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Roots of the Alfred University spirit found in the community, new students told
8/21/09

New students march to McLane Center for opening convocation.

New students march to McLane Center for opening convocation.

Through anecdotes and slides, Laurie McFadden – Alfred University alumna, librarian and archivist – traced the genesis of the “Alfred spirit” shared by alumni and members of the community alike.

Speaking at the opening convocation Thursday for Alfred University’s 174th year, McFadden told the students Alfred is “more than just a place to live and work. It’s a small town with a big heart and a fascinating history.”

Although Alfred University has been “independent, non-sectarian and co-educational” from the beginning, and was influenced in large measure by the beliefs and values of its founders, who were members of the Seventh Day Baptist Church, McFadden said.

Alfred University is the oldest co-educational institution of higher education in New York State and the second oldest in the nation because the founders believed “women should receive an education equal to men,” McFadden said, noting that women “were not an afterthought. There were more women than men” in the first class.

Women were also allowed to be on the faculty at AU, something unheard of in 19th century America. Even Oberlin, although co-educational, didn’t have women on the faculty until the 1880s, long after women professors were teaching at Alfred.

That spirit continued throughout the 19th century, McFadden said, as Alfred became one of the first universities to admit African-American students; the community itself provided safe haven for runaway slaves as they made their way north on the Underground Railroad.

The residents of Alfred, she said, “truly care” about the students who share their community for three-quarters of each year.

McFadden noted Alfred, as a university and as a community, comprises distinct groups, all “living, learning, working, supporting and sharing.”

“Consider that community one to discover and get involved with,” McFadden urged the students.
Amos Mainville, a mechanical engineering major from Fort Covington, NY, and president of the Student Senate, had similar advice for the newly minted class of 2013: “Get involved. Do what you love. Be inspired.”

As he welcomed the students, Alfred University President Charles M. Edmondson noted the opening convocation marks the annual rebirth of the University community. “It is an occasion for happiness and excitement, not solemnity,” he said.