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Pitzer Participant - Winter 2005

A Mandate to Change the Universe: Honoring John and Virginia Atherton

Called to lead Claremont’s new liberal arts college in 1963, founding President John W. Atherton wrote, “Pitzer was built of dreams. We were the wonder child who came to transform the world.” During the next seven years, aided by his wife and partner, Virginia, President Atherton would recruit a faculty of more than 50 and grow the student body to more than 650. More fundamentally, he would create an academic environment where faculty and students were empowered—to question, to learn, to act. More than 40 years later, Pitzer is still very much the “wonder child,” continually reinventing itself as it endeavors to transform students and, through them, the world around us.

Virginia Atherton
Virginia Atherton, left, enjoys a presentation on the life of her late husband, John, at the Pitzer College staff and faculty holiday party, during which it was announced that the first new residence hall will bear John and Virginia’s names. Below, John and Virginia pose on their wedding day.
Atherton Wedding

In honor of their vision and tireless efforts, Pitzer College will dedicate one of the three new residence halls planned as part of the Residential Life Project to John and Virginia Atherton. This tribute is made possible through the generosity of Board of Trustees Chair Susan Pritzker, who has made an extraordinary gift of $3 million to support the Residential Life Project.

The residence hall naming was announced by President Laura Skandera Trombley at the College’s December Holiday Celebration. At the event, President Trombley noted, “We are pleased that Board Chair Susan Pritzker decided to honor the College by naming a campus building in honor of our distinguished founding president. In so doing, she is manifesting the spirit of generosity for which members of the Pitzer community are known. In my experience every community is sustained and enhanced by those individuals who so unselfishly give for the benefit of others.”

A special highlight of the event was a showing of a very special short video documentary of the Athertons’ involvement with the College. The video, created especially for the event by video and events producer Dan Rose, captured the hearts of everyone in attendance as they shared the special moment with Virginia Atherton. After the video presentation, John and Virginia’s grandson, John, spoke of his family’s gratitude for the role that Pitzer played in his father’s and mother’s lives, and for the honor being bestowed upon them.

The John and Virginia Atherton Residence Hall is expected to break ground in October as part of Phase I of the Residential Life Project, and will be open for students in Fall 2007. The Residential Life Project will implement Pitzer’s Housing Master Plan in three phases during the next 12 to 15 years, resulting in a transformation of the campus.

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