russo’s connection to the area makes him an appropriate speaker for such an occasion.

The Gideon Hawley Prize will also be given on Founder’s Day to a nominated teacher that a student feels has made a difference in his or her life.

When Union was first chartered in 1795, the state of Union was quite different than it is today. The space that Union now occupies was originally the home of Schenectady Academy, which at the time was only one building. When Eliphalet Nott became President of Union in 1804, he began plans to expand Union in order to hold more students.

The first President of Union was John Blair Smith and since then Union has had 17 other presidents, including Union’s current president, Stephen Ainlay.

Union was the first college chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, though it was not the oldest college in New York. Union had a non-denominational and egalitarian focus, and, unlike most academic institutions at the time, did not have a motto written in Latin.

Instead, Union’s motto was written in French and reads, “Sous les lois de Minerve nous devenons tous frères,” which in English means, “We all become brothers under the laws of Minerva.” This is significant because from an early stage, Union made a point to honor classic educational values (for example, the laws of the Roman goddess Minerva) while encouraging modern educational pursuits (choosing a French motto was a very modern act at that time).

In 1970, Union became a co-educational institution and admitted 125 female students.


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