It is not unusual to hear me introduce myself as a fourth-generation Boilermaker.
My grandfather’s uncle was a professor at Purdue in the early 20th century, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when my grandparents — both natives of Louisville — found themselves in West Lafayette in June 1946.
They were newly married, and my grandad was ready to begin his studies, thanks to the G.I. Bill. When they brought their first-born home from the hospital, they bundled him up to sleep in a chest of drawers. Their first home was married student housing: the barracks.
Date nights consisted of family trips to Purdue (Lambert) Fieldhouse for basketball games. And yes, they were there that tragic night in 1947 when the bleachers collapsed.
That little baby grew into a bright young man from Kentucky, following in his father’s footsteps as an aspiring Purdue engineer. Meanwhile, an enthusiastic young lady in Indianapolis was learning that, much to her surprise, women could go to Purdue. Even better? They could major in the subjects that she loved the most — history and political science — while getting a secondary teaching certificate. Her father told her she could always get a job as a teacher!
Much changed from the year these two arrived at Purdue, when women couldn’t wear pants in the Purdue Memorial Union and curfews were strictly enforced in Wood Hall. Come graduation, my mom had watched the Indiana National Guard march up University Boulevard right past her sorority house, students were napping together in the Union, and future educators were told that 50 percent of them would never find a teaching job.
My turn! I just wanted to be part of a legacy, our family tradition. So there was no question that I would find myself in West Lafayette, a Boilermaker, following in my mom’s footsteps in the School of Liberal Arts.
The Liberal Arts and Education Building was one of the fanciest and best-equipped buildings on campus then, though my major most often sent me to Lambert Fieldhouse, and my friends in industrial design attended class in those same barracks that my grandparents called home. I really had no idea then how I was setting my life and career path.
The barracks are gone, and the College of Liberal Arts has become a destination — where students aspire to study at the Lamb School, in the state-of-the-art design facilities and theaters of Pao Hall, and under our inspiring faculty (a second Guggenheim Fellow among them).
Under the leadership of our university president — a product of the liberal arts himself — we are seeing affordability of and access to higher education expand with seven years of frozen tuition, the development of Purdue Global, and our own Degree in 3 program. We are advancing Purdue in ways I couldn’t have even imagined 20 years ago, yet maintaining the same values that allowed my family tradition to begin.
Happy 150th birthday, Purdue. I hope to continue our tradition. And I can’t wait to see what the next 50 years hold.
Missy Lewis (BA 1999, liberal arts; MS 2003, liberal arts) is deputy executive vice president at the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians and is a board member with the Purdue Alumni Association