COLUMBIA — Three years ago, 51-year-old Karen Heywood had never considered attending Stephens College. Though she had an interest in creative writing, she was leaning more towards pursuing a teaching degree at Columbia College. It was at an academic luncheon in Jefferson City where she first met Stephens College President Wendy Libby, who changed Heywood’s mind about her future education.
On Thursday, Heywood, who graduated from Stephens in 2007 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, joined hundreds of others in Stephens College’s Kimball Ballroom at the kickoff celebration for the school’s 175th anniversary.
“I wanted to be here to experience Stephens’ birthday party,” Heywood, who now teaches at Stephens, said. “Anything they celebrate, I feel like I’m a part of it. Stephens feels like home.”
Stephens links itself to the Columbia Female Academy that began in 1833 and became the Columbia Female Baptist Academy in 1856. In 1870, the school was renamed Stephens College.
Thursday’s celebration of Stephens’ history included musical performances by the student vocal group the Velvetones, a picture and video slideshow, a speech from Libby, an introduction to some of the events that students can take part in over the next year and of course, birthday cake.
“This is a momentous occasion and it’s only fitting that for our 175th birthday we have a birthday party,” Libby said in her speech.
During the ceremony, a Peter Pan-themed skit was performed, in reference to former teacher Maude Adams who played Peter Pan on Broadway.
In the skit, the audience was told of “The Hunt for Stephens Treasure,” which will take place over the next semester. Students, faculty, staff and alumnae can compete individually or split into teams and on three designated days will search for answers to questions based on Stephens’ history.
“The point of doing the hunt is to unite all the different Stephens constituents in a fun activity that involves learning more about Stephens’ history,” said Amy Gipson, chair of the planning committee.
While there will be several winners who receive small prizes, a grand prize winner will be drawn at the end of the semester. The more people participate, the more entries into the drawing they will receive. The grand prize will be the winner’s choice of either $1,000 cash or a $1,500 scholarship. The first treasure hunt date is Feb. 15.
“I’m looking forward to the treasure hunt,” freshman Ashton Simon said. “I’m curious to see what they have us find and figure out about Stephens’ history.”
In addition, Student Government Association President Lindsey Weber discussed a time capsule the group is sponsoring as a gift to the school. Students, faculty and staff are invited to give the group small items to include in the capsule. It will be sealed in May, not to be reopened until 2033 when Stephens College celebrates its 200th anniversary.
“SGA wanted to give a gift to be something that commemorates the 175th anniversary and something everyone could leave their mark with,” said Chelsey Christensen, vice president of the senior class.
While the treasure hunt and time capsule will involve ongoing participation throughout the semester, other events are scheduled as well. Planning for the year-long celebration began last fall and funding has come from sponsors throughout the community.
Though some of the details have yet to be figured out for future events, the planning committee is pleased with how the kickoff celebration turned out.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Paula Elias, Axiom President and event and activities consultant for the anniversary celebration. “Our goal was to bring everyone together — everyone from maintenance to the deans to students — and really start to understand what it means to be 175 years old.”