Published: Mar 21, 2009 12:30 AM
Modified: Mar 21, 2009 01:50 AM
A centennial is a big deal for a university. In good times, it often calls for a big-time bash.
But times are not good, and the folks at N.C. Central University are balancing financial responsibility with the desire to celebrate a milestone.
"The centennial is an important event in the life of an institution," Chancellor Charlie Nelms said recently. "However, the celebration of the event cannot run amok with what you're trying to achieve academically. We will look for appropriate ways to mark our centennial."
Larger than a single event, university centennials are generally long affairs stretching for most of the year. NCCU plans a 13-month celebration starting in June of this year -- commemorating the 100th anniversary of the university's charter -- and concluding in July 2010. Preliminary plans call for the celebration to be bookended by convocations featuring speakers and other pageantry. Other events will be sprinkled in between -- many of which will be part of regularly scheduled speaker series events and academic offerings.
One featured plan for the commemoration: The university is creating a 12-foot-by-seven-foot centennial quilt that will depict, in pictures, each decade of the university's life. It will be designed by NCCU alumna Erica King, a fiber artist and graphic designer. The quilt will feature photos of campus buildings past and present along with images of the university's 10 top administrators. University founder James E. Shepard's image will be at the center of the quilt.
The university is so early in the planning process that officials say they don't yet have a budget set for the centennial. The university will likely contribute, as will the alumni association, said William Evans, a 1962 graduate co-chairing the centennial planning process.
"I have to be honest with you. We don't quite know yet [how we'll pay for it], except that we're going to have to pay for some of it," Evans said. "We'll be looking for sponsors for some of these events. We'll be looking for ways to do things for no cost. We'll be looking to people, alums, for example, to give us extra money. Even in these tough economic times. Give us a little bit more so we can put this show on."
This need for financial help leaves the university and alumni association in a bit of a predicament. It needs alums to contribute in order to put on the best possible event. And an impressive centennial that tugs at an NCCU graduate's heart strings may prompt more alums to donate.
The university recently started a new fundraising drive, dubbed "Invest in the Vision," that hopes to get more alums on the donor rolls. About 13 percent of alums donate now, which is slightly above the national average, said Johnnie Southerland, interim associate vice chancellor for university advancement.
But the university has 32,000 alums to tap into, Southerland said recently at a meeting of the campus board of trustees.
"There is tremendous opportunity to get more people involved," he said.
While the economy may rebound before mid-2010, when the centennial is scheduled to wrap up, it likely won't have made too much progress by June, when NCCU plans to start up its centennial. Still, Nelms thinks the university can put on a good show.
"We will be having an appropriate kickoff," he said. "We will do so, remaining conscious of the economic situation. It's possible to have a first-class kickoff without going broke in the process."