Bicentennial Celebration of Old Queens Building

By Richard L. McCormick, President
Monday, April 27, 2009

Good afternoon, and welcome to Rutgers on a glorious day. A special welcome to all our guests from the community. And I want to thank Patrick Gardner and the Rutgers University Glee Club for contributing their wonderful music to this special occasion.

We are proud to gather in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Old Queens, the oldest Rutgers building still in use today.

In a moment, I will ask history professor Paul Clemens to set the mood by describing the times in which this building’s cornerstone ceremony took place in 1809. Following Paul, art history professor Carla Yanni, an expert in college campus architecture, will tell us about the construction of Old Queens and a bit about its design. We will also hear from student leader Ismanie Guillaume, who will talk about a time capsule we will place in honor of the bicentennial. And finally, we will mark the anniversary by having Rutgers students ring the Old Queens bell 200 times while we enjoy a commemorative cake.

Old Queens is truly an icon of this university, and for the people of New Jersey it is a proud symbol of excellence in higher education. It is here where Henry Rutgers’ bell was placed and still rings today. It is here where so many students have begun and concluded their time on the Banks, breaking clay pipes on the cannon out front on Commencement Day. It is here where past Rutgers presidents such as Mason Gross and Ed Bloustein had their offices and steered this university so ably. And it is here, once upon a time, where a permanent home for the fledgling Queen’s College was sought and found.

Back then, the institution’s leaders had bold ambitions for their school, including a structure that would match the grandeur of their dreams. But money was tight, just as it is today, and the effort to raise funds for this venture took much longer than anyone had imagined.

When Old Queens was built, this was a small, private institution still finding its way. As Carla will describe, the college even closed down for a few years. Two centuries after its construction, Old Queens stands strong. Its beauty, which is first and foremost a tribute to the vision of its architect and the skill of its laborers, is also emblematic of the remarkable progress that has taken place in those years.

Rutgers today is a richly diverse public research university, dedicated to preparing tens of thousands of men and women each year for lives and careers of achievement and to serving New Jersey and the world through cutting-edge research on some of the most important human challenges.

Where will Rutgers be a hundred years from today? I gave that some thought in drafting a letter that will be placed in the time capsule. Allow me to quote from that letter’s final paragraphs:

“Looking ahead to 2109, it is certain that new technologies, new ideas, and new challenges will continue to reshape higher education. We have already seen dramatic shifts in the past quarter-century, particularly the explosion of information instantly available over the internet, and we anticipate that by these means and others not yet even dreamed of, higher learning and research will undergo very significant changes over the coming century.

“Knowing what I do, however, about education and the human spirit, I hope and believe that a passion for learning, discovery, and service will still characterize Rutgers University in 2109, however differently those missions may be carried out. Indeed, it is my hope that Rutgers’ reputation for excellence in education and research in service to the people of New Jersey and the world will only grow.”

As anyone who attended Rutgers Day this past weekend can attest, we have so many reasons to be proud of Rutgers. Our students, our faculty, our staff, our alumni—all are distinguishing themselves by their achievements and by contributing value to their professions and their communities. And while we face serious challenges in 2009, our goals for Rutgers reach higher than ever. I know we have within us the potential to be one of the nation’s and the world’s very best universities. And it is gratifying to know that as we continue to advance, this great building will continue to connect us all to our humble but ambitious past.