Vanderbilt kicks off Sesquicentennial in style with ceremony, conversation, music and more

Vanderbilt University launched the yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary with a formal ceremony in Langford Auditorium March 24. A cross-section of the Vanderbilt community—including administrators, staff, students, faculty and alumni—took to the stage in academic regalia to recount details of the university’s founding in 1873 and reflect on key moments in Vanderbilt’s history for invited guests inside the auditorium and those watching the event via livestream.

Watch the Sesquicentennial kickoff ceremony.

The university was founded eight years after the end of the Civil War with a $1 million gift from Cornelius Vanderbilt and his wife, Frank Armstrong Crawford Vanderbilt. It was the largest philanthropic commitment in U.S. history at the time.

“We are surrounded today by our founders’ legacy, which has been amended and enriched by the generations that followed over 15 decades in an unbroken chain leading up to this very moment,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “Today, Vanderbilt University is more multifaceted, more accomplished and more renowned than our founders dreamed. The ‘great university of the South’ is now one of the great universities of America, and it is poised to become one of the great universities of the world and of this century. We are stronger and more vital than ever.”

Other speakers at the ceremony described Vanderbilt’s story as that of educational excellence and societal impact; a powerhouse community of scholars, leaders, innovators and creatives; and one that is distinctly forward-looking and still being written.

“Today’s celebration offers us the chance to create our shared vision for the future,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs C. Cybele Raver said. “We come together to lift up the vision of Vanderbilt as an engine of discovery and positive change in our world for today and tomorrow, for ourselves and for the generations who will follow.”

Performances by student musicians in the Blair Woodwind Quintet and Blair Brass Quintet rounded out the ceremony, which concluded with a singing of the Vanderbilt Alma Mater.

Later that afternoon at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Vanderbilt Distinguished Research Professor Jad Abumrad moderated a conversation with historian Jon Meacham, Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Professor and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Political Science, about research the latter conducted for Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest and the Music That Made a Nation, his book co-authored with Tim McGraw. The event featured performances by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriters and longtime collaborators Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, including a singalong rendition of “This Land is Your Land.”

Watch the Songs of America event.

On Friday evening, the Vanderbilt Blair School of Music hosted a concert celebration honoring the 150th birthday of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. The event featured performances by piano, string, voice and wind instrument students from the Blair School and the Blair Academy pre-college program under the direction of Craig Nies, associate professor of piano.

The Sesquicentennial kickoff festivities continued on March 25 with the unveiling of the six most recent portraits in the Vanderbilt Trailblazers series. The initiative recognizes individuals in the Vanderbilt community who have broken barriers and made a positive impact both at the university and in society at large.

“The Trailblazers represent key moments in our 150-year history,” said Raver during the ceremony at E. Bronson Ingram College. “They are a constant reminder to us all to push boundaries and reach our full potential as scholars, leaders, mentors, peers and the trailblazers of our own time.”

On Saturday afternoon, the university hosted a party for the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities on Alumni Lawn. The fun-filled event featured free offerings from food trucks, music, games, a play area for children and take-home “swag” commemorating the 150th anniversary celebration. Historical tours of the Vanderbilt campus and the university’s arboretum also were offered throughout the weekend.

Vanderbilt University’s Sesquicentennial celebration will continue into 2024. For more information, visit To join the celebration online, use #VU150.