Last week, we celebrated Founders’ Day Convocation on campus, our first in-person convocation since February 2020. For myself, it was yet another opportunity to learn and to reflect on what makes Wake Forest such a special place — it was a celebration. And, it was also a convocation — a calling together – that enabled those gathered to reflect upon our University’s past and how it connects to our current moment.
For obvious reasons, when we think of “founders,” we tend to focus on the year 1834 when Wake Forest first opened about 100 miles east of here in a small town on the outskirts of Raleigh. Given our historical origins, like that of our state and our nation, Wake Forest’s history is inextricably tied to slavery, segregation and other injustices. We cannot deny this, nor should we shy away from these aspects of our past. Instead, we should confront our past and learn from it.
But we should also remember that “found” is a verb — and connotes action, rather than any single static point in time. As part of this, we recognize that not everything about Wake Forest University was founded in 1834 or in the antebellum period. For example, our law school was founded in 1894. Our medical school followed in 1902. The term “Demon Deacons” was coined by a local newspaper after a “devilish” win over Duke in 1923. Women were first admitted to the College in 1942. The College was fully relocated to Winston-Salem in 1956. My point is that Wake Forest is a place where many things have begun and where the act of founding is continuous. We are here today, and we are who we are today, because of many foundings and many founders.
I view a series of events from the year 1962, sixty years ago, as one of our most powerful founding narratives. In 1962, the Wake Forest Board of Trustees finally voted to admit African American students. It was the year that Ed Reynolds became the first Black student to enroll full time here. And it was the year that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at Wait Chapel. None of this came easily. Student and faculty activism played a critical role — and ultimately, this community worked together to create the foundation from which a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Wake Forest could be built — one we continually build upon today.
There are countless other foundings that contribute meaningfully to our story, and we should think about them as we consider our own contributions to Wake Forest today. Our Founders’ Day Convocation celebrated, for example: the vital founding contributions of Dr. Maya Angelou; the transformative leadership of President Emeritus and 2022 Medallion of Merit recipient, Dr. Nathan Hatch; and the many ways our senior orator, Bea Pearson, has been a founder and a change agent during their time at Wake Forest.
So I ask you to consider this: What will you found? And what will we found together?
Last week, in addition to Founders’ Day, we hosted Yo-Yo Ma on campus. He shared his supreme mastery of the cello, and also touched upon this theme of continuous founding. In particular, Ma — who is 66 years old — spoke about how everything in his life over the last four decades originated in some aspect of his college experience. From taking classes and digesting ideas, to making lifelong friends and professional connections, he could trace much of his professional success and intellectual outlook to his time in college.
This is important because, on a personal level, one answer to this question — what will you found — is also simply… “you.” The person you will be at 26 or 46 or 66 will undoubtedly have origins in your time here. As to what we will found together — this is where our timeless school motto, Pro Humanitate, comes into focus yet again. Whatever we found, we are called to use our knowledge, talents and compassion to better the lives of others. Whether you are a staff member, a faculty member or a student, I am eager to see what you found here personally, and what we will found together as we continue the hard work needed to remain a great university, now and in the future.
Categories: From Wente's Desk