Remarks from the Sep. 7, 2023, Founders Day Celebration

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Today, we celebrate App State’s one-hundred and twenty-four-year legacy of educational leadership and those who shaped it into the institution it has become.

It is a privilege to join you on this beautiful morning, here on Founders Plaza, as we celebrate our sixth Founders Day and carry on the tradition of honoring our founders — B.B. Dougherty, D.D. Dougherty and Lillie Shull Dougherty.

As always, it is a pleasure to be joined by the descendants of our founders, as we honor the family that envisioned a future where a quality education is accessible to all. Please help me welcome members of the Dougherty family with a round of applause.

I would also like to recognize and welcome past members of our Bell Ringers Society who are in attendance this morning. Thank you for joining us today.

I’d also like to acknowledge those who are joining us via live stream from our Hickory Campus. This day holds special meaning for those students, faculty and staff, who are pioneering our university’s first academic year on our new campus.

As Karl mentioned, a year after dedicating this plaza, we began the tradition of ringing the Founders Bell to commemorate the first day of classes at Watauga Academy in 1899. Our gathering today continues this tradition. It also recognizes a bold and ambitious vision held by our three founders, to help children in North Carolina’s “lost provinces” discover educational opportunities that would match the splendor of the mountains in which they lived. Their dream, which began as Watauga Academy, matured into what is now a nationally recognized, premier, public undergraduate institution.

As we stand on the plaza dedicated in their honor, the sculptures of our three founders serve as an inspiring reminder of their vision, and of how they transformed the future for countless people in our region and beyond.

All of us here understand the power of higher education to change lives. Many of us can recite statistics that show how much more earning power college graduates have. But those of us who are first-generation graduates have lived it — we are the PEOPLE that make up those numbers. We have experienced, firsthand, the difference a college degree makes, not only for ourselves, but for each subsequent generation. This experience makes us even more determined to use our influence to help others, especially students who are from rural areas, low-income families or who must work harder to access educational resources.

A few weeks ago, we celebrated a significant advancement for App State that builds upon the foundation of our founders — further expanding access to the excellence for which App State is known — when we welcomed students to their first day of classes at our Hickory campus. With this new App State campus, we’re able to offer these opportunities to even more people for whom an App State education would not have been an option.

The principles our founders set forth continue to guide us to be the forward-thinking university we are today.  Because of their leadership and their vision for educational excellence, we are changing lives — and changing the world.

In 1899, the Doughertys called students to classes with the ringing of a bell that was housed in the steeple of what was then the Watauga Academy. An iconic symbol of App State’s history, the bell plays a prominent role in our institutional traditions, and stands as a testament to the university's enduring legacy of academic excellence. Students now ring the bell to symbolize the beginning of the academic year, and again upon graduation. Today, we honor our founders’ vision by recognizing individuals who represent our history and our future, and who will, by ringing the Founders Bell, take their place in our university’s history.

As we ring the bell today, its rich tone calls out to all Mountaineers, reminding us of the significance of a vision, one-hundred-and-twenty-four years in the making, to ensure access to education for all.

Thank you for joining us to mark this occasion today.