Stanford prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary

The university community will be invited to celebrate Stanford's 125th anniversary beginning this fall. Nicole Sunahara, who heads the 125th anniversary office, invites campus departments and programs to collaborate on the upcoming celebrations.

Kate Chesley Nicole Sunahara

Nicole Sunahara, director of special initiatives in Stanford's Office of Public Affairs, is in charge of the university's 125th-anniversary celebration.

As Stanford approaches its 125th anniversary, plans are under way for a yearlong celebration to mark the occasion.  Nicole Sunahara, director of special initiatives in the Office of Public Affairs, is heading the effort. She recently talked about the plans.

What are the plans so far for celebrating the 125th anniversary?

We're working with many campus partners to create events, projects and activities that will start this fall and culminate on Oct. 1, 2016 – the 125th anniversary of Stanford's opening day. The first event this October, for instance, is "Thinking Big About Learning," a symposium designed to illustrate Stanford's role in studying and promoting learning. We're also working on a website with historic features and on-campus signs that highlight Stanford milestones. And we have a terrific graphic identity on Stanford's website that we'd love to begin sharing.

What are the objectives of the celebration?

We want to use this celebration to tell the university's compelling story at what we see as a significant time in its history. We want to document the university's transformative impact on the world over the past 125 years by highlighting what makes it distinct and its people successful and look to its equally promising future.

How will this celebration be similar or different from the 100th anniversary in 1991?

A 125th anniversary doesn't carry quite the magnitude of a centennial, but it can have its own spirit and tone. As we did in 1991, we'll celebrate the university's excellences in areas ranging from academics to research to athletics to student life. But our timeframe – fall 2015 to fall 2016 – is shorter than the centennial, which extended several years. It also included a fundraising aspect, and this celebration does not. Another difference is our ability today to leverage digital media. We plan to use new technologies to connect and tell stories in ways people couldn't do 25 years ago.

What type of outreach have you done so far and what good ideas have you gotten?

We've met with a wide range of people – faculty, staff, students and alumni – to learn how the 125th might complement other plans. The celebration will be very much in keeping with Stanford's interdisciplinary culture. It's an initiative that cuts across the university in so many ways, and so far, people have reacted with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It's been gratifying to see people in such areas as community service, the arts, computer science, history, athletics and human resources think about how they can mark this milestone. One great idea from an Earth sciences professor is to repurpose a mobile app he developed for earthquake study to make the campus signage project a multimedia experience. Another idea is to share maps over time on our website so alumni can see how the campus has changed since they were Stanford students.

What kind of collaboration are you still seeking?

We want everyone to be part of the celebration, whether online or in person. I would love to help campus organizations integrate 125th anniversary activities in their upcoming plans, and I invite colleagues to email me at I hope people feel excited about being a part of this moment in Stanford's history. In the coming year, we'll see the fruition of a lot of collaboration, construction and initiatives, and we'll have a chance to celebrate the president's leadership. It's an exciting time to be at Stanford.