In 1869, just two years after attaining its statehood, Nebraska chartered a land-grant university in Lincoln.
The move was a gamble for a young prairie town in a sparsely settled state. Only five faculty and 20 university students convened in a single building when the first classes began in 1871, underscoring the audacity of this venture.
The University of Nebraska survived this initial uncertainty. It grew in the coming years. And, now, it’s expanded far beyond its flagship research campus in its capital city to boast 43,020 acres of campuses across the Cornhusker State.
This coming week, the university celebrates a milestone with the 150th anniversary of its charter, signed Feb. 15, 1869. Indeed, this birthday is one worth celebrating, remembering its humble roots on a vast prairie while recognizing its evolution into a research and economic powerhouse for Nebraska.
Various events are scheduled as part of Charter Week on a Lincoln campus that’s expanded far beyond that first structure -- long-since-demolished University Hall, where pigs were kept in the basement and the first students attended classes tuition-free. The commemoration will shine a light on the progress and success of higher education in Nebraska.
From the first two graduates in 1873 to the nearly 300,000 Huskers – and, later, Mavericks, Lopers and Aggies – who have since received degrees, many who studied at NU went on to change the world.
The university has graduated a prime minister, three Nobel laureates and five Cabinet secretaries. Several senators, governors and members of Congress received degrees from the University of Nebraska, as have many influential academic, business, media and scientific leaders. Olympic gold medalists, Super Bowl champions, World Series winners and other world-class athletes competed on campus before earning international glory.
Countless Nebraskans who never reached that level of renown used the education they attained from the university to better themselves, their families and communities. These success stories close to home represent why every $1 invested in the NU system returns $6 in benefits to the state.
That’s why NU’s impact has reached so far in its first 150 years – and will only continue to grow going forward.
To quote UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green from last month’s State of the University address: "Just as we stand on the shoulders of those who came before, they will stand on ours. What an awesome responsibility and opportunity."
It certainly is.
Everything you see today on campuses in Lincoln, Omaha, Kearney and Curtis is built upon this humble history and bold vision shared by some of Nebraska’s earliest leaders.
The same is also true of NU’s future. Whatever the next 150 years – and beyond – hold for the University of Nebraska, its foundation is rooted in those origins and the unimaginable triumph of the foresight realized a century and a half ago.