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Finding Our Founders

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Justin Beach

Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

University of Denver celebrates its long history

Feature  •
Condoleeza Rice and others

“Without looking back to how things were founded and where we came from, there’s really less of an opportunity to grow.”

Chandler Carlson, vice president of undergraduate student government, describes the essence of DU’s Founders Celebration. The annual tradition serves as an opportunity to recognize those who have made a lasting impact on the University of Denver. Since the University’s sesquicentennial observation in 2014, the celebration has expanded, with new events geared to students and the DU community added just last year.

“Students are the reason why this campus runs every day and why we are here,” says Jess Davidson (BA’ 16), last year’s student government vice president. “We thought integrating events for the students and making this a University-wide celebration was a really great way to recognize all facets of the community and to remove some of the disconnect between alumni and students. We are all Pioneers."

Last year, Davidson was instrumental in introducing the student formal to the Founders Celebration. This year, the two-day event was kicked off with Founders Fest — an afternoon event for DU students, faculty and staff in the Driscoll Ballroom. It was followed by a series of faculty lectures discussing DU’s role in the community and the world over the past 153 years.

“This is an opportunity for our students in particular to see all the ways that DU can serve as a jumping off point to engage with the world, to engage with the city, to engage with people who don’t look like them, to engage with issues that seem far removed from this beautiful campus,” says Tom Romero, an associate professor in the Sturm College of Law.

In addition to teaching, Romero serves as assistant provost of inclusive excellence research and curricular initiatives. He helped organize the faculty lecture series, which focused on five time periods through the history of DU: The Sand Creek Massacre; the Japanese internment during World War II; the student rights movement when DU became known as Woodstock West; a DU mathematician who used math to battle to desegregate Denver’s schools; and campus protests and student demands through the years.

“Our goal in putting these together was to identify faculty that have been doing this research, to identify faculty that have talked about this from various viewpoints,” Romero says. “They have all taken a really courageous stance to use their position, to use their time here at DU, to engage in these issues.”

The 153rd Founders Celebration highlighted the contributions of DU alumna Condoleezza Rice and generous DU supporters Ralph and Trish Nagel. The Nagels were honored with the Founders Medal — the University’s highest honor — presented to those whose transformative leadership and engaged philanthropy represent the pinnacle of the University’s mission. Rice received the International Achievement Medal, bestowed upon individuals who have had an immeasurable impact on the world and whose global leadership and civic engagement exemplifies the University’s values. Davidson says she was honored to be asked to come back to her alma mater to present the award to the former U.S. secretary of state.

“It really says a lot to me about the way the University values its alumni that they invited me back to be a part of this event,” Davidson says. "It shows this isn’t just about what alumni are doing 20, or 30, or 40 years down the road, but also what alumni are doing in that first year or two after their college experience.”

To read more about the impact Ralph and Trish Nagel have had on DU and the Denver community, click here.