Part of the history: A student perspective on Virginia Tech's 150th anniversary
May 4, 2022
Miles Abernethy is a junior double major in history and political science with a focus on national security. He’s also an outreach assistant in the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, and a student library assistant for University Libraries in Special Collections and University Archives.
If you haven’t heard yet, it’s Virginia Tech’s sesquicentennial.
A huge “150” banner is draped over the front of Burruss Hall. Signs and logos everywhere proudly proclaim the momentous occasion as the university examines and celebrates the past and looks to the future.
But what does all of this mean to the nearly 37,000 students who engage with the university every day? Why should students care about Virginia Tech history?
As part of my history degree curriculum, I’ve had the privilege of taking classes and speaking with Professor Peter Wallenstein, who also serves on the Council on Virginia Tech History.
In alignment with commemorating the university's 150th anniversary, the council has worked to make what is known about Virginia Tech's history more accessible, factual, and equitable. Additionally, Wallenstein's book "Virginia Tech, Land-Grant University, 1872-1997," and his co-authoring of "From VPI to State University: President T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. and the Transformation of Virginia Tech, 1962-1974," do so much to inform a way to think about Virginia Tech history, as part of a wider world of change and progress.
I’ve also learned more about Virginia Tech history through my role as a student library assistant for Special Collections and University Archives.
By exploring the archives and learning from faculty members, I’ve come to a realization.
As Virginia Tech students, we are making history right now. When you become a Hokie, you become part of the history of the university, and that history belongs to you.
Virginia Tech’s evolving student body and history has been one of incredible growth, and does not belong to any one group.
Our early but continuing focus on the practical engineering and agricultural arts evolved to include many new degrees in the fields of business, the humanities, sciences, and more. Even the buildings on campus represent changes in social attitudes, along with our growing population and desire to learn more about the world.
Virginia Tech graduates have assumed some of the highest positions in engineering, sciences, arts, government, and other fields. This university has given you, me, and hundreds of thousands of others the opportunity to shape our lives in ways we never thought possible.
Likewise, students have shaped what Virginia Tech was, is, and will be. I implore students to look around campus and remember — all of this is because of you.
Through our highs and lows, the sleepless nights, the 8 a.m.’s, a project aced, or a test failed, students are the “quilt” of this university.
From William Addison Caldwell’s walk up the steps of the Olin and Preston Building 150 years ago, to our walk across the stage at commencement in Lane Stadium, be proud of what we’ve accomplished, critical of the injustices of the past, and work for a greater future for Virginia Tech and the world, in the spirit of Ut Prosim.
Written by Miles Abernethy