Wake Forest celebrates Founders Day

The university turns 189 this year


Evan Harris

Wake Forest President Susan Wente adresses the community during a Founder’s Day celebration.

Hope Zhu, Staff Writer

The Wake Forest community gathered in Wait Chapel on Feb. 16 to celebrate Founders Day, an annual tradition that commemorates the university’s establishment in 1834.

The event focused on the reflection of Pro Humanitate and recognized exceptional representatives of its institutional values.

“I believe that universities are the accumulation of many foundations and many founders that compound over time,” Wake Forest President Susan R. Wente said, “That we are always evolving, stretching and renewing — all toward defining clearly who we are and who we will become.”

In her opening remarks, Wente emphasized the importance of preserving many of the university’s time-honored traditions, including Founders Day, while also seeking solutions for future challenges against the backdrop of domestic and international tragedies such as the Syria and Turkey earthquake, the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis and a recent shooting at Michigan State University.

The Wake Forest University Chamber Choir’s performance of “O Salutaris Hostia” set the stage for the annual senior oration — a tradition rooted in the art of rhetoric. This year, senior Kaitlyn Fox was selected from a pool of 90 nominees to speak, delivering her speech “Through My Lens.”

“Wake Forest acknowledges its mistakes and past failures to fulfill our promise of Pro Humanitate,” Fox said. “We recognize that there is still work ahead to effectively model good character for our students.”

Fox shared her experiences at the university and the pivotal role she played as a photographer in documenting its history –– from the excitement of the last home game to the anxieties of the fertilizer plant fire. Through her speech, she illuminated the power of photographs to tell stories and shape historical narratives.

“It is a bit intimidating to speak in front of everyone, but at the same time, it is something I am incredibly proud of,” Fox said.

Following Fox’s oration, Provost Michele Gillespie delivered her Founders Day address. Gillespie echoed Wente’s views on preparing the university for the ever-shifting landscape that lies ahead, drawing on the philosophical problem of the ship of Theseus — the question of whether an object that has undergone a complete replacement of its components can still be considered the same entity. In the same way, a university with an ever-evolving student body can adapt to the new era while preserving its foundation in the liberal arts.

“Our students have taken up the challenges by repairing the Wake Forest ships over and over again,” Gillespie said. “We seek to embody our core values whenever we find ourselves. We treasure them, we fight for them and it helps us keep our magnificent Wake Forest ship sailing along.”

The ceremony also acknowledged two esteemed members of the Wake Forest community. President Wente presented the medallion of merit to Senior Vice President and General Counsel Reid Morgan (’75, JD ’79) for his dedicated legal counsel to the university for more than 40 years.

Professor Emeritus of English and Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (‘43), who was the university’s first provost and taught English for nearly 50 years, recently celebrated his 100th birthday. In addition to his contributions to Wake Forest, he served on numerous community arts-related organizations and received several awards for his public service and contributions to the humanities. To honor his more than 75-year association with the university, Wake Forest community members read his 1992 Founders Day speech “To Honor the Legacy.”

Rev. Dr. Corey D.B. Walker, Interim Dean of the School of Divinity, closed the event and expressed how Wake Forest can shape a new narrative from lessons of the past.

“We set out and realized a new corpus of sensibility, that new generations can become the cartographers of Wake Forest University of an untravelled world and open up a new way of living,” Walker said. 

As audiences left the event, they discussed the performances and serious commitments made by the speakers. Sophomore Zac Anderson shared how the celebration inspired unity among the Wake Forest community. 

“I think it is an opportunity to bring us together and learn about the history of our school that isn’t usually discussed,” Anderson said. “It helps us stay connected as a community.”