A year of challenges, a year of triumphs as Union celebrates its founding

Publication Date

Last February, the campus community filled Memorial Chapel on a brisk afternoon to celebrate the College’s founding. The next day, they crowded into Memorial Fieldhouse for the public launch of “Powering Union: The Campaign for Multiple Tomorrows.”

The event featured a historic announcement: a $51 million gift from Class of 1980 graduates Rich and Mary Templeton. The gift, the largest ever for the College, will transform engineering and the liberal arts with the creation of the Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science.

President David R. Harris 

President David R. Harris

“This is a great opportunity to think about the past and reflect,” President David R. Harris told the audience in his Founders Day greeting. “At the same time, we should think about where we are going and our future.”

Those back-to-back events were the last large in-person campus gatherings. COVID-19 arrived soon afterward, plunging the College, and the world, into a routine of masks, social distancing, quarantining, regular testing and lockdowns.

A year later, the campus community was invited to celebrate Founders Day, though this time with a virtual ceremony. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the College has persevered and often thrived in its 226th year.

“Although I miss seeing all of you, I have to say that in a good way, I feel that we have been together every day for the past year,” President Harris said at the event Thursday. “For Union to thrive, it must be a 226-year-old startup. Over the past year, we have lived up to this aspiration in ways that I could not have imagined. By Zoom, by email, by phone, in small groups and in spirit. All of us, faculty, staff, parents, students and alumni, joined together to ensure that we would continue to achieve our core mission despite all of the impediments COVID-19 placed in our way.”

In his remarks, Robert Bertagna ’85, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, also praised the campus community for its resilience over the past year.

“I would like to thank our entire community for working so tirelessly and creatively in the face of a global pandemic to continue to make Union College a vibrant learning environment,” he said.

The keynote speaker was Joanna Stern ’06, senior personal technology columnist at the Wall Street Journal, one of the nation’s largest newspapers. Stern shared her career path to the Journal and the role of technology in today’s society.

Founders Day keynote speaker Joanna Stern '06

Keynote speaker Joanna Stern '06

A political science major, Stern discussed the critical part Union has played in her life, from her days as a first-year student living in West College to her stint as co-editor-in-chief of Concordiensis, the student newspaper, where she developed into a tough but fair journalist.

She repeated an oft-quoted comment from the late Steve Jobs at the launch of Apple’s iPad 2 in 2011, when he said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough - it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

At Union, Stern said, “that intersection has always been here. You can go from taking intro to art history to exploring engineering in one morning. It was here that I discovered that intersection for me. It was the intersection of technology and journalism that set me on a path to well, technology journalism and eventually to the Wall Street Journal.”

Later, students hosted a Zoom conversation with Stern to learn more about her career and her time at Union.

Also at Founders Day, Rachel (Lalji) Deochand ’11, a Latin teacher at the Bronx School of Law and Finance, received the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award. Named for the 1809 graduate of Union who was New York State’s first superintendent of public education, the award is presented to a secondary school teacher in recognition of continuing influence on the academic life of a Union student.

Rachel (Lalji) Deochand ’11, recipient of the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award

Rachel (Lalji) Deochand ’11, recipient of the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award

Her former student, Juan Valdez ’24, an economics major, nominated Deochand. Valdez said his teacher, after helping him through the application process at Union, has continued to guide him.

“She went from being my teacher to also being my mentor,” he said.

Deochand, a double major in classics and political science at Union, said she was drawn to teaching by the connections she made with her professors.

“They knew me right away by my first name, they answered my emails immediately, and they were always available,” she said. “It’s so important to have that connection with students as individual learners.”

The celebration also featured a montage of testimonials about the power of Union from alumni and parents.

Others offering remarks Thursday included Kathleen LoGiudice, College marshal and professor of biology; Mary Carroll ’86, the Dwane W. Crichton Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; Strom Thacker, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs; and Matt Toy ’21, Student Forum president.

The 30-minute ceremony opened with a performance of “True Colors,” by the Union College Choir and closed with “Ode to Old Union,” by the Women’s Choir in recognition of the 50th anniversary of coeducation at the College.

Founded in 1795, Union was the first college chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York.

Photo below: A special garnet lighting of the Nott Memorial ended Founders Day on a festive note.

The Nott Memorial bathed in garnet