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SEMO kicks off yearlong sesquicentennial celebration

Confetti falls as a birthday present opens up revealing the letters S-E-M-O, balloons saying “150” and a table piled high with sesquicentennial t-shirts to be given away. Standing to the right of present can be seen University President Carlos Vargas and Student Body President Joel Philpott (foreground, clapping). Photo by Gregory Dullum

With music, dancing, speeches, giveaways, game booths, and a loud bang to introduce falling confetti (not to mention a gigantic birthday cake), Southeast Missouri State University kicked off its sesquicentennial — its 150 year celebration — last Wednesday, March 22.

A threat of rain moved the festivities inside the University Center from its planned location at Academic Hall with a street fair on Normal Street.

At 11:30 a.m., the celebration began with the Red-hawks marching band playing several rousing songs from the fourth floor. The music pounded its way through the atrium to the third floor where Redhawks cheerleaders shook pom-poms and shouted cheers around a large sheet cake.

Speaking from a stairway landing between the third and fourth floors to the crowd gathered below, Student Body President Joel Philpott welcomed everyone to the celebration. “Today Southeast Missouri State University turns 150 years old,” he said. “Today represents 150 years of students finding themselves, pursuing their dreams, and making memories alongside lifelong friends. For many, Southeast is where their lives began taking shape; where people discovered their passions, started their families, met their best friends and felt a sense of belonging grow. Today we celebrate 150 years of student success, 150 years of career success, 150 years of growth and prosperity, and most of all, 150 years of memories and meaningful experiences.”

Tina Klocke, president of the SEMO Board of Governors, noted that more than 90,000 alumni have graduated from Southeast during its 150 years. She said Southeast has “served our region, developing a skilled and professional work force. It has evolved constantly to meet the area’s educational needs, and it has become a leader in developing groundbreaking academic programs and helping students launch extraordinary careers.”

“Southeast Missouri State University has served this region and the State of Missouri for 150 years today,” stated Carlos Vargas, president of the university, “and we are committed to do so for at least 150 years more.” He spoke of Southeast’s commitment to continue to provide a quality education for its students.

The three speakers joined others, including Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs, on the third floor, where they opened a giant present sitting next to the cake. With a bang, the sides and top of the present flew open, revealing the four letters “S-E-M-O.” Mylar balloons forming the numeral “150” shot upward until they reached the end of their strings. Confetti fell from the floor above as music played.

Inside the present was a table stacked high with rolled-up sesquicentennial t-shirts. These were tossed to the audience.

The alma mater was sung and students from the dance and theater department danced as students and guests walked among numerous fair booths featuring information, games, activities and giveaways. This opening celebration lasted until 1:30 p.m.
The yearlong celebration will conclude with a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Shortly before this ceremony began, Jackson May-or Hahs signed and presented a proclamation to President Vargas.

The proclamation tells some of the history of Southeast. The university was founded on March 22, 1873, as the Third District Normal School. (Schools for training teachers were called “Normal Schools.) The site in Cape Girardeau was selected on Dec. 1, 1873, and a new building was completed and accepted by the Board of Regents on April 21, 1875.

The first diplomas were awarded in 1875.

Construction on the new Academic Hall was begun in the fall of 1903. A year later, the school fielded its first football team.

The name was changed to Southeast Missouri State Teachers College in 1919. The first homecoming celebration was in 1920.

Southeast was home to many other firsts: the first radio station in Southeast Missouri (WSAB) in 1923; the first Greek organization came to the campus in 1951; the first African-American students were enrolled in 1954; the campus security force began in 1960; a campus TV station began in 1980; the first woman president of the university was Kala Stroup in 1990; and Redhawk athletics transitioned from NCAA Division II to Division I in 1991.

The university changed names twice since 1919. It was shortened to Southeast Missouri State College in 1946 and to its current name in 1973.

The Southeast Missouri University Foundation held a “Giving Day” to coincide with the birthday celebration. It was the biggest Giving Day ever; there were 1,107 donations totaling $305,892. This was more than double the goal of $150,000 and far exceeded the previous record for a Giving Day of $36,000.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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