As Kenyon begins a milestone year of celebration to commemorate the bicentennial of its founding in 1824, a host of activities and special events are underway.
The official kickoff took place Jan. 8 — as in 1-8-24 — with a ribbon cutting at Bexley Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus that has been made new again through significant renovations. The former seminary has been remade into modern suites for up to 40 students.
President Julie Kornfeld used the event to mark the important architectural transformation and jumpstart a year of bicentennial celebrations, both on campus for students, staff and faculty and around the country with alumni and friends.
“The coming year will be filled with a variety of events that reflect on our past, celebrate our present, and look forward to our bright future,” she said.
The ribbon cutting also marked the first appearance of the Bicentennial Book, a commemorative tome inspired by the Matriculation Book, signed by 134 attendees. It will be present at all bicentennial events for people to sign as a record of this year of celebration.
Kenyon’s origin story began when Ohio’s first Episcopal Bishop Philander Chase established the institution at his home in Worthington, Ohio, in 1824 with the backing of a number of wealthy British patrons, and it was officially incorporated by the state legislature on Dec. 29.
The College moved to Knox County after Chase traveled to Mount Vernon the following year to preach and a parishioner persuaded him to view some land near the Kokosing River. Upon seeing it, Chase made his legendary declaration: “This will do.”
A new bicentennial website offers these historical nuggets and much more. Visitors can learn about the College’s former airport and its School of Aeronautics, which was dedicated in 1934. Or see an original design drawing of Old Kenyon, whose cornerstone was laid in 1827. A special video with archival narration from the late Paul Newman ’49 takes viewers on a nostalgic stroll down Middle Path.
This rich history is expanded in the forthcoming book “Place and Purpose: Kenyon at 200.” With over 300 pages, it celebrates the powerful sense of belonging that Kenyon has always inspired. The book, available for preorder at the bookstore, is filled with reflections on the campus, its history and its surroundings by faculty, staff and trustees who know it best.
Alumni — whether they graduated last year or decades ago — will have opportunities to share their personal histories as well. Beginning this week, alumni were invited to share memories of their time on the Hill for posterity and publication in an oral history book that is being assembled.
There will be gatherings aplenty, too, in 2024. Special celebrations will be incorporated into everything from Kornfeld’s presidential inauguration (April 13) to a Reunion Weekend for all alumni (May 23-26) and Founders’ Day (Oct. 24).
Alumni, parents and other friends of the College can come together at regional events and meet Kornfeld as she hits the road for her Bicentennial Tour, taking part in an interdisciplinary conversation with faculty members at each stop. The first will be Feb. 7 in San Francisco.
Online educational events will be offered throughout the year, featuring some of the College’s most beloved faculty members. The “200 Years of Learning in the Company of Friends” series will begin Feb. 21 with a seminar and discussion featuring Jonathan Tazewell ’84, Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama and Film and chair of American Studies.
Special project grants from the Bicentennial Advisory Committee have been awarded to several projects, including a reading by some of Kenyon’s celebrated alumni poets, a day filling all corners of campus with music, and a scavenger hunt recognizing the role of estate gifts in supporting Kenyon.
The committee is spearheaded by Shawn Dailey P'24 '25, associate vice president for alumni and parent engagement and annual giving; Howard Grier, director of campus events, and Molly Vogel '00, director of advancement communications and strategy.
“As a Kenyon parent and long-time employee, I’m excited and honored by the opportunity to help recognize what we all know, that the Kenyon community is what has made our history so rich,” Dailey said. “We look forward to offering opportunities for everyone to participate — and continue the spirit of generosity on which Kenyon was founded.”
This year also will see the June 30 conclusion of the Our Path Forward to the Bicentennial campaign — the most successful in College history. It has inspired gifts from thousands of people totalling more than $100 million for scholarships and financial aid, and resulted in the construction of the West Quad, new South Campus residences and more, along with support to the annual funds which impact all aspects of the student experience.
When students returned to campus this week, they were greeted with special bicentennial cupcakes in Peirce Hall, but that’s just the beginning of what promises to be a very sweet year of celebrations as the entire community offers cheers for Kenyon’s 200 years.