By Tess Steele
Photos courtesy of Sewanee Flickr
On March 22, Sewanee observed the sesquicentennial of its second founding with a nostalgic and hopeful evening of speeches, food, live music, and community camaraderie.
In the wake of the Civil War, the South struggled with a devastated economy and perhaps an even more devastated morale, and Sewanee was no exception. By the end of the war, the University’s $500,000 endowment, a half of Harvard’s staggering one million dollar endowment barely existed. The few buildings on campus were destroyed, and two of the three original bishops were dead. To heighten the severity of the situation, Sewanee needed to open the university within two years before the Sewanee Mining Company would reclaim the 5,000 acres of land it donated to the school.
The decisive moment for the university’s survival occurred on March 22, 1866, when Bishop Charles Quintard led a small ceremony with the Apostles’ Creed and the “Gloria in Excelsis” near the current location of St. Luke’s Residence Hall. Following this display of hope for the school, Quintard went to England to seek financial support, raising $8,000 and acquiring over 1,000 books from both Cambridge and Oxford. Meanwhile, construction occurred on campus, and The University of the South opened its doors to a modest group of nine students, barely meeting the Sewanee Mining Company’s deadline. “To come to this place with no money and two of the three original bishops dead, most would quit. The fact that they returned in the face of all those challenges is a truly inspiring story,” remarked Vice-Chancellor McCardell of the determination and vision behind the second founding.
The second founding celebration commemorated the event by opening in Manigault Park as a remembrance of the 1866 ceremony. The service included a performance by the School of Theology Choir and a benediction by the bishop of Tennessee, Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt. The event proceeded to Guerry Auditorium with Sarah Minnear (C’16), the bagpiper, and the university flags leading the way. The flags, seamlessly blending with the many Sewanee traditions honored during the ceremony, are actually a rather new tradition, thanks to current School of Theology student Rob Donehue (T’16). “Dr. Waring McCrady designed the coats of arms and blazons for the university, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Theology. The idea for turning those images into flags came from a friend of mine, Chad Krouse, who was a student at the School of Theology a number of years ago. He mentioned a desire to see the coats of arms rendered as flags, and I took the idea and ran with it. “ Donehue’s efforts debuted during Easter commencement and baccalaureate of 2015 and have been used in all academic events since.
While in Guerry, the Sewanee of today was honored with a video, followed by a speech by McCardell. The Vice-Chancellor celebrated the successes of Sewanee, while challenging the audience to continue a positive vision for the future of The University of the South. In the days following the event, McCardell spoke of his philosophy on why honoring events like the second founding are important for the past, present, and future of the school. “History does not begin the day we arrive here. It is ours for a period of time, but it was someone else’s institution before it was ours, and it will be someone else’s when we are gone. Being aware of the past that has shaped Sewanee, while challenging and honoring it, helps us understand that we are a product of the past. We cannot deny it, and if anything we can learn a great deal from it.”
The celebration ended in Convocation Hall with food and a live performance from the Sewanee musical group Boy Named Banjo. This part of the evening was a highlight for many, providing a time for Sewanee camaraderie for those in attendance. Regarding the array of people at the event, Sydney Peterson (C’18) remarked, “There are few events that allow for students and professors to interact in a casual environment. The second founding brought the Sewanee community together in a way that other events have not and promoted friendly conversation among students, faculty, and the community.”
In anticipation of the second founding, a committee of thirteen faculty and staff members came together to create the event. “We began meeting in November and met frequently up until the event last week. Logistics included the commissioning of the rustic cross used in the service, considering a date and time for the event, coordinating with PPS about site selection and preparation, working with Sewanee Catering to select the menu and set up in Convocation, coordinating with Media Services regarding the setup of the video and band, and working with Boy Named Banjo to determine how best to use their talents in the event,” shared Bess Jenkins, the event coordinator for the Advancement office.
Being an unprecedented celebration for the school, Jenkins and those working on the event felt unsure of how to gauge the event’s attendance. “We didn’t ask for RSVPs, and the event took place right after spring break, so we had to estimate the attendance. I was concerned about getting it right, but the estimate was pretty close. I was also concerned with the unpredictable March weather, but that turned out perfect,” said Jenkins. The most serious challenge in the planning of the event was determining what kind of ceremony was to take place. “It would have been nice if we could have narrowed down the main focus of the event earlier in the process, but the process did allow for input from different perspectives and added to the success of the event in the end,” stated Jenkins. While the second founding required extensive planning on the university’s part, Student Government president Jewlz Humphrey-Davis (C’16), who participated in the event, recognized the Sewanee Angel team as playing a vital role in facilitating a smooth and successful evening. “They work so hard behind the scenes and I got to see in person their work,” said Davis.
The second founding was promoted through the “Sewanee Will Be” campaign. Executive Director of Marketing and Communication Parker Oliver (C’89) spoke of the campaign, saying, “We wanted this celebration to commemorate the courage, faith, and dedication of the second founders, to pay tribute to current Sewanee students, faculty, and staff, and to share a vision for our future. ‘Sewanee will be’ offered the entire Sewanee family an opportunity to share their hopes for the future. We received more than forty entries on the website, and hope to get more. We used those entries to create the posters seen around campus promoting the Second Founding event. Each of us has a role to play in Sewanee’s future, and we wanted to give everyone a voice. Community members, alumni, current students, faculty, and staff all submitted ideas.”
Humphrey-Davis loved the community feel and “sense of unity in the past and present Sewanee,” especially with the event being one that “many older alumni came back to the school for. There was a mix of older and younger professors, students and alumni, and also many members of the School of Theology in attendance.” McCardell shared Davis’ warm feelings, and felt that the “homegrown” nature of the event really made it a success. He said, “It is very important for institutions to commemorate milestones, and the second founding was no exception. The timing of this was remarkable; I can’t imagine a better time for the capital phase of a capital campaign. It would be very hard for a donor to say times are tough, especially in light of the situation of the second founding.”