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Founders Day Ball Celebrates AU, American History

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DJ Reoffender spins for students at AU's Founders Day Ball in the National Museum of American History.
DJ Reoffender spins for students at AU's Founders Day Ball in the National Museum of American History. Photo by Patrick Bradley.

Few universities can count themselves part of US history in the way American University can. Chartered by Congress in 1893, AU counted its 120th anniversary last weekend – marking the event with a night to remember at its annual Founders Day Ball.

University Center coordinator of programming initiatives Katie Junot helped organize the year’s marquee moment alongside AU’s Student Government and Graduate Leadership Council, continuing a tradition of Founders Day celebrations dating back to 1931, when students first staged a pageant to honor the university’s intellectual architects.

While Founders Day events had seen a decline in interest over recent years, this year’s ball had overwhelming interest and anticipation across campus. The university issued 1200 free tickets – all of which sold out as soon as they were released.

“We were expecting excitement around ticketing, but we weren’t expecting the people waiting two and three hours in line for Founders Day tickets,” Junot explained. “This is the biggest Founders Day in recent history… In the past couple years, students have taken a bigger interest in it, both undergrad and graduate students alike. We’re really [thrilled] that students are excited about it.”

One particular draw for students this year was the ball’s equally fitting and impressive venue: the National Museum of American History. The museum featured a live band and catered food spread near the covered wagon on its first floor as well as a DJ, dance floor, and deserts in front of the second floor’s Star Spangled Banner. Students could also explore the museum’s many exhibits, which remained open for the evening.

“It’s great that we have that opportunity to be able to come here, be just ten minutes away from our school, and have an event like this,” said College of Arts & Sciences sophomore Megan Kenny. “The Founders Day Ball is a big tradition. To be a part of it really makes you feel like a part of the community here.”

From the tuxedo and gown-clad students to the music and lighting, the ball’s atmosphere was that of the many famous Washington, DC, events, according to Junot.

“With the election this year, people are in that celebratory mood with the inauguration balls,” she said. “Maybe they wanted to go to an inauguration ball and didn’t have a chance to. This is almost to that level.”

Student Government leaders as well as university president Dr. Neil Kerwin made remarks before the night’s dancing began. Dr. Kerwin spoke on AU’s legacy as it commemorates its 120th year.

“In the past one hundred and twenty years, young men and women like you, the faculty, and staff have created one of the great national universities in America,” he told the crowd of students. “I cannot imagine what the founders would have thought if they could have been here with us tonight. I know one of the things they would have thought is ‘what a remarkable undergraduate and graduate student body this university has assembled.’”

Student Government president and School of Public Affairs senior Emily Yu enjoyed the evening, noting that the location and occasion spoke to AU’s deep connections both to the city and the nation’s political center.

“I know last year we did it at the Library of Congress, since we were chartered by Congress. I think it was even cooler to do it at the American History Museum,” she said. “So many students are embedded downtown. We’re always down here, but we never get to celebrate AU down here. We’re always doing internships or on class fieldtrips. I think this really pulls it all back together for us.”

So, while the event marked a milestone for the university, it also celebrated the history of AU in the context of a nation and capital that it continues to engage.