March 04, 2020

Quickly becoming a beloved campus tradition, the annual Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash was bigger and better than ever this year. H-SC celebrated the whimsical life of Dr. Seuss and his legendary characters with Seuss-themed games, obstacle courses, bounce houses, and book giveaways.

Dr Seuss characters high-fiving students from local schoolsKirby Field House buzzed with anticipation as H-SC faculty, staff, and student volunteers awaited the arrival of nearly 1,200 local second graders in late February. The scene inside the gymnasium was a bit different from the usual sea of garnet and gray clad fans cheering the Tigers on to victory. Cherished scenes and familiar quotes from Dr. Seuss’s iconic canon transformed Kirby into a wild and wacky wonderland that celebrated the famed author’s birthday and his enduring contributions to childhood literacy.

Familiar characters such as the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax, and Things One and Two wandered the courts and halls ready to delight and entertain the young scholars. Playing the role of Thing One, Sandy Cooke, H-SC’s director of student affairs operations and civic engagement, was blown away by the students’ reactions. “As I walked by groups of students, I saw them light up because they were meeting their storybook heroes,” Cooke exclaimed. “It was a fun day for kids and adults alike.”

Mrs. Lesley Stimpert, wife of College President Larry Stimpert, introduced the Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash during her inaugural year at Hampden-Sydney. Students who attend the event not only participate in games, obstacle courses, and bounce houses, but also choose their very own party favor from a selection of seven classic Seuss books. 

a boy moving through an abstacle courseAlthough the event is relatively new, Hampden-Sydney has long been dedicated to promoting literacy in the local community. As College president and first lady, Dr. and Mrs. Walter M. Bortz III established early reading campaigns more than 20 years ago. Historically, each college president since has gone into the schools to gift dictionaries to local second graders.

A long-time children’s librarian, Mrs. Stimpert wanted to put a special spin on what the Bortzes began. Thus, the Dr. Seuss Birthday Bash was born. Hosting the action-packed event on campus expands H-SC’s established literacy outreach in two important ways.

First, the field trip to Hampden-Sydney’s campus is some students’ first exposure to a college campus. Giving the children an opportunity to experience a college campus and to interact with current H-SC students firsthand creates a tangible, positive association with college.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

Dr. Seuss

Hampden-Sydney students signing Dr Seuss books for children“It was nice watching my more reserved and quiet kids work on their social skills as they got signatures from all of the student athletes,” said Cumberland County Elementary School second grade teacher Holly Asal, referring to the interactions between her students and the H-SC student athletes who volunteered to autograph each child’s book.

Junior football player AJ Neal reminisced about celebrating Seuss’ birthday as a child but noted, “It was never to this scale.” AJ added, “It was great to see the kids so enthusiastic about choosing their books. Green Eggs and Ham was a definite favorite.”

The students’ ability to select their own book is the second way the birthday bash builds on past Hampden-Sydney outreach efforts. “Allowing children to choose a book is important because they then take ownership,” Mrs. Stimpert explained. “For a lot of these children, the book they get during the birthday bash may be the very first book they’ve ever owned.”

Dr. Seuss's "Thing 1" high fiving a child“Watching my students pick out their books was my favorite part of the day,” Asal beamed. “Our kids work hard every day, but, because of financial reasons, many of them have never had the opportunity to own a brand-new book. They were so excited to choose their own books and they wanted to read and re-read their books the rest of the day. The smiles never left their faces, and that made it extra special for all of us.”

Dr. Seuss once said, “Children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise.” Hampden-Sydney is proud to support children’s literacy and to collaborate with the local community in such an important way. The College would like to thank this year’s birthday bash sponsors—Walmart, Russell Enterprises, and the Passano family—who, by supporting the event, help H-SC send children “off to Great Places!”

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