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UW celebrates 175 years of life-changing ideas, achievements 

July 27, 2023 By Mike Klein

Hundreds gathered Wednesday alongside a shimmering Lake Mendota on a warm summer night to celebrate the University of Wisconsin’s 175th anniversary. 

A proclamation from Gov. Tony Evers praised the university’s notable discoveries, prestigious prizes and legions of successful alumni. 

Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin harkened back to UW’s first chancellor, John Lathrop, who cautioned not to “mistake the shell for the kernel,” meaning that it’s the people who make a truly great university.

“So it was important to me to launch this anniversary year with all of you, because you are the people whose leadership and support help to make UW–Madison one of the greatest universities in the world — thank you!” she told those gathered in Memorial Union’s Great Hall for a reception amid the festivities. 

Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez presented Mnookin with the proclamation that marked UW’s 175th anniversary and thanked everyone involved for their dedicated service to the state. 

“UW–Madison proudly serves as Wisconsin’s flagship institution and is one of the leading universities in the world, affiliated with projects that seek to exemplify the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ of working together to solve real-world problems to make a difference in the lives of others beyond the boundaries of the classroom,” the proclamation reads.

Attendees included many campus and state leaders, alumni, faculty, students and other members of the campus community. At the start of the day, the Ho-Chunk Nation’s flag was raised at Bascom Hall, as the university occupies the ancestral homeland of the Ho-Chunk people. 

I want to thank the Ho-Chunk leaders who are working with us to help share this fuller history of our campus,” Mnookin said. 

At Wednesday’s reception in Great Hall, Ho-Chunk Nation President Jon Greendeer told the crowd he’s confident Chancellor Mnookin is a leader who’ll move the university forward. 

“I’ll tell you what, our biggest challenges are going to be in front of us, and we can accomplish them by working together,” Greendeer said.

On July 26, 1848, Gov. Nelson Dewey, Wisconsin’s first governor, signed the act that created the University of Wisconsin.  

“The state was just eight weeks old, but the founders understood that to grow and thrive, it would need to educate its people and give them a place to come for expert help to solve problems,” Mnookin said. 

The university went deep into debt to grow in those early years, even borrowing money from professors to keep it afloat, she said. Today, the university’s leaders have the advantage of building on the strong foundation that was laid many years ago. 

“This anniversary celebration is every bit as much about the future as the past,” Mnookin said. “We need to ask, ‘How can we make sure that our 175-year-old institution will shine even more brightly on its 200th birthday?’” 

Wednesday’s event served as the launch for a yearlong celebration marking the university’s 175th anniversary. Programming will run through the summer of 2024 and include annual traditions, such as Homecoming and Founder’s Day, as well as special events that will take the Badger spirit to counties across Wisconsin. For more information, please see the 175th anniversary website.


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