Founder’s Day celebration transforms with university

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Founder’s Day did not begin with the founding of Lehigh University in 1865, but with Asa Packer’s death in 1879. That October, the university celebrated its first Founder’s Day and planned to celebrate it on the second Thursday of October each year. While Founder’s Day has since shifted to the second Friday of October, Lehigh still honors Packer to this day.

Archives and Special Collections Librarian Ilhan Citak likened Packer’s influence on Lehigh to George Washington’s influence on the United States, and explained Founder’s Day is about honoring what a founder gives to the next generation.

“I think it’s a very good idea for Lehigh to recognize Asa Packer as founder, who believed in education and supported higher education in this community, and the institution still exists after more than 150 years,” Citak said.

Founder’s Day through the years

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This Founder’s Day program, from 1912, incorporated more addresses from university figures. Since 1879, addresses were made primarily by Lehigh's president and a significant community figure, often a religious leader or successful professional figure. In 1912, the senior class president and a professor also gave addresses, showing a shift from post-mortem remembrance of Asa Packer to the future he provided for it. Throughout the 1910s, the ceremony focused more on academic achievement by awarding honorary degrees to established scholars. (Courtesy of Special Collections)

2018 Campaign

In recent years, Founder’s Day has been used to welcome new members to the Lehigh community. President Simon was installed on the 2015 Founder’s Day. Lehigh installed Kevin L. Clayton, the chair of the board of trustees, on Founder’s Day in 2017.

Deirdre Kwiatek, the director of the Campaign for Lehigh, said the campaign will be a way to bring energy to the ceremony and bring Lehigh together with its community.

“We recognize our Lehigh leaders, if that’s Lehigh students, Lehigh faculty or Lehigh administrators, we recognize our benefactors,” Kwiatek said. “It’s paying tribute to that legacy of leadership and philanthropy to the institution, and carrying that forward.”

Kwiatek said she “likes a little pomp with her circumstance” and the Campaign for Lehigh event reflects that.

“This man that had a vision to an institution that didn’t exist yet, and his commitment to making it a reality,” Kwiatek said. “What we celebrate now is what is our shared commitment to making that vision a reality. Packer was our founder, but it is a shared responsibility to carry that vision forward.”

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