Founder’s Day celebrates leadership, history

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Lehigh faculty, staff, and students attend the Founder’s Day ceremony on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, in Packer Memorial Church. The faculty members and students who were recognized at the ceremony received a walking stick as a part of one of Lehigh's traditions. (Sam Henry/B&W Staff)

Students, faculty and alumni congregated at Packer Memorial Church on Friday to celebrate Lehigh’s founder, Asa Packer, and the establishment of the university.

President John Simon highlighted the leadership and dedication of the board of trustees. He also recognized the commitment of students and faculty to the university. Select community members were awarded walking sticks — which Packer was known to carry — to symbolize status and leadership. 

Recipients of the walking sticks included the board of trustees’ honored chairman Kevin Clayton; Lehigh’s first vice president of equity and community, Donald Outing; the dean of the College of Education, Gary Sasso; the undergraduate Student Senate president, Matt Rothberg, ’18, and the graduate Student Senate president, Nick Ungson, ’15G, ’18G.

Both Rothberg and Ungson spoke to attendees about prevalent national and campus issues. Rothberg focused on the issue of intolerance.

“Bystander intervention — whether it applies to seeing someone who is too drunk at a party or is being harassed for their minority status — is essential if we want to foster a community of global citizens and ensure the prosperity of this institution for the long term,” Rothberg said.  

As an international student, Rui Sun, ’20, said she was thrilled to hear Rothberg stress the needs of international students, which she believes are often overlooked. Sun said she was surprised by the lack of attendance at this year’s ceremony and wishes more people could have heard Rothberg’s message.

“I feel like there were fewer people attending this year,” Sun said. “Last year, there was more advertisement for this, so that’s probably why.”

Tonya Amankwatia, ’08G, has attended Founder’s Day for the past six years. Amankwatia is also a parent of a Lehigh student and has served as a member of the alumni board of directors.

“This place has totally changed my life,” Amankwatia said. “People don’t think about how education can turn things around, but the doors that were opened by my coming to Lehigh have been immeasurable. There’s so much that I’ve been able to do. So, I always like coming, paying my respects and giving back.”

While the tradition dates back to 1879, Founder’s Day ceremonies differ from year to year. Amankwatia said President Simon’s installment was the most impactful Founder’s Day she has attended.

“When I was a student here, I was a part of the Graduate Student Senate, and we were a part of the folks who welcomed (Dean Sasso),” Amankwatia said. “It’s kind of strange to see him leaving. I was here when he was coming in, so I would say the past (Founder’s Day celebrations), some of them, had more sentimental value because there were more people that I knew.”

Doug Spengel, ’88, works for Lehigh’s facilities services department. Encouraged to attend Founder’s Day by coworkers, Spengel said he was happy to discover the true meaning of the Founder’s Day tradition, which Simon defined as a celebration of leadership.

As Lehigh plans to expand in future years, Ungson said Packer’s views on leadership must remain.

“Ultimately, it is the combined contributions of undergraduate students and graduate students that will ensure that Lehigh is producing the types of leaders that Asa Packer envisioned,” Ungson said. “Leaders that can unite. Leaders that can change lives. And leaders that can change the world.”

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