Dakota Days is known for providing a week full of excitement, fun and school spirit for faculty and students alike. However, this year the University of South Dakota will not just be celebrating homecoming week, but its 150th anniversary.
USD was chartered by the legislature in 1862, before South Dakota had even been named a state. This made USD the first school of higher education in Dakota Territory. However, official classes did not commence until 1882. Judith Sebesta, chair of the history department and faculty member since 1972, said USD had a difficult start.
“USD had a very rocky beginning,” Sebesta said. “But they had a vision for the future, which we should be grateful for, because it was not an easy task to start this university.”
“This university was started when it was just a prairie, so it really took a lot of pride and persistence to see that the school got off on good footing,” said Kersten Johnson, executive director of USD’s Alumni Association.
Despite initial problems, the founders of the university persevered, providing USD with a stable foundation in the years to come. Over the decades, great faculty, students and leaders paved the way for future success.
“Anyone stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them,” Sebesta said. “USD has been extremely fortunate to have had people who dedicated their lives to the university.”
As USD celebrates its sesquicentennial, students and faculty described what it meant to them for USD to turn 150.
“For most students, just the number 150 shows how strong and how solid the foundation is here at the University of South Dakota,” said senior Alissa VanMeeteren, Student Government Association president.
“150 years means we’ve been in operation for a long time, serving students and serving the state,” said Chuck Staben, vice president of Academic Affairs.
This anniversary also urges students and faculty to look back on USD’s past history.
“Turning 150 years old, we take time to reflect on where we’ve been so that as we move forward, we have an appreciation for that history,” Johnson said.
To recognize USD’s sesquicentennial, Gov. Dennis Daugaard declared a proclamation naming April 20, 2012 as “The University of South Dakota Day.”
Additionally, the alumni association is launching their 150th pictorial history book, and a special issue of the Alumni magazine.
During Dakota Days, alumni from across the nation are being welcomed back to their alma mater. In particular, past student body presidents, past homecoming royalty, former presidents and parade marshals Tom and Meredith Brokaw are invited to USD’s campus.
Alumni often like to relive memories and visit familiar places on campus such as Old Main or East Hall, as well as explore new structures such as the Muenster University Center or the Wellness Center, Johnson said.
“Alumni’s eyes just light up when they have the opportunity to retrace old steps that are familiar to them, but also to see how much the campus has evolved in recent years,” she said.
Alumni from as far away as Hawaii are making the trip back to Vermillion for Dakota Days and the 150th celebration, Johnson said.
Along with alumni visiting campus, USD will celebrate 150 years by dedicating the new coyote statue “Legacy” at 11:30 a.m.
“That will kind of be a kick-off to new traditions that will evolve from the students,” Johnson said.
Staben said academic excellence has always been a very prominent traditon at USD.
“Academics is an area where tradition really is important, and tradition has a lot of meaning to people,” Staben said.
First-year student Jon Davis said he’s looking forward to what Dakota Days will bring.
“The long-standing tradition and student spirit will really come out during this coming week,” Davis said.
With 150 years of history and establishment behind USD, VanMeeteren said she looks forward to the coming years.
“USD has definitely set itself up for growth and development,” VanMeeteren said. “Because we offer people a chance to pursue their dreams and really achieve, I think that means we can only go onward.”