Thousands Flock to Saint Mary’s “Gaelebration” to Honor College’s Sesquicentennial

Gaelebrators turened out in force to celebrate the College's sesquicentennial After 150 years, Saint Mary’s has a lot of reasons to celebrate, and it pulled out all the stops on Gaelebration, the signature community event of the college’s sesquicentennial year. Thousands of Gaels, family members and friends of the college converged on the campus on October 6 for the biggest – and definitely the most festive – celebration in Saint Mary’s long history.

“It shows that we are this huge, vibrant, fun-loving, capable community,” said Russell Harrison, chairman of the Board of Trustees.

On a brilliant early fall day, with puffy clouds rolling through a clear blue sky, Saint Mary’s showed its stuff at Gaelebration – an academic open house with a large dose of carnival and music festival thrown in – and people from all over the Bay Area and beyond came to engage with the college and learn more about its academic offerings, relive fond memories of their time at SMC or just enjoy the friendly SMC vibe.

Riding high on the Ferris wheelA Ferris wheel and gourmet food trucks lent a carnival air to the day, and in De La Salle Quad, parents watched as children rolled around wildly in bounce houses and lined up eagerly for rides on a horse with a pink mane. On the Chapel Lawn, the Elite Jazz Band, soul singer Shawn Brown, Alma Desnuda and Elements of Truth, with SMC’s own Keznamdi, performed, filling the campus with music.

Meanwhile visitors and community members alike sampled dozens of academic presentations and events ranging from “Ancient Greek Astronomy” and “New Venture Entrepreneurship” to “Gaelebration Great Books” and “Confections of a Chocoholic.” And just as students at Saint Mary’s learn through engagement, visitors jumped at the  opportunity to engage with the college academically. They took on a River of Words Eco Quiz, tried out the Astronomy Department’s solar telescope, and tried to stump the professors with questions on dark energy and black holes in the Quantum Physics Round Table. (See “Gael Academy Offers a Glimpse Into the Mind of Saint Mary’s.”)

Rita Garcia ’02, who drove up from Oceanside with her two children, was amazed at the academic offerings. “There’s always something new happening here,” she said. “I feel kind of jealous. I want to go back to school!”

Opening the festivities, Harrison read a proclamation issued 150 years ago, when the cornerstone was laid for the original campus, in San Francisco, which was dedicated “for the instruction of the youth of California not in literature merely, but what is greater, in true Christian knowledge.”

A lot has changed since those early day, but as Harrison pointed out, “Through all the years, Saint Mary’s foundation in Catholic, Lasallian and liberal arts traditions continues to illuminate every aspect of campus life and learning and to connect generations of Gaels as well as the amazing community of friends of Saint Mary’s.”

Dignitaries at the opening ceremony included (left to right) State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, Moraga Vice Mayor Howard Harpham, Congressman George Miller, Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, Board of Trustees Charrman Russell Harrison, Brother President Ronald Gallagher, and Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen          Among the friends of the college on hand were U.S. Representative George Miller, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen and Moraga Vice Mayor Howard Harpham, who all offered their congratulations.

“The brothers and the faculty of Saint Mary’s College have for 150 years ignited the intellectual energy of students from around the world,” Miller said, adding that “Saint Mary’s has been a gift to our nation.”  

The reach of the college extends even further, said Brother Ronald Gallagher, the college’s president “We’re part of the fabric of California, and the nation, and the world. We’re known not just for the quality of education but for the welcome, and we’re known for the service that our students, our faculty and our staff provide, not just here but all over the county, the state, the nation and the world.” 

As proof of that commitment to service, dozens of volunteers joined forces the Soda Center during Gaelebration and, in a two-hour period, packed up more than 10,000 meals for needy children in Afghanistan.  

Saint Mary’s is also known for its close-knit community, a quality that was mentioned time and again throughout the day.

Graduate Counseling Professor Drew Krafcik, who was carrying his 5-month-old daughter, Frannie, while his wife and parents, visiting from St. Louis, checked out the schedule of offerings at Filippi Academic Hall, said, “There’s already such a sense of community here, but it’s nice to have a special day to recognize it.”

Many people came to Gaelebration specifically to savor the sense of community that they had found at Saint Mary’s.

Thomas Bell ’09 joined other veterans of service trips organized by Professor Shawny Anderson for a presentation in the Soda Center. Bell, who went on two service trips to New Orleans after Hurrican Katrina, said he came back because “Saint Mary’s feels like a second home.” And Trevor Condon ’11, who participated in trips to Dominica, Tanzania and earthquake-shattered Haiti, said, “Watching these videos reminds me of who I want to be.”

Visitors also packed presentations that reinforced that sense of community. In Dante Hall, students and alumni viewed a slide show called “A Walk Through History” on SMC’s African American history, from the early 1980s to the present, created by sophomore Kalani Sanders. Down the hall, a talk by Brother Ronald on “The Irish at Saint Mary’s College” drew a full house. And in Brother Jerome West, visitors packed a presentation on “150 Year of Saint Mary’s College” by Professor Emeritus Ron Isetti.

Visitors gathered around for the "Word Tapas" poetry reading.The day was also full of great artistic experiences, like scenes from “Spring Awakening,”  a “Word Tapas” poetry reading, and a stunning “Art of the Cross” exhibit in the museum. And then there were happy surprises, like a fly-over by a WWII-era biplane fighter similar to the planes used for training when Saint Mary’s was a navy preflight training school in the early 1940s, which had everyone craning their necks to see it and whipping out their cell phones to capture the moment.

Standing in line for the Ferris wheel, Michael Carlson of Sacramento had two words for Gaelebration: “Amazingly cool.” His wife and four children, including Brianna, a senior honors finance major at Saint Mary’s, all agreed. Looking around at the scene on campus, he added, “It seems like you’re doing something great every time we come here, but nothing like this!”

By Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications

Photos by Matt Beardsley