Discussion focuses on Elon’s ‘rise from the ashes’ during the last century

Vice President Emerita Nan Perkins, Vice President Emeritus Gerald Whittington and Chaplain Emeritus Richard McBride were panelists for the discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 28 in McKinnon Hall.

During the last 100 years, Elon University has undergone significant changes. Enrollment has grown exponentially, buildings have blossomed and the campus has expanded.

But as Elon continues to evolve, the three panelists of the “1923-2023: A Century of Innovation” discussion would love to see the spirit of the institution stay unchanged in the years ahead.

Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book, center, with others gathered for the panel discussion.

“I’d like to see the spirit of the place remain, more or less, constant,” said Chaplain Emeritus Richard McBride during the discussion in McKinnon Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 28. “There are innovations of many types — buildings, programs and so forth. But I’ve been impressed that Elon’s spirit is about the same as it was when I arrived.”

The other panelists — Vice President Emerita Nan Perkins and Vice President Emeritus Gerald Whittington — echoed McBride’s sentiments.

“All of the financial comparisons that you might make between then and now are important,” Whittington said, who served as vice president of business, finance and technology. “But the thing that impressed me the most was the quality of the people here.”

The panel was a part of the yearlong commemoration and celebration of the resilience and rebuilding of Elon after the 1923 fire, “Rising from the Ashes: A Century of Innovation.”

Perkins, who served as vice president for institutional advancement as well as vice president for enrollment management during her career at Elon, said that the people, more specifically, Elon students, are the reason all of the university’s faculty and staff do the work they do.

“Elon is not a bunch of buildings, Elon is people. And students are the most important, they’re the reason we’re all here,” Perkins said.

Student Government Association President Nadine Jose ’23 moderated the panel, and asked each panelist a variety of questions from their favorite place on campus to their favorite Elon memories to their favorite traditions.

Among Whittington’s fondest Elon memories are the men’s and women’s basketball games against UNC-Chapel Hill in 2018 in the newly opened Schar Center. The 160,000-square-foot Schar Center is Elon’s largest facility and to have competed against a powerhouse such as UNC was something Whittington said couldn’t have dreamed of when he arrived in 1992.

“What a moment and … what a transformation of an institution. I was pleased to have been a part of it,” he said.

Since retirement, Perkins said her favorite location on campus is the front porch of Mooney Building. The spot symbolizes a lot of what makes Elon special — a picturesque view of campus, with both the iconic staples and the new additions, and the opportunity to interact with the community members walking through.

“Bruce and I live a mile and a half from Elon. We walk over all the time in good weather, go to The Oak House, get ourselves a cup of coffee and sit on the front porch of Mooney and talk to everybody who comes by,” Perkins said.

A student asks the panelists a question during the discussion about how Elon has evolved in the last 100 years.

McBride said the Festival of Lights and Luminaries is his favorite of Elon’s traditions, one that many students, faculty, staff and community members also hold as their favorite. McBride began the tradition after realizing that Elon’s Christian-centric holiday celebrations excluded many students of various faiths once a Jewish student asked if he could wish her and the other Jewish students a happy Hanukkah.

“That was a clear recognition that the community needs to broaden its understanding of who it was. So, began to do that and the Luminaries [event] was a way of expanding the holiday season beyond its Christian beginnings to embrace all of us,” McBride said.

The three panelists were asked what advice they would give to current Elon students. Each encouraged students to take in as much as possible during their time at Elon.

“Give what you have learned here and stay connected. Make this a better place for the students who come behind you. You’re part of it now, you always will be part of it. This will be your alma mater, … you will be a part of this all of your life. So take advantage of that and make the world a better place. You’ve been trained to do that,” Perkins said.

The next opportunity to commemorate the 1923 anniversary will be on Tuesday, March 7, for the 10th annual Elon Day. In 1923, donors helped Elon rise from the ashes after a devastating campus fire. A century later, the Elon community carries on that generous spirit by supporting students on Elon Day.

For a full list of 1923 Fire Centennial Observances, visit the 1923 Commemoration webpage.