Interim President Clayton makes the opening remarks for the Founder's Day events at Packer Chapel on Friday, Oct. 13. Interim President Clayton spoke about how universities are a product of the people that make them up, and thanked those who gave to Lehigh. (Chris Barry/B&W Photo)

Lehigh honors Asa Packer in 136th Founder’s Day


The Lehigh community filled Packer Chapel Friday afternoon in celebration of the 136th Founder’s Day, which honors Lehigh’s founder Asa Packer.

This Founder’s Day was particularly special for the university, as Lehigh board of trustees Chair Brad Scheler announced the selection of John D. Simon as the university’s 14th president earlier Friday morning.

“We don’t get new presidents very often, so it’s a big thing for the campus and for the university,” said university Provost Pat Farrell. “Founder’s Day is this historical carry-on tradition, but also you like to push that it’s not just about the past. It’s also about the future. A new president is an indicator that this is what people are looking for to look ahead.”

One of the overarching themes of the ceremony was Lehigh’s tradition of giving back and how that value has been instilled in the university since it was founded. The ceremony – in addition to paying homage to Packer for his dedication to higher education – recognized many individuals who have made a significant impact on Lehigh’s campus.

Interim President Kevin Clayton opened the ceremony by remembering Packer’s life, mission and values. He said giving back is one of Lehigh’s core principles, a goal of Packer’s in founding the university.

“Asa Packer gave back by founding this great university,” Clayton said. “He founded Lehigh to develop other people of action. People who would make a difference through their leadership and innovation. People who would make a difference by giving back.”

Honored administrators, recipients of fellowships, newly tenured professors, student officers and distinguished alumni received recognition for their efforts. This year, Lehigh welcomed two new administrators: Jennifer M. Jensen, deputy provost for academic affairs, and Patricia A. Johnson, vice president for finance and administration.

Clayton also thanked all faculty, alumni, students and staff for their contributions to Lehigh and the many ways in which they play a part in the success of the university as a whole.

One particularly special Founder’s Day tradition is selecting a student keynote speaker. Alexandra Stephanou, ’15, was chosen as this year’s speaker, and she focused on the impact Lehigh has had on her life through her many academic, extracurricular and social opportunities.

“(Asa Packer’s) tradition of identifying needs and turning them into opportunities is thriving more than ever,” Stephanou said. “It can be witnessed at every level, from university-wide initiatives through students’ daily decisions.”

Stephanou, who was one of two student representatives on the Presidential Search Committee, said she finally realized this summer why Lehigh’s alumni are so willing to make donations to the university. Though in the past she never felt compelled to donate to Lehigh, she said she now truly understands that giving back provides an opportunity for future students to have a positive experience similar to the one she has been fortunate to have.

Though Lehigh has many well-respected traditions, such as the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry, Founder’s Day is a reflective time that reminds the community of Lehigh’s culture and why it was created, Stephanou said.

“I think traditions are part of culture, and culture is important to Lehigh, especially in light of some of the issues we’ve had last semester and this semester that we’ve been trying to work through,” said Shaan Gurnani, ’16, treasurer of the undergraduate Student Senate. “I think that during times like that it’s important to remember our history and where we come from.”

The celebration continued following the ceremony with a rally on the STEPS lawn, which included music by the Marching 97 and performances by the Lehigh cheerleaders. The rally reinforced the idea that Founder’s Day is a time of celebration and tradition for Lehigh to enjoy.

“I think (Founder’s Day) is really important because it symbolizes what we all stand for,” said Freddy Coleman, president of the Class of 2017. “With academics and extracurricular activities, and making sure you’re a better person when you get out there in the real world.”

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