An Uncle Sam impersonator and free copies of the Constitution were just the beginning of the attractions on offer at Yale’s Constitution Day event, but few students stopped by Hewitt Quadrangle to take part in the festivities.
The University celebrated Sept. 17 as the anniversary of the 1787 signing of Constitution, complying with a 2004 law requiring that federally-funded schools observe the occasion. A group of about 40 members of the Yale and New Haven community — including a handful of students — celebrated the event’s theme, “New Haven and the Constitution,” by listening to a talk by Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, selections from the Constitution itself, and a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Associate Yale College Dean Penelope Laurans said the federal mandate offers a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of the Constitution, the value of which is often taken for granted.
“We decided that since it is a requirement, we could be as creative and interesting [with the event] as we could,” she said.
Although some question why schools are forced to celebrate a document supporting freedom, Laurans said she considers the annual event a worthwhile civic duty. In the spirit of making the holiday more accessible to the community, she said, this year’s theme expounded on the connections between the Constitution and New Haven’s first mayor, Roger Sherman. Sherman signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.
Last year’s theme, “Ben Franklin and Constitution Day,” marked what would have been the Founding Father’s 300th birthday.
Each audience member received his own copy of the two-dollar bill, which depicts the signing of the Constitution. Morehead reminded attendees that the accomplishments of the signers are still evident today, not only in the rights enshrined in the Constitution, but in current New Haven and national policy. For example, Sherman contributed to the passing of legislation for federal education funding, now modern-day Pell Grants, Morand said.
He said Constitution Day is an occasion to commemorate the past and current achievements of the document as well as to examine how it can apply to future local and national policy.
“Most importantly, we can rededicate ourselves to the essential work of forging a more perfect union,” Morand said.
Yale students, faculty and staff took the podium in succession to read aloud selections from the Constitution and the Amendments, chosen by Law School professor Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84.
Jee Hye Kim ’08, one of the readers, said close examination of the document has given her an appreciation for both its subtleties and its far-reaching consequences, especially as a citizen of the Republic of Korea.
“One of the things I admire most about this country is its Constitution, not just from a scholarly aspect, but it’s something very human,” she said. “All the different amendments touch on every corner of American society, for non-citizens and citizens alike.”
The festivities concluded with Lauren Libaw’s ’09 performance of “America the Beautiful” and a raffle giving away copies of Amar’s book “America’s Constitution: A Biography” and Professor Joanne Freeman’s book “Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic.” The event will be available by podcast on the Office of Public Affairs Web site.