A New Way on Founders’ Day

New students — led by a new president — found a poetic way to celebrate the annual tradition that salutes the unbroken line of people who built and strengthened the College.


Presiding over her first major event as Kenyon’s president, Julie Kornfeld led Founders’ Day celebrations Thursday and recognized those whose work bolsters the College’s foundations and serves as a bridge to its future. 

“I am honored to be here with you today for my first official ceremony and am particularly excited that it is Founders’ Day, as today’s convocation is the most conscious celebration of Kenyon’s past, present and future in the College’s calendar,” she said.

After taking part in a processional down Middle Path that brought faculty, trustees and administrators wearing full regalia into Rosse Hall, Kornfeld welcomed new students as full members of the undergraduate community.

“Nearly two months after orientation concluded with the First-Year Sing, more than halfway through your first semester on the Hill, you are now fully enmeshed in this place,” she said. 

Vice President for Student Affairs Celestino Limas then led members of the Class of 2027 and transfer students in the Rite of Matriculation during which they vowed to devote themselves to a set of shared values, including “mutual respect, inclusive citizenship, spirited inquiry and intellectual integrity.” 

Founders’ Day highlights the contributions of all who have supported the College since it was founded by Bishop Philander Chase in 1824, from faculty and staff to students and alumni — past and present.

In her faculty address, Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger took those assembled on a historic — and poetic — journey across the centuries while dispensing advice and encouragement to students. Titled “Embracing the Unexpected: A Journey of Juxtaposition,” Esslinger’s multimedia presentation took the form of a poem that she recited, accompanying a video that was shown simultaneously.

“Today I invite you to consider a founder’s way to enhance your creative endeavors: / In every project you begin in this place, / look for the unexpected link to embrace,” she said.

And later: “Let us gather components and press them together, / as they offer a tune we can intone / whether or not we know the words or have the conviction, / the truth comes because of a juxtaposition.”

A number of awards were presented during the ceremony. These included three faculty members receiving the Bishop Philander Chase Medal for Distinguished Service as they celebrated 25 years of teaching at the College: Ted Buehrer, professor of music; Hewlet McFarlane, assistant vice president for enrollment, director of strategic programs and partnerships, and professor of neuroscience; and Will Melick, Bruce L. Gensemer Professor of Economics.

Kornfeld also presented the Middle Path Medals, recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to the Kenyon, Gambier or Knox County communities through volunteer or job-related activities. This year’s honorees were: Fred Linger, who worked at the College from 1986 to 2022 and served more than 20 years as manager of business services, and Gary Sweeney, who joined Kenyon in 2003 and serves as manager of facilities services, coordinating a team that works to set the stage for memories to be made across campus.

The Faculty Advising Award — honoring a tenured faculty member who has shown dedication, commitment and energy to academic advising for students — was given to Siobhan Fennessy, professor of biology and the Philip and Sheila Jordan Professor of Environmental Studies.

Following an acknowledgement of campus community members who died in the past year and a rousing version of “Kokosing Farewell” led by the Chamber Singers to close the convocation, Kornfeld joined first-year students on the north end of Samuel Mather Lawn in a tree-planting ceremony. The October Glory maple tree — which will be known as the Right Side Up Tree — will serve as the group’s inaugural gift to the College.

“This tree is a symbol of continuity, connecting you to this campus in a physical way that will remain long after you leave,” she said. “It’s a gift to future generations that beautifies and preserves the campus environment. And it’s a tangible reminder of all of your great promise.”

Afterwards, first-year students were invited to sign the Matriculation Book in the Robert K. Carver Jr. Reading Room of Chalmers Library. Since 1841, all Kenyon students have been able to log their names together in the three-volume book.

Watch a recording of the ceremony. Browse the gallery below, and view more photos from the celebration.