On Yale’s bicentennial, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech and led a parade around the campus. In the same spirit, Yale threw itself a year-long 300th birthday party that kicked off in October 2000 and will conclude one year later this fall.
To celebrate, Yale invited its most successful and talented alumni and opened itself to the New Haven community, hosting parties, concerts, symposia and speeches. Thousands of alumni and friends of the University participated in the celebration, which spanned from New Haven to Hong Kong. Although students were invited to nearly every event, some said they felt the celebration was unfairly geared toward alumni.
Opening its doors
A parade of students to Beinecke Plaza kicked off the first Tercentennial weekend on Oct. 21, with the theme of the Yale campus interacting with the community.
Yale President Richard Levin and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. spoke to a crowd of alumni, community members, faculty and students before making the first cuts into a 300-pound birthday cake in the shape of Old Campus.
Levin gave the city credit for much of Yale’s success.
“We’re here because New Haven invited us,” Levin said.
While celebrators devoured the birthday cake, Handsome Dan and 29 of his fellow bulldogs became the center of attention on Cross Campus. In further signs of community cooperation, the Bulldog Club of Connecticut supplied the dogs, and local restaurants sponsored the Taste of New Haven, selling discounted samples of their dishes on Wall Street.
Recalling the stars, leaders
On the East and West coasts, Yale celebrated its 300th birthday and the 100th birthday of the Dramatic Association at two star-studded events. On Nov. 13, many of Yale’s most famous actors, playwrights and singers attended “Stage Blue,” two gala fetes held simultaneously in New York City and Los Angeles which featured elaborate dinners and performances. Sigourney Weaver DRA ’74 and Charles Dutton DRA ’83 strutted their singing and dancing talents on stage as part of the celebration. The entire evening was broadcast to students in the University Theater on York Street.
Several months later, the campus was bustling again with the start of another major Tercentennial weekend. The University invited over 2,000 of its most active alumni to return to campus to participate.
Festivities kicked off May 20 with former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin LAW ’64 speaking alongside Yale President Richard Levin about the economy. In the following hours, many other famous alumni, like Oliver Stone ’68, Garry Trudeau ’70 and Tom Wolfe GRD ’57, gave speeches to guests. The weekend culminated with the return of former President George H.W. Bush ’48, who spoke about leadership in a panel discussion.
“There is no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others,” Bush told the crowd of mostly alumni.
Around the world
As Yale has progressed from its origins as a local college to a university with alumni around the world, the tercentennial celebration has followed suit and extended to all parts of the world.
This month, Levin visited Hong Kong for a tercentennial celebration for Yale alumni living in Asia. Alumni living in Europe will have a July bash in London.
“It seemed important to reinforce our role around the world and to underscore the fact that many of our graduates and an increasing number of our academic programs are resident outside the United States,” University Secretary Linda Lorimer told the Yale Daily News in April.
Feeling left out
The first weekend belonged to the community and the second to alumni, and, although by no means did the University exclude students from either, many students felt separated from the festivities despite the availability of student tickets to all events.
What many students remember about the second Tercentennial weekend was Yale’s failure to land a big band for the annual Spring Fling weekend — which coincided with the Tercentennial. Many watched Ben Harper perform and wondered if Yale could have done better.
“It was cool having a lot of people around on campus, but at the same time, it was also Spring Fling weekend,” Adam O’Byrne ’01 said.
But not all students were upset with the University.
Jay Augsburger ’01 said he agreed that many seniors felt left out of the tercentennial celebration, but that the University was not responsible because administrators e-mailed all students with instructions to order tickets for all events online.
Janet Lindner, head of the Tercentennial Office, said next year’s concluding ceremony from Oct. 5-6 will appeal more to students.
“I think the October weekend is going to be a lot more festive and the [Yale] College Council presidents are talking to the Tercentennial Office and administration about getting a concert or gala event for the students,” she said.