Vassar students, faculty and alumnae/i gathered on April 29 to celebrate the Vassar tradition, Founder’s Day. This year’s theme was apt for the rainy Saturday, as students dressed for “Lost at Sea: Pirates, Mermaids, Sirens.” Despite the gloomy weather, the yearly festivities returned in full swing.
Lilly Masters ’26 commented on her experience saying, “I love how the Vassar community really commits to the bit. In high school or middle school no one would, so it’s really nice that here everyone does which is really fun. I think it was really fun that everyone participated.”
The event’s numerous activities primarily took place on Noyes Circle, beginning at noon and ending at midnight. The site featured live student bands and DJs all afternoon, food trucks with free food, face painting, and water slides. The musical headliner for the day, Mykki Blanco, reportedly canceled, but the show continued with nine student bands and DJs performing including Belakflip, DJNAR, Krampus, FEIFEI, PB Toast, Serial Milf, Switchover, Showface and UFOlogy. Founder’s Day goers were welcome to enjoy any of the three food trucks from the local restaurants La Cabañita, Twisted Sisters Ice Cream and Frites of New York. The day also featured carnival games with the chance to win prizes and rides with a giant inflatable slide and tetherball.
Also on Noyes Circle, the Vassar Student Association’s Health and Wellness committee had a tent filled with essentials like snacks and water as well as small stress relieving activities. The beer tent for all those over 21 returned, located right next to the Founder’s Day merchandise tent that sold student-designed T-shirts, sweatshirts, bucket hats, shot glasses and tote bags. President Bradley gave the annual Founder’s Day toast at 2 p.m. with many members of the Vassar community gathering to hear her speak.
Other festivities included a barbecue at the Town House Circle with Dean Carlos Alamo at 3 p.m. and a puppy play pen in the College Center with three puppies that students could pick up and pet, organized by Big Night In. To end the night, Vassar provided a ten minute firework show and free cupcakes at Sunset Lake.
Students dressed as underwater sea creatures, mythical figures and pirates, all in celebration of Matthew Vassar’s birthday. Sabina Lopez-Jensen ’26 discussed their costume saying, “I dressed up as a crab, and I thought that was a unique costume but then I saw like, seven other people dressed as crabs.”
Founder’s Day is organized each year by the VSA Programming and Traditions committee in conjunction with the Campus Activities Office, Health Promotion and Education, Safety and Security, Dining Staff, Big Night In and the Residential Life Office. This undertaking requires months of planning and around 30 volunteers. Programming Chair Dhriti Seth ’24 said in a written statement, “Founder’s Day has many moving parts so we establish [a] few subcommittees that are chaired by volunteers that handle different aspects of the day.” Seth continued, “The most important aspects to coordinate was recruiting volunteers to help out, finalizing vendor contacts and establishing plans of actions with other offices of the school such as Safety and Security and Health Services to ensure that the student body remained safe and well during the day.”
While the weather proved to be an unexpected hurdle for Founder’s Day planners to overcome, Seth reported it ultimately did not affect the day’s outcome saying, “The weather definitely threatened to put a [damper] on the event. We tried to plan for it by changing our tents to be fully covered with sides in order to protect against the rain. All in all, despite the weather we had a great turn out and it seems that people were able to enjoy themselves.”
In the week leading up to Founder’s Day, Vassar’s Engaged Pluralism Race and Racism in Historical Collections Working Group held an event entitled “Complicating Founder’s Day” on April 25 in the Villard Room. In a collaborative written statement, Brian Scannell ’23 co-chair of the Working Group and two librarians, Deb Bucher, the Head of Collections and Discovery and Melanie Maksin, Head of Academic Engagement, stated, “Our group hoped to use historical materials to reveal aspects of Founder’s Day that may not be known to current members of the Vassar community—including the ways in which Founder’s Day, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, has been a site of racial and ethnic exclusion, cultural appropriation, and blackface and other forms of racial and ethnic masquerade.”
The event drew 120 attendees of both students and faculty. Attendees enjoyed a catered dinner while exploring the different materials present. Sections included acknowledging the many “founders” of the college, examining the recently uncovered photographs, and learning more about the tradition’s historical evolution. Scannell ’23, Bucher, and Maksin reported positive responses from the event’s participants.
What Founder’s Day will look like in the future will continue to be an ongoing conversation on campus. Scannell ’23, Bucher and Maksin commented, “We think it’s important to think critically about who has been excluded from these traditions and why, and how we might develop more inclusive, expansive celebrations that reflect our community as it is now and as we want it to be.”
Seth expressed similar sentiments, “Founder’s Day is definitely one of those and it is incredibly heartening to see the community come together to celebrate in such a manner. We must acknowledge that the history of the tradition is problematic in its own right though and actively work to educate ourselves about how far we’ve come in order to ensure greater inclusivity and respect within our community.”