On Friday, the University of Michigan brought its Bicentennial festivities to the place where it all began.
A founding ceremony took place in Detroit’s Grand Circus Park as a nod to the University’s 1817 founding in Detroit, as well as an acknowledgment of upcoming partnerships and commitments to the city. Several seminars also took place earlier in the day, ranging in topics from investments in the city’s future to innovation in education, arts and technology.
University alum and long-time local journalist Carmen Harlan emceed the ceremony and spoke to the significance of the University’s founding in Detroit.
“What (University founders Augustus Woodward, Gabriel Richard and John Monteith) created was not just what is now the University of Michigan but also public education in Michigan,” Harlan said. “In other words, all the outstanding public universities and colleges, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools that we have today, started here, in Detroit, with the University of Michigan … Today, as we celebrate this anniversary, we the people of Detroit and Michigan, must recommit to public education for the next 200 years.”
Harlan was not the only one speaking of renewed commitments. Frank Ettawageshik, Michigan alum and executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan, discussed the Treaty of Fort Meigs, which transferred land from local Anishinabe tribes and made the founding of the University possible.
“The struggle to fully implement the treaty took many decades,” Ettawageshik said, explaining the efforts to improve Native American access to education at the University.
“History teaches us, however, that we must continually refresh our agreements and assert our rights,” he added, describing the 200th anniversary as a chance to renew commitments to the Michigan tribes who gave up their lands.
Present at the festival were several University departments and student organizations with ties to the metro Detroit area.
One such group is Seven Mile Music, which brings music education to underserved communities in Detroit. According to LSA senior Tyler Neiss, the organization was founded in response to Detroit Public Schools cutting arts and music programing funds in 2013.
“Seven Mile Music is especially compelled by our love for public access to music because most of our members went to public schools and first were engaged with music through our public education,” said LSA sophomore Kirtana Choragudi.
However, Choragudi and Neiss were among the few University students present at the day’s celebration. The event was open to the public, and most of the several hundred attendees were faculty or guests who were not associated with the University.
“Detroit’s a really great place, and I wish people would care about it more,” Choragudi said.