On Jan. 7, 1889, almost exactly seven years before Utah became a state, Weber Stake Academy opened its doors. The institution served nearly 200 students during its first academic year. Now, 125 years later, Weber State University serves more than 25,000 students.
Over its long history, WSU has witnessed and experienced many other changes. For instance, its name changed from Weber Stake Academy to Weber Academy, to Weber Normal College, to Weber College, to Weber State College, to Weber State University. In the early 1960s, its campus moved from downtown Ogden to its current location on Harrison Boulevard. In 2003, WSU opened its Davis campus in Layton, where a new classroom building was dedicated in 2013. Students who attend college at WSU Davis can take a variety of general courses or earn a degree in any one of 17 programs.
One thing hasn't changed, however: WSU's commitment to teaching excellence. Our faculty members also engage in excellent research and scholarship, but great teaching remains our top priority.
In the first few weeks of my presidency, I quickly came to understand that WSU faculty members thrive on giving students the individual attention they need to be successful. Technology plays an increasingly important role in higher education, but enriching students' lives is the part of their job that our professors and instructors love most.
As an open-enrollment university, WSU's contribution to the state is a vital one: it offers the chance for a better life. The university has always prided itself on opening the door to dreams.
Those realized dreams could be that of Damian Lillard, 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year, or concert pianist Fan-Ya Lin, who is now a graduate student at Juilliard. Just as important are first-generation college students who find an open door and an outstanding education. Success leads to success, and multiple generations of families have attended WSU and gone on to pursue their dreams.
When students come to WSU prepared to work hard, they can earn a university degree. Nothing, least of all money, should get in their way. Overall, WSU students graduate with the least amount of debt of any public institution in the state.
WSU makes dreams even more accessible through programs such as Dream Weber, which provides full tuition and fees for lower-income students by combining federal and state grants with funds from generous private donors.
WSU has grown so much from its humble beginnings 125 years ago. It has become one of Utah's pillars of higher education and stands out among its peer institutions throughout the nation.
On its 125th anniversary Tuesday, WSU will announce the public phase of a comprehensive campaign to raise $125 million to help secure students' futures for the next 125 years and beyond.
I'm asking everyone to wear purple on that day whether you are WSU alumni or simply recognize the positive role the university has played in Utah.
As WSU's president, I invite you all to celebrate with us. For one day, let's all be Wildcats!
Charles Wight is president of Weber State University.