University celebrates occasion with renaming, ceremony
Students, faculty, and staff woke up Wednesday morning to the unprecedented news that former industrialist William S. Dietrich II had announced his intention to gift a $265 million fund to Carnegie Mellon University.
The gift, which becomes effective upon his passing, is the largest donation to Carnegie Mellon in the university’s history, and one of the largest gifts by an individual to a private education institution in the United States.
In honor of the gift from the Pittsburgh native and Carnegie Mellon trustee, the university held a surprise day of festivities Wednesday and announced the renaming of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences to the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The celebration began at 11 a.m. with a ceremonial announcement in a tent on the Cut, where distinguished guests — including Board of Trustees Chairman Ray Lane, Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon, and Dietrich himself — addressed the crowd. A selection of students from all colleges were invited to attend the announcement; they gathered at the Fence, where they received T-shirts to commemorate the day’s events.
During the ceremony, Dietrich spoke of his affection for Carnegie Mellon and his faith that its students and faculty members would continue to break barriers with its interdisciplinary thinking and complex problem-solving strategies.
“This university puts Pittsburgh on anybody’s world map of great research cities,” Dietrich said. “Brilliant people come here as students and faculty, and their presence in our community adds something extraordinary.”
Initially, Dietrich did not specify for the funds to go to any one particular college or purpose. “But keeping in mind Bill Dietrich’s own interests [in history], we named the College of Humanities and Social Sciences for him, and we expect a substantial portion of the gift will go to support H&SS,” Cohon said in an interview.
A plaque dedicated to Dietrich’s mother, new H&SS namesake Marianna Brown Dietrich, was unveiled at the ceremony and will be mounted in the entrance of Baker Hall.
Dietrich shared a few personal anecdotes about his mother and family with the ceremony’s attendees.
“One of my more notable exploits was setting off a firecracker in a pencil sharpener. The air was fogged with pencil shavings,” delivered a straight-faced Dietrich in front of the audience. ”Pulling my bacon out of the fire in the pencil sharpener escapade was one of my mother’s finest hours.”
Students presented the donor with a model of the Fence, painted with the words “Thank You, Bill,” identical to the Fence’s actual veneer Wednesday. Following the official announcement ceremony, students surrounded the real Fence for a series of commemorative photographs with university leaders.
After photos were taken, several students and special guests attended an invite-only luncheon in Rangos Hall. Guests were served a three-course meal, catered by CulinArt, and watched a presentation that featured Dietrich’s friends and colleagues speaking of his accomplishments.
During the remainder of the day, the Carnegie Mellon administration surprised students and faculty with free memorabilia, food, and drinks to commemorate the day. The celebration ended at 8 p.m. with a free outdoor concert featuring the band Guster and a fireworks show.
“Activities Board was in charge of arranging things for the Guster concert,” said Joe Burgess, a senior information systems major and one of the heads of AB Tech. “We weren’t told much about the event; the university did a really good job keeping the various events a surprise.”
Despite the short notice given, student attendance was high throughout the day’s events.
“While our aspirations were incredibly high for this event, I think I can confidently say that it surpassed every one of our expectations,” Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno stated via an email interview. “The genuine excitement from our student body and entire university community was palpable throughout the day. I was deeply touched by students’ reflections on Mr. Dietrich’s speech and by their interactions with him at the morning’s events.”
While the ceremony may be over, Dietrich’s gift is still yet to come.
“The important thing to understand is that Bill Dietrich’s vision is long term,” said John Lehoczky, dean of H&SS. “On Bill Dietrich’s death, which will happen sometime in the future — I hope a while — this trust will be created.... The draws that are coming from the Dietrich trust will be relatively small ... so the Dietrich fund has a chance to grow at a faster rate.”