By Dr. Suzanne M. Rivera

In January, we kicked off a yearlong series of events commemorating 150 years since Macalester’s founding in 1874. I’m excited to celebrate with all of you! Throughout our sesquicentennial year, we’ll look back on transformative turning points, honor who we are today, and build toward our collective vision for the college’s next 150 years—thanks to the creativity and hard work of staff, faculty, students, and alumni who have been generating ideas and mapping out logistics for months.

I was delighted to learn recently that one of our community members got an exceptional head start on dreaming about our sesquicentennial. More than thirty years ago, on the heels of the college’s 1992 strategic plan launch, former Macalester president Robert M. Gavin Jr. published a Macalester Today essay imagining the college at 150 years.

I have to credit President Gavin: some of his predictions were surprisingly prescient. He speculated that, in 2024, Macalester would be led by a “President Maria Gutierrez,” who earned a doctorate at the University of California–Berkeley. How he knew a Latina with a degree from Berkeley would be the college’s leader in its 150th year is a mystery to me, and I’m curious to ask if he has suggestions about stock picks or lottery numbers!

He also imagined a sesquicentennial symposium focused on multifaceted, complex global challenges—not unlike our International Roundtable tradition (which started the year after his essay was published) and our current plans for regional sesquicentennial events. With references to extensive “satellite conferencing technology,” he even anticipated the prevalence of Zoom gatherings. And, through thoughtful reflections about the student experience, he imagined that our campus in 2024 would have an “active intellectual atmosphere” with a “strong sense of community.”

Macalester has changed a lot in thirty years, thanks to the many people who worked tirelessly to drive forward that 1992 strategic plan and subsequent plans developed during the administrations of President Michael McPherson and President Brian Rosenberg. Since 1992, our graduation rate has increased (from 73 to 90 percent), the student-to-faculty ratio has decreased (from 12:1 to 10:1), and our student body is more diverse in many ways, including race and ethnicity, and country of origin. This past fall, 43 percent of US first-year students identified as students of color, compared to 15 percent in 1991. International students compose 14 percent of the student body and represent 103 countries, compared to 10 percent and 65 countries in 1992. All of these accomplishments were priorities in the 1992 strategic plan.

I’m also struck by how Macalester’s goals in 1992 are echoed in conversations we’ve had throughout our most recent strategic planning process about our vision for the future: facilitating high-impact experiences for all students, innovating our curriculum, amplifying the impact of our Twin Cities location as a way to differentiate Macalester, and preparing students to lead and make positive change in communities around the world.

That’s a reminder of our incredibly clear and enduring sense of purpose, and the college’s ongoing commitment over generations toward promoting Macalester’s values. While some of our practices and customs may change, the core values at the heart of who we are will not change. Quite the opposite: they will be amplified and made even more distinctive for future students.

Throughout this very special sesquicentennial year, we will lift up the college’s extraordinary legacy. We invite Macalester alumni around the world to celebrate with us, including through events and initiatives happening on campus, online, and around the United States. Together, we will learn from our past, honor the people who shaped today’s Macalester, and work toward our strong and vibrant future. I can’t wait!

Dr. Suzanne M. Rivera is president of Macalester College.

February 2 2024

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