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PIONEER EDITORIAL: Bemidji State's impact on community is immense

Bemidji State University students perform a dance during the school's centennial kickoff event Thursday at the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

When Bemidji won out over Thief River Falls and Cass Lake to become the home of Minnesota's next state teachers college 100 years ago, the community's future was set on a new course.

The cultural, intellectual, economic and entertainment and impact of Bemidji Normal School are immense.

Of course, Bemidji Normal School became Bemidji State Teachers College in 1921, then Bemidji State College in 1957, then Bemidji State University in 1975.

The school was chartered by the Minnesota State Legislature in response to a growing need for public school teachers. Educator training was its main curriculum at the start.

BSU now has an enrollment of more than 5,300 undergraduate and graduate students, with baccalaureate degrees in a wide range of fields, master's degrees in arts and sciences and an array of online learning options.

In the early years, most students came from nearby communities. Today's students come from around the region, the country and the world.

The school's centennial observance began Thursday with a glorious kickoff event in the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex. It was the first of an 18-month-long celebration leading up to the 100th anniversary of the first classes (with 38 students) in 1919.

At Thursday's event, Trustee (and former state legislator) Roger Moe brought greetings from the Minnesota State system. BSU President Faith Hensrud gave a keynote address. Senior student Tess Heyer spoke of her experiences at the school.

"The history we are here to honor and celebrate is not some faraway land or parallel universe," Hensrud said in her remarks. "In fact, every day as we go about our business on this remarkable campus, we are walking in the very footsteps of the generations who came before us."

The most impressive part of the kickoff was a four-part video series of the school's history, each part followed by musical and dance performances by the BSU Blue Ice Jazz Band, the Bemidji Choir and the BSU Dance Team with alums Suzy and Hondo Langhout. The talents of these young people and their mentors is incredible.

The videos took the audience on a trip down memory lane dating back to when trees were being cleared so that what is now Deputy Hall could be built.

The kickoff also included tributes to the school's American Indian students and programs. An honor song was performed by freshmen Brandon Quagon and Keveon Kingbird, and a cultural dance was performed by student Ningozis White. Hensrud began and ended her keynote with Ojibwe greetings.

Organizers of the event made certain to acknowledge students, former BSU presidents, current and former faculty members, alumni and guests, including Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht.

Later in the day, the university formally dedicated the area between upper and lower Hobson Memorial Unions as Centennial Plaza.

The community can watch for subsequent centennial events over the next 18 months as the university proudly observes its first 100 years.