For 175 years, the University of Mississippi has empowered students, faculty, staff, and alumni to define and pursue their personal callings and lead lives of purpose. This fall, we celebrate our legacy, highlight our future, and showcase our passionate, talented, and dynamic individuals who make an impact on Mississippi, the region and beyond.
|Event Name||Sponsor Org/Dept||Date||Time|
|The Longest Table||Division of Diversity & Community Engagement||Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023||4:30 - 6:30 pm|
|The inaugural James H. Meredith Lecture Series||Division of Diversity & Community Engagement||Monday, Oct. 2, 2023||6 pm|
|Dr. Jeanette Jennings Lecture Series||African American Studies and Prison-to- College Pipeline Program (PTCPP)||Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023||6 pm|
|3-Minute Thesis Final||Graduate School||Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023||6 pm|
|International Communication Day||School of Journalism & New Media||Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023||8 am - 5 pm|
|First-Generation College Student Alumni||First-Generation Student Network||Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023||5:30 pm|
|First-Generation College Student Celebration Day||First-Generation Student Network||Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023||4 pm|
|Mathematics Specialist Conference||Center for Mathematics & Science Education||Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023||9 am - 4 pm|
Oct. 10, 2023 — University to Celebrate 175th Anniversary
Oct. 31, 2023 — Callings: Master of Clay
Nov. 1, 2023 — Callings: ‘No Excuses’
Nov. 2, 2023 — Callings: ‘Let’s Work Through This Together’
Nov. 3, 2023 — UM 175: Fashion Through the Ages
Nov. 5, 2023 — Callings: A Lifelong Passion and a Lasting Legacy
Nov. 6, 2023 — Callings: Connecting Through Comedy
175 Anniversary Celebration / Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 / 1 p.m. / Lyceum steps
Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce
Good afternoon, and welcome! What a momentous day for the University of Mississippi. There is no better place to celebrate this joyous and historic occasion than with all of you, right here in this hallowed location before our beloved Lyceum.
When the university opened for its first session on Nov. 6, 1848, the ceremony was held in the chemistry lecture hall in the Lyceum, which the first chancellor of the university declared was “one of the most elegant structures in the South.” Within these very walls behind me, the foundations of knowledge and wisdom were laid. It is from here that our impact emanated out to Mississippi and beyond — 175 years and counting.
To all who had a hand in making today’s event happen, thank you! I’d especially like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the 175th anniversary planning committee led by Provost Noel Wilkin.
One hundred seventy-five years. Let’s reflect on the enormity of that span of time for just a moment. That is roughly seven generations. That is nearly two centuries. That is 170 graduating classes. To put it another way, the university was founded in the same year as the onset of the California Gold Rush and the opening of the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
On the surface, today’s event is about commemorating an anniversary, about marking the passage of time. However, beyond the numbers, the essence underlying our 175 years are all the connections, paths, and threads that beckon people to this special, life-changing place and keeps them returning, generation after generation.
As a first-generation student, I fully comprehend the transformative power of education and the profound impact that this university can have on an individual life. Education is the great bridge to opportunity and the key to unlocking one’s fullest potential. In embracing our open access mission, we have a responsibility to ensure that the doors of opportunity remain open to each rising generation, regardless of their background or circumstance.
As our fellow Mississippian, the great blues musician B.B. King said: “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” Today’s celebration strengthens our resolve to enhance access to learning and to engage learners of all socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic backgrounds.
175 Anniversary Celebration / Monday, Nov. 6, 2023 / 1 p.m. / Lyceum steps
Kathryn McKee, director, Center for the Study of Southern Culture and McMullan Professor of Southern Studies and Professor of English
Chancellor Boyce, Provost Wilkin, and members of the University’s leadership team . . . . thank you for the opportunity to participate in today’s activities. I am honored to be included in these events.
When Provost Wilkin asked me to speak today, I thanked him, declined, and suggested several other people whom I thought were better-suited to the task. You are witness to the extent of my influence.
It might work better, I said, if I were in one of the roles to which people more often look on such occasions: a historian, perhaps (I would rely on facts) or a poet (I would rely on your not being sure exactly what I had said but admiring it nonetheless). Instead I am a professor of 19th-century American literature and the director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. What follows is a meditation on this place—the University of Mississippi—where I have done the bulk of my career, raised my children, grown to middle age.
Depending on which source you consult, the name for a 175th anniversary is a ter/quas/qui/centennial—confusing in its actual reference to three and nearly impossible to say or to remember—or a septa/quinta/quin/que/centennial, which is worse. Hallmark doesn’t cover this territory, and it isn’t really very old anyway, except by American standards.
I once saw a building in Europe that said “renovated, 1492.” When the nation turned 175 in 1951, President Harry S. Truman made a stirring speech about the United Nations and its centrality to the future of the free world; when the Smithsonian turned 175 in 2021, it premiered a new exhibit called simply FUTURES. People aren’t entirely sure what to do with 175, the truth is; they feel called to look forward, in part to the rounder, more satisfying number of 200. I might not be here in 2048, though.
So while I, too, look to the University’s future, I work every day amid reminders of the university’s past. The Center for the Study of Southern Culture is home to three interdisciplinary programs, as well as Living Blues magazine, the Southern Documentary Project, the Southern Foodways Alliance, the SouthTalks lecture series, and the Oxford Conference for the Book.
In fact, the Center itself will celebrate a 50th anniversary in 2027. Barnard Observatory is our home, one of the three antebellum structures remaining on our campus. Going to work is a bit like living in an old house; there are leaks, creaky floors, an occasional uninvited guest from the animal kingdom, maybe a few from the world beyond. Photography was in its infancy in the 1840s, and we have images of those early days—young men milling around in front of the Lyceum, and, after 1859, Barnard Observatory stark on an as yet unadorned landscape. The place was for those young men—I wouldn’t have been here, although women would first appear on campus in 1882.
“What is the function of the university?” is a question for which the answer varies, depending on the moment in which you ask it. In 1848, the University of Mississippi’s goal was in part to stanch that era’s variation on brain drain; it aimed to keep young minds out of a national orbit where the drumbeat of sectionalism already sounded and anti-slavery rhetoric was on the rise. Politics and education are not only recent bedfellows.
In my classes, we often talk about place as a palimpsest, that is, we compare it to a document on which words have been written and erased, written and erased, until multiple stories overlap, shaping each other. Our campus is like that: what has come before matters to what is here now, and today matters to what will follow us.
The story of this place begins with the indigenous people who first lived here; north Mississippi is the ancestral home of the Chickasaw nation, and we inhabit it today as uninvited guests. Mississippi was a frontier in 1848—the old Southwest—and our university arose from the dreams and ambitions of White people sweeping into the region who brought with them enslaved Black people whose labor built and maintained this campus. The work of the UM Slavery Research Group means that we know some of their names: George, Henry, John, Squash, Moses, Will, Nathan, Simon, Isaac, Harrison, Luna, and the woman whose story is immortalized on the contextualization marker in front of Barnard Observatory: Jane.
The Barnard in Barnard Observatory is Frederick A.P. Barnard, third leader and first chancellor of the University of Mississippi, serving from 1856 to 1861. The building where I go to work every day both is and is not the place he imagined. Barnard was classically trained and taught subjects as various as literature and mathematics. He believed in the breadth that is bedrock to a liberal arts education; he believed in the cultivation of minds because he saw that as the pathway to responsible citizenship.
But at heart, Barnard was a scientist, and his yearning was for the stars. He was invested in moving the University beyond an early days role as a finishing school for the young men of the planter class and elevating it into a world-renowned institution for higher learning. He designed Barnard Observatory to be a cutting-edge scientific facility, modeled after an existing structure in Russia, but bigger, better, complete with three towers, the central turret outfitted with a mechanism to turn what was to be the world’s largest lens.
Barnard’s timing was off, though. Between the building’s completion in 1859 and the anticipated delivery of the lens, the Civil War turned Mississippi into the last place on earth to take safe delivery of an expensive piece of glass. Diverted to Illinois, that lens eventually ended up on the campus of Northwestern University, where it remains today. In the short term, Barnard Observatory functioned instead as a hospital, as did much of the campus. For many years, the building did house the Department of Physics and Astronomy and later the Navy ROTC; for a while it was a sorority house. When the state’s governor was leading the charge to prevent James Meredith from integrating the campus, it was the Chancellor’s home. It has never really been an observatory.
By at least one account, then, I live in a mausoleum of failed ambition, an Icarus that never even got off the ground, the originary snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory. But I don’t think about it that way. What I see in Barnard Observatory is a resiliency of vision, the legacy of a calling to nurture in this state, and this region, and this nation a hunger for knowledge. Instead of plans turned aside, I see—if not actual stars (you have to go to Kennon Observatory for that)—a vision for Mississippi and for the South of the twenty-first century, deeply aware of its past, but even more deeply invested in its future.
If you bet that I could make it through these few minutes without a reference to William Faulkner, you’re going to lose. And you probably know where I’m headed. We often hear Faulkner quoted as saying: “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” But Faulkner didn’t say that; one of his characters, the lawyer Gavin Stevens, did in the 1951 novel Requiem for a Nun. Like people, Gavin got some things right and some things wrong, and just as we know that Shakespeare is not Lady Macbeth—we don’t go around quipping “as Shakespeare said, ‘out, damned spot’”—so Faulkner is not Gavin, even if Gavin is one of the characters to whom the author most frequently returns. Without question, Faulkner suggests in his work—as does Shakespeare, incidentally—that the past casts a long shadow into the present, and we ignore it at our peril. But that’s not the same thing as living in the past, and it’s certainly not an excuse for romanticizing it.
At the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, we do our work with an eye to the future, convinced of at least three things. First, the South is multiple and diverse, in terms of the people who live in it, the places they come from, and the beliefs they hold. In fact, we talk, not about a solid South, but about the microregions that add up to souths—plural.
Second, the South is not exceptional but representative of both our national strengths and our shortcomings, and when we ask ourselves questions about the American dream or about the American character, we could do worse than to study how those ideals have played themselves out on southern soil.
And third, the South is poised to lead the nation in sorting out some of its most pressing questions—about climate change, about structural racism, about uneven access to health care, to education, and to economic success. What’s more, Mississippi and the University of Mississippi can lead the region in national problem-solving. Pouring out of a state routinely and consistently classified as last in something are poets and musicians and filmmakers and photographers and activists and politicians and teachers and scientists and engineers and mathematicians and doctors and painters and . . . . Mississippi can lead, as the flagship institution the University of Mississippi must lead, in part because we already know where conversations need to begin.
We don’t first need convincing that America’s ills are here; someone has undoubtedly just pointed to Mississippi on the news as the last best example of them. All of those poets and doctors and artists can help us talk about poverty and racism and environmental degradation—and about joy and determination and commitment. Paradoxically, I suggest to you that is perhaps sometimes good to be underestimated. You can get more done.
The Provost would be the first to tell you that I have not always agreed with “the University.” Several years ago, I was giving him the business about something “the University” had done that I thought was wrong, and he asked me who I meant when I said “the University.” I had an answer, but our extended conversation—not to be fully replayed here—stuck with me and has shaped my subsequent relationship with my place of employment.
To be clear, I am not a UM alum; I reserve my misty-eyed reveries for my own alma mater. But over the years, I have come to care a great deal about where I work. To the students and parents with whom I interact, to the colleagues from other institutions and to the broader publics we serve, I am the University of Mississippi. We all are.
The future demands every day our greatest resourcefulness, our greatest ingenuity, the highest caliber of our creativity, but we owe the future that. Looking back on his time at the University, Chancellor Barnard said “I have done some work here which will not die with me” (Sansing 75). What we do today sets the table for the university as a space for intellectual inquiry twenty-five years from now, fifty years from now, one hundred years from now, when even the sunniest twenty-year-old student walking the campus today will not be here and the program from this event will be at best part of a dusty archive. How will those people remember our university? What will come from the resiliency of our vision? What will be the legacy of our calling to educate the students of today, beset as they are by anxieties I never knew? We get to decide here in what will be the past for the people of 2048, of 2073, of 2098, who will stand in our places.
So happy birthday to the University of Mississippi. Here’s to the future from the past in the present we’re all making together.