Founders’ Day changes through the years

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Throughout the years, Founders’ Day has brought a sense of unity to Harrisites, allowing them to appreciate the values that Townsend Harris was founded upon. It is a tradition that has been upheld since 1984 and remains a unique part of the THHS experience. Since the first Founders’ Day, many aspects of the event have remained the same, though the modern Founders’ Day has grown to incorporate many new elements in the time-honored tradition.  

Joseph Merino, currently an Assistant to the Director of the Queens College Preparatory Programs, was among the first graduating class of the reopened THHS in 1988. In regard to the  traditions that still exist today, Mr. Merino said that “there were some student musical performances; however, nothing like the contemporary tradition of humorous skits and such.”

He added that there were several important speeches made on the first Founder’s Day. “We had numerous alumni, politicians, and administrators from Queens College & the NYC Board of Education who had fought to get our school reopened, so there were stories of political controversy and public arguments on pedagogy, but mostly tales of the joys and long-lasting effects of having been a student at the original Townsend Harris.” 

Physical Education teacher Lauren Caiaccia, class of 1992, also remembers her first Founders’ Day as a student. “We were in the old building which is where RFK High School on Parsons Boulevard is at and we walked from Parsons Boulevard to Colden Auditorium. It was very ceremonial,” she said. 

The classic roll call was not introduced until after Townsend Harris moved to its current location. “Roll call started after I was in school. I think that Ms. Solomon, who was the assistant principal [at the time], started roll call in the new building era,” she said.

Another Founders’ tradition, the recitation of the Ephebic Oath, has existed since the school’s earliest days. “The Ephebic Oath was passed down from the original Townsend Harris alumni to the students, faculty, and staff of the new Townsend Harris High School at Queens College — ensuring that, in all we do, we try to leave a place better and greater than we found it,” Mr. Merino said.

 “I remember in Writing Process, learning the Ephebic Oath and then saying it for the first time at Founders’ Day,” World Language Teacher and class of 2006 alum Christopher Amanna said. “The Ephebic Oath [still remains the same]. There’s always a keynote speaker, there was always a musical piece, and the band always did the national anthem.”

Science teacher Sarah Loew, class of 2006, remembers doing the annual Founders’ Day Food Drive and the “Election Simulation candy line going into Colden where the seniors [were] trying to bribe their voters.” Ms. Loew said that over the years, there has been an increase in student led initiatives, as well as many more performances. 

Social Studies Teacher and class of 2015 alumna Nicole Gleizer recalled her Founders’ Day experience during her years at Townsend Harris. “For the most part it [has] stayed very consistent…the first [tradition] is to dress up… the skit has also remained an integral part, and the chorus under the direction of Ms. Sato has remained the same,” she said.

Last year, a new trivia game about the history of Townsend Harris was added to the program. Senior Kelvin Yip said, “The trivia was a fun activity, and it was funny to see the audience get frustrated with the players. It was a good way to test how little, or how much, we knew about our school.”

“The traditions remain the same but they are revamped every year, so there’s always a new twist that comes on it… it’s been evolved over time into being more relatable,” Ms. Gleizer said. 

“We have this rich history, and we have this rich culture,” Mr. Amanna said. “It’s something special that other schools don’t have, and it’s nice that we honor it.”

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