Happy Birthday, Mr. President!
Although a French man, Fr. Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame, was quick to embrace American patriotism. It is no coincidence that Washington Hall was named after the first President of the United States.
Notre Dame began organizing George Washington Birthday celebrations shortly after its 1842 founding. The events often would consist of musical concerts and theatrical productions from Notre Dame student associations and lectures and speeches from faculty and visitors.
At the turn of the 20th century, a flag presentation was added to the Exercises. An American flag was blessed and flown from Commencement throughout the next year. By the mid-1900s, attendance at the Washington Day Exercises was required by Seniors in order to graduate.
In 1954, Notre Dame established the Patriot of the Year Award, presented by the Senior Class. The Seniors would vote from a list of prominent nominees and the award winner generally would speak at the Washington Day Exercises. The award winners included Senator John F. Kennedy, Astronaut John Glenn, and Comedian Bob Hope. See the entire list of winners here.
By the early 1970s, the mandatory, theatrical Washington Day celebrations had mostly subsided and there are no longer grand celebrations on campus. “The Exercises through the years have aided many students in the formation of firm ideas about their obligations to the community. The Washington Day Exercises constitute a public and formal acknowledgment of ‘God, Country, and Notre Dame.” [programs from the late 1950s to early 1960s in PNDP 70-Wa-01]