Founder’s Day 2021: Celebrating 128 Years of Hampton University’s History Virtually

Noa Cadet | Staff Writer

Image taken by Matthew White in 2019, Director of University Relations.

The year 2021 is in full swing! As students and faculty dive back into the new semester and yet another virtual one, a lingering question remains unanswered. How is the University going to handle all of its important events? Are we still going to have them, or are we going to skip them until next year? 

As Hampton’s 128th Founder’s Day rapidly approaches, Hampton University has answered the call to action with a plan. 

In previous years, Hampton University has celebrated Founder’s Day on campus during the last Sunday of January, with students and faculty coming together to celebrate how far Hampton has come from its humble beginnings as an institute, to the university that it is today. 

In years past, the ceremony has always begun at the gravesite of Hampton University’s founder, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Before an audience of people wishing to pay respects, President Dr. William R. Harvey usually starts the ceremony by laying a wreath at the site, followed by acknowledgments of General Armstrong’s life and accomplishments. In particular, acknowledgments of all the obstacles that he had to overcome in order to start a school for minorities in the post-Civil War era, where racial tensions were at an all-time high following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. 

After paying proper respects to General Armstrong, the ceremony usually proceeds with a twenty-one gun salute, music, and a ceremony held in the Chapel, where special guests are often invited to speak.

Hampton’s 126th Founders’ Day was particularly special in which it marked the unveiling of Legacy Park, a grand array of statues located outside of the Chapel, depicting a wide variety of historical figures that impacted both Hampton University’s history and black history as a whole, from Rosa Parks to President Harvey himself. 

However, this year’s Founder’s Day is proving to be a bit different from most. Given that both Hampton students and faculty are not on campus directly, what is to become of Founder’s Day this year? 

Dr. Karen Turner Ward, Old Dominion Endowed Chair of Fine and Performing Arts and Chair of the Committee of Ceremonial Occasions at Hampton University, is able to answer that question and shed some light on how to capture that feeling of celebration and remembrance, even without being on campus. 

This year, Hampton University’s Founder’s Day will still be held on the last Sunday of January and will be held virtually. According to Dr. Ward, the virtual experience will be made accessible on Hampton University’s website, available to be accessed live by students, faculty, and the Hampton community as a whole. It will also be made available after the event’s conclusion via recordings. 

Dr. Ward, in a personal interview, stressed her love for Founder’s Day as a symbol of togetherness and remembrance and stated that although Founder’s Day will not be an in-person ceremony as it usually is, she still wants to make it as special as possible so as to keep the emotion alive. 

When asked if she thinks it’s important for students and faculty to remain connected in events such as this, Dr. Ward answered,” Oh absolutely. And especially for events like this. In a time in which we are facing such horrific numbers with this pandemic, our lives are being touched at every moment. It is important to pause and celebrate all the goodness in life. I hope everyone will come together and view the ceremony, for it will truly be a special occasion.”

As students, and just as members of the community, we should all make the attempt to celebrate another chapter in Hampton University’s history, and to just enjoy a day of unity and fellowship in these challenging times.

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