September 6, 2007

Happy Birthday, Lafayette!

Thousands of students, faculty, and friends turn out for the Marquis’ 250th celebration

After a day filled with talk of revolution and reverence, the College capped off the Marquis de Lafayette’s 250th birthday party with an evening of revelry and festivities on the Quad.

The party is part of the College’s yearlong celebration in recognition of the life and legacy of the man for whom it is named. Other major events include a lecture series entitled Lives of Liberty and a historical exhibit, A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington.

  • View the podcast: Marquis de Lafayette turns 250

Additional coverage of this week’s celebratory events:

  • Renowned Historian David McCullough Kicks Off 250th Celebration
  • Marquis Scholar Lloyd Kramer Discusses ‘Lafayette’s Historical Legacy’
  • A Son and His Adoptive Father Exhibit Opens to Rave Reviews
  • State Historical Marker Dedicated in Easton’s Centre Square
  • An Unforgettable Event: Sarah Reddan ’09 recounts her experiences at the Marquis’ 250th
  • A Day of History and Entertainment: Emanuel Santa-Donato ’10 writes about his experience
  • Media coverage of 250th celebration
  • Listen to Lloyd Kramer’s lecture.
  • Photos from 250th birthday party
  • Photos from state historical marker dedication
  • A web site dedicated to the yearlong celebration and to the Marquis’ unique connection to the College provides information and updates.

During the party there was dancing and eating – lots and lots of eating. Revolutionary War re-enactors and students and staff dressed in Colonial era clothing brought living history to the celebration. Carriage rides provided an air of gentility on a humid day and the Marquis himself made a grand entrance, to the delight of a huge crowd.

It was a party not to be forgotten – or missed, as attested by the huge turnout of literarily thousands of students, faculty, and friends.

“I think it’s great. I love it! It seems like most of the campus is here,” exclaimed psychology and French double major Kate Ellis ’08 (Katonah, N.Y.), whose membership in the campus French Club gave her a heightened interest in the day’s festivities. “I like seeing fellow students dressed in costume, and I’m excited about the carriage rides.”

So were many others, though it seemed food was on most people’s minds, at least at the outset.

Party-goers packed rows and rows of tables with plates and plates of Colonial-inspired dishes, cooked in cauldrons and dished out by Dining Services staff in full period costume.

There was baked cottage pie and roasted zucchini to get things started. Baked seafood muddle satisfied the sea-going crowd while estouffade of beef, grilled sausages, and baked Virginia pit hams pleased those with hardier appetites. Cheddar cheese blocks and various vegetable dishes rounded out the meal.

“It’s fantastic. The food was outrageous,” said Nicolette Stavrovsky, secretary for electrical and computer engineering department, who comes from a strong Lafayette family that includes husband Ernie ’03 and daughters Janine ’03, Nicolette ’00, and Marie ’10.

Things got really interesting after dinner food-wise.

A dessert tent provided a wide array of creampuffs, pastry, fudge, mousse, and other delectable treats. And situated in a corner sat a birthday cake that awaited the Marquis upon his arrival.

That came at 6:15 p.m. when the guest of honor arrived in a carriage and was greeted in front of Skillman Library less as a luminous historical figure and more like a present-day rock star.

Cameras flashed away as the Marquis pulled up in his horse-drawn ride and President Daniel Weiss began the introductions.

“We’ve been planning this party for 250 years, and this is his best birthday ever,” Weiss said.

History and government & law major Sara Walter ’09 (Kempton, Pa.), who is a member of the student planning committee, thanked the Marquis for the inspiration he provided to make Lafayette a top-notch liberal arts institution. All of the praise left the Marquis a bit taken aback.

“You make me feel like a king and I’m not sure I like it,” joked the Marquis, who was played with flair all day long by historical interpreter Loic Barnieu.

The Marquis explained why he chose to forsake a life of riches and leisure to come to America and fight for independence with George Washington and the Colonial army. He said he was moved by the struggle for liberty and wanted to do his part to help.

“What better way than fighting for liberty? And that is why I came here,” he said. “You have to work for liberty, and even if you think you’re free you have to be careful.”

Music and language studies double major Allison Shapp ’08 (Plainview, N.Y.), also a member of the committee, then raised a “Vive la France!” toast to the Marquis, after which the crowd joined in a spirited singing of “Happy Birthday.”

Both Walter and Shapp were among those who paraded around the Quad dressed in full colonial garb. International affairs major Jason Lowcher ’10 (Washington, N.J.) also played a vital role as the Marquis’ aide-de-camp.

“We did a lot of brainstorming for the event. Some of our ideas worked, some of them didn’t,” Shapp said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Walter said being in costume made her feel the spirit of the occasion.

“It’s hard not to when you’re wearing this stuff,” she said. “You learn to appreciate 21st century clothes when you have to dress like this.”

Some of the other attire was even more authentic, particularly that worn by the re-enactors. Members of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment set up an encampment on the Quad in tribute to the Marquis, who once commanded the group during a pivotal part of the Revolutionary War.

For Patrick Fancera, of Clinton Township, N.J., taking part in the re-enactment is his way of bringing an integral part of American history to life.

“Re-enacting makes you feel a part of history,” said Fancera, who has been with the group since 1975. “I have enjoyed this so much. Doing a hobby like this really gives you a sense of what it was like.”

Their presentation drew plenty of attention.

“The re-enactors are great,” said electrical and computer engineering major Dennis Waldron ’10 (Owings, Md.). “I think we’re going to find one and have our picture taken.”

Elsewhere on the Quad, there was a multitude of activity that lasted into the night.

A long line waited for carriage rides, people participated in contra dancing, and the Marquis’ three-tiered birthday cake provided an abundance of sweet treats for those looking to partake.

“It seems like a great turnout,” said Molly Sunderlin, Gateway Counselor for Career Services and wife of David Sunderlin, assistant professor of geology and environmental geosciences. “I’m excited to try the food and see what else is to come.”

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