Victory and vision at Simmons Founder’s Day celebration

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By Ellen Garnett

Staff Writer

Last week, the Simmons community came together to celebrate John Simmons on Founder’s Day. Cupcakes, a life-sized birthday card, and sparkling cider were the finishing touches on this year’s ceremony, which was dedicated to community engagement.

Cupcakes were given out on Founder's Day in celebration. Credit: Ellen Garnett

Cupcakes were given out on Founder’s Day in celebration. Credit: Ellen Garnett

Each year, there is a student essay contest on a theme related to Founder’s Day, and the winner reads their essay during the ceremony. This year’s winner was Samantha Caron Laplante, class of 2017, who wrote her essay on her participation in Jumpstart, a nonprofit “working toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed.”

“I didn’t realize that my involvement in Jumpstart would lead me to a lifelong commitment to community engagement,” said Laplante, who was actually on her way to volunteer right after the ceremony.

Laplante has been involved with Jumpstart since 2015, her first year at Simmons as a transfer student. She began as a corps member, who worked with students, and is now a team leader, who guides sessions and organizes corps members. During this time, she has learned some valuable lessons about how to stay calm in stressful situations, how to use problem-solving skills, and how to work with limited resources at a nonprofit.

Valerie Leiter, professor of Sociology and director of the Public Health Program gave the faculty remark, outlining why community engagement can be how we say thank you to John Simmons.

“No one can pay him back for [founding the College]. That’s why we have to pay it forward,” said Leiter.

Leiter referenced small ways that we can give back, such as paying for someone else’s coffee, or even in bigger ways, such as volunteering our time at organizations affiliated with the Scott/Ross Center for Community Service at Simmons. Whatever form it may take, paying it forward can have a huge impact, according to Leiter.

John Simmons did just that when he included an endowment for the founding of Simmons Female College in his will. During the mid-1800s, he earned his fortune by inventing the ready-made suit. Unfortunately, Simmons did not live to see his vision become a reality. Since 1916, the College community he envisioned has gathered to commemorate him on Founder’s Day Convocation.

According to the Simmons College Archives, the tradition of annually recognizing John Simmons has manifested itself in various forms. In 1930, the placing of a wreath on the founder’s grave began but was discontinued in 1965. This annual pilgrimage to Mount Auburn Cemetery in  Cambridge, Mass. in honor of Simmons was resurrected by President Helen Drinan in 2012.

While reflecting on the journey Simmons College has undergone as an institution, this year’s Founder’s Day truly embodied John Simmons’ dream of providing women with the means to pursue their own “independent livelihoods.”

Founder’s Day also marked the beginning of the class of 2020’s academic journey with the unfurling of their orange flag. Raeniqua Victorine, president of the class of 2020, left attendees with a powerful message to reflect on that day, one that applies to all past, current, and future members of the Simmons community.

“This is our virtue, our victory, our vision. Our Simmons.”