Hamilton students, parents, alumni, faculty, and community members gathered in Wellin Hall on Sept. 24 for the Hamilton College Bicentennial Assembly. The Assembly featured speakers representing members of all parts of the College community. Speakers addressed Hamilton’s distinguished past, bright future and the elements that make the College a truly unique institution. The event served as a keynote feature of the weekend that kicked off the yearlong celebration of Hamilton’s first 200 years.
College Marshal Margaret Thickstun, the Jane Watson Irwin Professor of English, called the assembly to order and Jeffrey McArn, College Chaplain, provided the invocation. After A.G. Lafley ’69, chairman of the Board of Trustees, welcomed the audience, representatives from the Alumni Association, the student body, and the faculty gave introductory speeches.
Julia Ross ’84, president of the Alumni Association, emphasized the bicentennial celebration as not just a reflection on the past, but an anticipation of the future. Daniel Knute Gailor ’13, president of the Student Assembly, spoke of the Hamilton motto, “know thyself,” and how the college’s welcoming, loving environment provides the best conditions to undertake this challenge. Dean of Faculty Patrick Reynolds made remarks on the “magic” of the Hamilton environment and the importance of the tremendous support that the College receives.
Robert Simon, the Marjorie and Robert McEwen Professor of Philosophy, spoke on the topic of teaching as a public value. A Hamilton education certainly has private value for each of its students. For example, Hamilton professors can inspire a lifelong interest in a particular discipline or provide the skills necessary for a successful career. However, Hamilton’s value also extends far beyond the personal level to provide a great deal of worth to society. Simon explained the importance of reasoned discourse, especially at a time when partisanship divides American politics. At Hamilton, students learn not only to reason thoroughly and state their arguments effectively, but also to welcome criticism and adjust their positions. These skills are certainly necessary to a productive career, but they also help shape a more progressive and efficient society.
President Joan Hinde Stewart reflected on Hamilton’s charter and history. Her speech drew a connection between the Founding Fathers, including Alexander Hamilton, and the College’s values. Specifically, she emphasized the Founding Fathers’ reliance on imagination and perseverance. These traits are still important for Hamilton students, who function as the “founders of Hamilton’s future.” Stewart also echoed Simon’s point about the necessity of “respectful debate” to counteract the current tense, uncompromising political atmosphere. Hamilton’s alumni have worked to improve America for the past 200 years, making major contributions to the fight against slavery, the civil rights movement, and the sciences, among many others. The country still needs these kinds of leaders, and as Hamilton moves forward in the next chapter of its history, it is poised to prepare students to enter the world as critical thinkers of both imagination and perseverance.
Following President Stewart’s remarks, the film Hamilton: The First 200 Years premiered. The short film provided a moving glimpse at life on the Hill, with an emphasis on the special, close relationships between faculty and students.
The Bicentennial Assembly represented an incredibly diverse yet close-knit community through powerful speech, breathtaking visuals, and beautiful music. As a celebration of 200 successful years and as an anticipation of many more to come, the Assembly touched on many topics, but one thought rang especially clear: Hamilton fosters a strong sense of independence, reasoning, and community its students. The College was founded on these principles, and it continues in on in this spirit.