After nearly a year of energetic anniversary celebrations, AUB today marked the completion of exactly 150 years since the first class met in December 1866. The traditional Founders’ Day ceremony was held at Assembly Hall in honor of the founders and in reiteration of the values and principles they represented. This year, AUB’s role as a liberal arts institution was examined as a way of looking forward to a sustainable and relevant future.
“It is an extraordinary thought that everything we see around us started with that small number of faculty and students meeting in rented rooms here in Beirut on December 3, 1866,” said President Fadlo R. Khuri opening the ceremony that followed a formal procession of board members, faculty, and senior administration.
“[The founding fathers] planted the seeds for the sincere realization among their successors that the mission of service to humanity would be better advanced by providing secular education of the highest quality.”
President Khuri spoke of the past year’s celebrations where AUB’s alumni, history-makers, and people who have made an impact in their fields were honored and many symposia, sporting contests, and cultural and social events were held. He added that the past year, however, was more than just narcissism or a celebration of great achievements:
“We have treated 2016 as an inflection point, a point in our long and distinguished history when we can look ahead to devise how we ensure this University will remain relevant and sustainable—intellectually, ethically, economically, socially environmentally sustainable—in future years, even decades, even through to our bicentennial and beyond.
“We will do that by modeling a better, fairer, freer, more ethical, and democratic workplace here at AUB. By doing so we will continue to honor and celebrate the founders of our college, who took that far-sighted and transformative step 150 years ago to create this institution,” he added.
Founders’ Day keynote speaker was Dr. Eve M. Troutt Powell, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke about the critical role of Liberal Arts education and its role in creating well-rounded citizens and servant leaders.
“That you would honor me with the task, as a historian, to give some perspective on the significance and power of the liberal arts, at this moment in AUB’s history—I wrote it’s ‘almost overwhelming’—it’s quite overwhelming”, she said.
In Dr. Troutt Powell’s speech entitled “The Nahda, Slavery, and the Liberal Arts”, she remembered the likes of Jurji Zaydan, Ali Mubarak, Father Daniel Sorur Farim Deng, Halide Edib Adivar, and Huda Sha’arawi as victims of discrimination and prejudice who have used their education to persuade and to teach, while leading nationalist movements, women’s movements, or abolition movements.
“What do they teach us?” asked Troutt Powell. “That the liberal arts remind us of what is timeless: our connections to each other are most strongly expressed in prose and in poetry, in music and in dance, in the social sciences of how we relate to each other, and in the natural sciences of discovery and healing.”
“These are the arts and tools which make—if I may paraphrase (AUB’s Second President) Howard Bliss—doctors, pharmacists, merchants, preachers, teachers, lawyers, editors, states people, poets– who are human and can find the humanity in others.
For the annual tradition of the Founders’ Day essay competition, all AUB students were invited earlier this academic year to write an essay reflecting on AUB’s role vis-à-vis liberal arts education in times dominated by fast-advancing technologies. Competitors were asked to reflect on Howard Bliss’s famous 1911 address referenced by Dr. Troutt Powell: “The purpose of the College is not to produce singly or chiefly men who are doctors, men who are pharmacists, men who are merchants, men who are preachers, teachers, lawyers, editors, statesmen; but it is the purpose of the College to produce doctors who are men, pharmacists who are men, merchants who are men, preachers, teachers, lawyers, editors, statesmen who are men.”
First-year student Maximilien Monteil from France was announced as the first prize winner of this year’s contest with his essay entitled “Students who are Curious”, which he read to the audience.
“The world we have today was not built on the ideas of one or two fields; it was the beautiful, accidental and sometimes even weird synthesis of completely unrelated schools of thought. It was the brainchild of curious, fertile minds. It is those kinds of minds that bring about drastic and lasting changes, because it takes that kind of person to bring change,” Monteil said.