January 21, 2013
University's sesquicentennial and land-grant roots find prestigious place at presidential inauguration luncheon
An essay by two Kansas State University historians will be part of a special gift that President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and a select group of 200 dignitaries will receive at a luncheon following the president's inauguration address today in Washington, D.C.
Jim Sherow, professor of history, and Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, associate professor of history, are the authors of one of the 10 essays in a commemorative portfolio that was given to attendees of the inauguration lunch, which was hosted by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies at the U.S. Capital. The committee is responsible for the 2013 presidential inaugural ceremonies.
The portfolio celebrates the several noteworthy accomplishments of President Abraham Lincoln's administration 150 years ago through essays written by prominent historians. Essay topics include the Emancipation Proclamation, the Homestead Act, the Transcontinental Railway Act, the Morrill Land-Grant College Act and the Gettsyburg Address.
In July 2012, Jean Bordewich, staff director of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, invited the Sherows to contribute an essay about land-grant colleges and their development of the U.S., pegging it to the 1863 opening of Kansas State University as the first operational land-grant college. Other historians invited to contribute included H.W. Brands, Orville Vernon Burton, James McPherson and Betty Koed.
The Sherows had only four weeks to complete their essay.
"It became one of the most difficult writing assignments that Bonnie and I had ever tackled," Jim Sherow said. "Distilling the essence of such a significant piece of legislation while highlighting K-State's quintessential role in fulfilling the mission of the land-grant act was daunting. We lost track of the number of drafts that we wrote. We had to make every word count."
Their completed essay was submitted to Donald Ritchie, Senate historian in August 2012. After a review by Betty Koed, associate historian of the Senate and a contributor to the portfolio, the essay was accepted for publication.
The Sherows thought their role was finished. But when Bonnie Lynn-Sherow returned to the university after winter break, she found a letter waiting from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. It offered the couple two seats at the inaugural address at the Capitol.
"We told our family that our essay was going to the inauguration, but we weren't," Lynn-Sherow said. "What a surprise to learn that we were invited to attend."
Will Ruder, a Kansas State University alumnus and a former student in Jim Sherow's Kansas history class, was able to pick up the couple's tickets at the Russell Senate Office Building. Ruder now serves as an aide to U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas.
The Sherows flew to Washington, D.C., on Sunday and met with Ruder to collect their passes.
It's no coincidence that Schumer's inaugural committee knew that Kansas State University was the nation's first operational land-grant college. The committee was tipped off by Bordewich's husband, historian Fergus M. Bordewich, who recommended inviting the couple to participate. Fergus Bordewich visited with the Sherows in fall 2010 while in Manhattan to research a Smithsonian article on the Homestead Act. With the help of dinner at Harry's Uptown in Manhattan, the Sherows said they were able to convince the historian of the university's significance to the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862.
"The fact that President Obama and his guests at the luncheon will read about our university on inauguration day is a great start to our sesquicentennial celebration this year," said Lynn-Sherow, who serves on the K-State 150 Committee. "In terms of official recognition for Kansas State's amazing legacy, it doesn't get any better than that."