COVID-19 Safety Information

College Launches Sesquicentennial Events

College Launches Sesquicentennial Events


It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment on July 14 when SUNY Cortland’s yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary officially began, but the Alumni Reunion 2018 barbecue behind the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House is probably one of the top contenders.

That’s when Robert Channing, a world-famous mentalist, speed painter and fan favorite on “America’s Got Talent,” danced with Blaze, the College’s mascot, while dabbing a clear substance onto a black canvas with a paintbrush. When he was done, he stepped back and tossed two big handfuls of gold glitter at the seemingly empty surface.

Channing had invisibly painted an image in clear glue and, as the glitter settled, there was SUNY Cortland’s Red Dragon athletics logo, sparkling in gold. The 200 or so alumni gathered under the tent burst into applause.

“Personally, I think Reunion kicked off our 150th year in a dazzling fashion,” said Reunion 2018 organizer Taylor Lynch ’17, interim assistant director of alumni engagement. “Our alumni let us know over and over again that they absolutely loved Robert’s performance, especially the custom painting of Blaze, our own logo. It was special for everyone involved.”

Robert Channing, of "America's Got Talent," joined Taylor Lynch '17 and College mascot Blaze to unveil Channing's painting to kick off the SUNY Cortland Sesquicentennial year.

The good news for the thousands of campus and Cortland community members who missed that particular event is that they will have plenty of opportunities during the rest of this year to continue the SUNY Cortland Sesquicentennial celebration.

Quite a lot has happened since SUNY Cortland was founded as the Cortland Normal School in 1868. To celebrate all of the progress and accomplishment, a 21-member sesquicentennial planning committee began organizing a year-long series of events during the spring, after SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum announced the festivities at the start of the spring semester.

“We see this as a celebration for everyone: for the community, for alumni, for students, faculty, staff and administrators,” said Mary Kate Boland ’06, associate director of leadership and community development. Boland co-chairs the sesquicentennial planning committee with Erin Boylan, executive director of alumni engagement.

“We want this to be an inclusive event celebrating our strong history,” Boland said.               

Many of the College’s big anniversaries align this year. These include the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the William H. Parks Family Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education at Camp Huntington, the 60th anniversary of Cortaca Jug, “America’s best little football game,” between Cortland and Ithaca College, and the 50th anniversary of the C-Club Hall of Fame.

This coming year, a number of College anchor events will be flavored with reminders of the College’s 150th birthday, including Orientation, Academic Convocation, Welcome Week, Homecoming, President’s Circle Dinner, C-Club Hall of Fame, Family Weekend and Cortaca Jug. In 2019, the anniversary will link to Transformations, Spring Fling, Honors Convocation, Commencement, and Alumni Reunion 2019.

The main celebration will be a “birthday party” series of events to take place during the C-Club Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Weekend/Family Weekend, Oct. 5 to 6 on campus.

The weekend will add the following to the traditional Hall of Fame schedule of events:

  • a birthday party featuring music, student performances, fireworks and much more at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, on Moffett Lawn
  • Friday and Saturday performances, at 8:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. respectively, of the College’s production of “Annie Get Your Gun” in the Dowd Fine Arts Center
  • a Birthday Party Carnival with games and inflatables from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday in the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex
  • a football game against SUNY Morrisville at the Stadium Complex at noon on Saturday

Members of the community are invited to all four of those events. For details, visit the 150th Birthday Party Celebration website at Register online or call Alumni Engagement at 607-753-2516. 

“We’re really exciting about the birthday celebration on October fifth and sixth,” Boland said. “The party will feature a birthday a cake and students from ‘Annie Get your Gun’ to lead the gathering in song. Some special guests will be present. Campus Technology Services will create a light display on the Moffett Center building. The evening will end with fireworks on Moffett Lawn.

“If you’re going to make any one thing in the year, I think Oct. 5 is the weekend to come and celebrate,” Boland said.

Everyone in the campus community was invited to apply for a share of approximately $20,000 in funding that was set aside to support creative ways to mark the Sesquicentennial. The resulting proposals for lectures, workshops, cultural events, concerts, theatre productions, academic activities, sporting events, receptions or other activities to coincide with the Sesquicentennial were reviewed by a subcommittee of faculty, staff and students.

“We had 20 applications for grants and most of the folks who applied for grants were given funding,” Boland said of the full committee, which made the final decision. “And so, we’re happy to extend the celebration all year. These grants are really helping us all year long to have smaller celebrations in a variety of ways.”

Details for most of these grant-funded events will be announced during the coming year. They include:

  • During the year, the History Department in collaboration with Memorial Library Archives will complete an oral history project that involves recording the stories of historical occurrences by living people who have experienced important milestones in the College’s history.
  • The library will host a guest speaker, SUNY Cortland alumnus Richard Schieffelin ’75. Schieffelin, an historian, lecturer and biographer on Henry S. Randall, the founding president of the Cortland Normal School, will give a talk supported by photos and illustrations.
  • Laura Davies, an associate professor of English, who directs the College’s writing program, will conduct a “My Cortland” writing contest from now until January 2019 that will bring together the voices and perspectives from many different constituencies both on and off campus to reflect what Cortland means to them. Contest winners will appear in a keepsake booklet. Winners will read their works at an award ceremony next April.
  • Howard Lindh, instructional support technician emeritus of performing arts, plans to display key historical photographs around campus, working closely with Dowd Gallery and the History Department. These might include, for example, an image hung in the lobby of Old Main showing what the quad outside that building looked like during the May 1970 student uprising in response to the shooting at Kent State University.
  • The United University Professions (UUP) Cortland chapter will contribute an historical exhibit, “We Are UUP: The University’s Union,” opening on Friday, Aug. 31, in the Student Life Center. The display aims to show how organized labor has shaped New York state’s university system and the Cortland campus community over the past 45 years.
  • The campus energy manager, Matt Brubaker, is using a grant to issue students a Sesquicentennial commemorative reusable bag that also encourages sustainable practices aimed at keeping the College going for another 150 years.
  • The Art and Art History Department will mount a solo art exhibit by SUNY Cortland alumna Heather Ramsdale ’97, an award-winning artist of sculptural objects and large-scale installations from Aug. 27 to Sept. 28 in Dowd Gallery. Ramsdale is a current assistant professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. Her video debut will be part of the display. The grant will support a presentation series at Corey Union and other locations promoting and leading up to the unveiling.
  • A group of alumni will be offering historical presentations and raising private funds to build a sculpture for the campus to commemorate the A-list musical artists and bands the campus succeeded in luring to perform between the 1950s and the 1990s. The goal is to unveil the new sculpture by Alumni Reunion 2019.
  • In each new edition this coming year, SUNY Cortland’s student newspaper the Dragon Chroniclewill reprint a single page devoted to art and articles from its archives and those of former campus publications.
  • The campus will display articles, photographs, books and magazines illustrating the history of the former Transitionswriting workshop and magazine. The literary magazine existed from 1954 to 2010 and hosted diverse literary figures including Allen Ginsberg, Nikki Giovanni and Gwendolyn Brooks.

The Sesquicentennial Planning Committee put a lot of thought into the year’s celebrations.

Randi Storch, the History Department chair and an early co-chair of the sesquicentennial planning committee, worked with students to select and research 150 moments from the College’s history that are included on a digital timeline. The timeline is part of a permanent, interactive website that allows visitors to access detailed information, images and more for each event. Storch and Web Operations Specialist Loren Leonard designed the project.

Boylan noted the sesquicentennial programming will follow three goals the committee established early.

“First, we wanted to celebrate the long history, current accomplishments and expected future growth of SUNY Cortland,” Boylan said. “The second is to create or deepen relationships with alumni, parents, students and community members to encourage and support the College in its mission through gifts of time, talent and treasure. And finally, we want to use it to strengthen the College’s brand and reputation.”

To learn more about the College’s historic year, take a tour of the College timeline and purchase a College history book at

Alumni should check for email from the alumni association or visit RedDragonNetwork at for updates about planned events.