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student centennial committee members

The members of the Student Centennial Committee as they appeared in the 1965 Cornellian. Martin Baker, J. Murfree Butler and Carolyn Press appear together in the first row, starting third from left. Photo: Provided.

Student Centennial Committee co-chairs remember Cornell at 100

On October 9, 1964, Cornell senior Carolyn Press escorted Adlai E. Stevenson, U.S. Representative to the United Nations and former presidential candidate, to Barton Hall for Cornell's Centennial Convocation ceremony.

Adlai E. Stevenson, then-United States representative to the United Nations, delivers the keynote address at Cornell University's October 1964 Centennial Convocation Ceremony. Photo: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Stevenson was about to give the keynote address at the ceremony -- the first formal centennial event during the 1964-65 academic year -- but in the chauffeured car on the way to the hall, which was filling with professors, students, guests and Cornell's two living presidents, Stevenson had a few questions for the student leader (now Carolyn Press Landis '65).

Carolyn Press

Carolyn Press

"We spoke about the Chicago area where we both resided and where he had served as governor 20 years earlier," she says. "I told him about my summer 1964 experience in Zambia with Operation Crossroads Africa."

She was awestruck, she remembers; this brief conversation was the highlight of a full and celebratory year marking the university's 100th birthday.

J. Murfree Butler

J. Murfree Butler

She and two other Student Centennial Committee members, J. Murfree Butler '65 and Martin Baker '65, were co-chairs of the committee and key leaders in getting the student body involved in the celebrations. Today, a half century later, as Cornell celebrates its sesquicentennial year, the three alumni say the hard work and excitement surrounding the centennial defined their student experience.

They were welcomed as the Centennial Class on the first day of orientation as freshmen, says Landis, who lives in Pennsylvania. (Butler lives in Florida and he and Landis keep in touch.)

Martin Baker

Martin Baker

The 11-member student committee formed their freshman year. The three co-chairs were responsible for starting celebration plans with a wide range of student groups. Baker was liaison to the dorms, Landis reached out to sororities and Butler reached out to fraternities.

Led by Landis, Butler and Baker, the Centennial Committee met to brainstorm how to best generate student attendance at centennial events. They reached out to every organized student group to promote participation and coordinated a public relations campaign of posters, Cornell Daily Sun articles and radio announcements.

"Murf and I each made speeches at dinners at our own and other fraternities and sororities," says Landis. "Because there were at least twice as many fraternities as sororities, he made many more speeches than I did."

Program cover for International Conference of Students, 1965

One of the Student Centennial Committee's contributions to the university's celebration of its 100th birthday was an International Conference of Students, held in February 1965.

Butler recalls the speech he used to rally fraternity members. "We are the students," he said. "This is the centennial. This is our centennial. Let's make something of it."

Their efforts started to pay off, rallying student groups to observe, plan for and celebrate the anniversary.

"All of a sudden, it was this blossoming thing," says Butler. "I almost flunked out of school."

Baker did actually flunk his physical education requirement. Centennial planning trips to New York and Washington, D.C., during fall 1963 prevented him from completing his outdoor golf class. The director of university relations went to bat for him with a memo to the director of physical education: "Martin Baker, a student, is doing some work for the University's Centennial Celebration. Could you please remedy the situation?"

The director of physical education would not and Baker had to take the golf class over to complete the requirement. Still, he says, he enjoyed the work, collaborating with President James A. Perkins and his co-chairs.

Lincoln Center exhibit during Cornell Week in 1965

As part of Cornell University's centennial celebrations, Cornell Week was held at Lincoln Center in New York City in March 1965. Photo: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Half a dozen student-organized events took shape to augment university plans, says Baker. Congressmen came to campus to give talks and an international student conference was held in February 1965 to consider access to higher education in the future and its importance for the political and economic growth of various countries in the world. More than 100 student leaders came to Ithaca from campuses all over the world to participate.

"In the early 1960s," says Baker, "we saw elsewhere in the world student activism we had not seen in the United States."

The universitywide centennial events beginning in October 1964 also reflected the theme of international awareness and highlighted Cornell's standing as an institute of international renown.

J. Murfree Butler

J. Murfree Butler '65 in a recent photo. Photo: Provided.

Landis remembers introducing Lady Barbara Ward Jackson, a British economist, who gave a talk to a full house in Statler Auditorium on the impact of higher education on the world economy. Each of the co-chairs got a turn introducing a major speaker during the year's events. The university observed Charter Week from April 27 to May 1 with a conference "devoted to an examination of future academic directions," according to the Cornell Daily Sun, and the concluding program from "The Great Problem -- a Program for Investigation," with speeches by French philosopher Raymond Aron and British biologist Peter Medawar. The Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy, gave two performances.

Carolyn Press Landis, Mark Landis and Lauren Bailey Landis at Treman State Park

Carolyn Press Landis '65 at Robert Treman State Park in Ithaca in 2014 with husband Mark Landis '63 and granddaughter Lauren Bailey Landis. Photo: Provided.

In addition to campus events, receptions were held in major cities to celebrate the centennial, says Landis. Cornell Week at Lincoln Center in March 1965 highlighted Cornell and the performing arts with musical and dramatic offerings, including a presentation by modern dance pioneer José Limón. Landis attended a reception in New York and recalls being interviewed with Butler on film before this event for an appearance on television.

Even though Cornell made the national news in 1965 for marking its 100th year, the events Landis attended in New York City in 1965 were simpler and smaller than the Cornell sesquicentennial celebration she attended in New York City in September 2014; she was moved when she walked into the alumni reception at Lincoln Center this fall to see thousands of Cornellians of all ages gathered to celebrate the university's 150th anniversary.

She says her experience with the sesquicentennial was minimal compared to her "wonderful, in-depth experience with the centennial." Still, going to the NYC sesquicentennial celebration reaffirmed her gratitude for all that Cornell gave her as a student and continues to give her as an alumna.

The Class of 1965, Cornell's centennial class, will celebrate its 50th reunion in June. Landis and Butler plan to attend.

1965 Commencement ceremony in Barton Hall

The commencement ceremony for the Class of 1965 in Barton Hall during Cornell University's centennial year. Photo: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

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