Rodney the Ram rides in the 2015 VCU Homecoming parade.

Homecoming 2015: Celebrating our legacy

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Rodney the Ram rides in the 2015 VCU Homecoming parade.

The institution that would become Virginia Commonwealth University began in 1838 in the old Union Hotel, at Main and 19th streets in downtown Richmond.

Its founding filled a great need: Even though it was the nation’s third-largest state at that time, Virginia had only one medical school. Most aspiring physicians had to go elsewhere for training, typically to Northern schools and universities. (One of the school’s early deans, Levin Joynes, wrote that a medical school in Richmond would “stop the tide of southern youth and southern treasure which sets ever to the North.”)

On Nov. 1, 1838, 46 students — 40 of them from Virginia — enrolled at what would become known as the Medical College of Virginia. Fourteen of them graduated in April and sat for the M.D. exam.

Almost 80 years later, in July 1917, a young woman named Mary Dupuy left her home in western Virginia to enroll at the newly chartered Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health, opened on the third floor of a red-brick residence adjacent to the Governor’s Mansion and across Broad Street from MCV.

She became the first student at the social work school, which would later be called the Richmond Professional Institute and by the early 1960s, would grow to be the largest college in Virginia by enrollment.

In 1968, state lawmakers merged MCV and RPI, creating Virginia Commonwealth University. In the years since, we have become one of America’s premier urban public research universities, focused on teaching, research, engagement and health care that advance the human experience in Richmond and beyond.

This weekend and throughout next week, as we come together to celebrate homecoming, we mark the history and legacy of our great university. From humble beginnings has risen a university that is changing the world in profound ways. That is because, for generations, our faculty and staff members, students and alumni have committed that they will use what they learn, discover and create at MCV, RPI or VCU to help people everywhere live better, longer and more meaningful lives.

What began in 1838 in an old hotel on a dusty street corner, and in a three-story home tucked away on Capitol Square in 1917, is changing the world in 2015. That is the profound legacy we celebrate this week.

As we welcome so many alumni back home, back to the great university they helped build, we also celebrate what’s still to come for our university. VCU will continue to progress as a research university whose people are known around the world for excellence, gritty determination and an unrelenting mission to discover, create and innovate in ways that no one else ever has.

As I reflect on Homecoming 2015, I am proud of our rich history and all we have accomplished as one university with one mission. But I am most excited about what is still left for us to do, in the 21st century and beyond. What will happen at VCU in the years to come will change the world in ways I cannot imagine.

And that’s worth a legacy celebrating.