Break out your Hopkins garb and school spirit; the
university is set to stage a new take on an old and
somewhat languishing tradition.
To honor the founding of the university 130 years ago
— on Feb. 22, 1876 — a revamped Commemoration
Day celebration will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on
Wednesday on Homewood's Levering Quad, which will be decked
out in school colors and banners. President William R.
Brody; his wife, Wendy; and many senior university
officials will be on hand to pass out birthday cake, and
all who attend are encouraged to wear Hopkins
"Most schools celebrate their founding day in some
significant manner, and we wanted to celebrate ours in a
more visible, festive way — certainly more than we've
done in the recent past," said Paula Burger, dean of
Historically speaking, Commemoration Day, Feb. 22,
used to be a major event on campus. It marks the day in
1876 that Johns Hopkins inaugurated its first president,
Daniel Coit Gilman. In recent years, however, the only
marking of the occasion had been a modest event, run by the
local alumni chapter, at the statue of Johns Hopkins on
North Charles Street.
Feb. 22, 1951: A chef presents a spun-sugar replica of
Gilman Hall to Carlyle Barton, seated at right, who served
for 17 years as chairman of the board of
SUSSMAN-OCHS, COURTESY OF
FERDINAND HAMBURGER JR. ARCHIVES, MSEL
Burger said that a number of administration members
felt that the university could and should do more to call
attention to the occasion, and such an undertaking is in
keeping with the university's desire to foster traditions
that strengthen students' ties to Homewood and to Johns
For Commemoration Day 2006, all members of the
Homewood campus community are welcome. The event will
feature a written Hopkins trivia quiz, with a prize for the
person who accurately answers the most questions, and
student musical groups have been invited to perform.
The first commemoration ceremony was held in 1877 in
Hopkins Hall, located on the university's original downtown
campus. James Joseph Sylvester and Basil L. Gildersleeve,
two of the university's first faculty members, gave
addresses, and flowers taken from the greenhouse at Clifton
Mansion, which had been the founder's summer residence,
were brought in for the occasion.
Throughout most of the last century, up until the
early 1980s, hundreds would gather in the Lyric Opera
House, Homewood's Shriver Hall, a Peabody concert venue or
elsewhere for a ceremony that typically included an
academic procession, a musical performance, a speech by the
president and a keynote address by a distinguished visiting
scholar or dignitary. Early Commemoration Day ceremonies
also included the conferring of academic and honorary
degrees. In fact, on Commemoration Day 1886, the university
issued its first diplomas; previously, degrees were only
conferred. That same year, the board of trustees authorized
the use for publication of the official Johns Hopkins seal,
adopted just a year prior.
In addition, the Development and Alumni Affairs Office
would typically host a Commemoration Day dinner for the
board of trustees, administration and invited guests.
Seven of Hopkins' presidents, beginning with Gilman,
have been inaugurated on Feb. 22; due to religious
observances, that of President Brody was held on Feb. 23
because Feb. 22, 1997, fell on a Saturday.
During the 1980s, the annual Commemoration Day
ceremony was held at Shriver Hall. The event would
eventually fall out of favor in the 1990s. The last major
acknowledgment of the occasion came in 2001, when Johns
Hopkins celebrated its 125th anniversary.
With this new ceremony, Burger said the hope is that a
Commemoration Day celebration will once again become an
"We want to create something that will remind us all
of the noble history of the institution of which we are a
part," she said. "And that is something that bears
repeating on an annual basis."
The Homewood Traditions Committee is seeking input on
memorable Johns Hopkins traditions and suggestions for new
ones. To contact the committee, go to its Web site at
www.jhu.edu/~traditions or write to