Celebrating the Turkish Centennial and RC's 160th Anniversary

2023 constitutes an auspicious year for RC: Not only is it the Centennial of the Turkish Republic to which RC contributed countless thinkers, leaders, and trailblazers, it is also the 160th year in RC’s proud history.

In its 160-year journey, RC both witnessed the founding of the Republic and contributed to the enlightenment of Turkey in countless ways. Going back to the beginning of the Republic, it is a source of pride that members of the RC community were active in the very founding of it, participating in the Lausanne talks in 1923: Most prominently Hüseyin Pektaş RC 1903, as personal interpreter and secretary of İsmet İnönü; and Saffet Şav and Cami Baykut - both of whom later taught at RC - as delegates.


Among the Turkish delegates at the Lausanne Conference were members of the RC community, including Hüseyin Pektaş RC 1903

As the new country was fast establishing its institutions, RC was educating arguably its best human resources in those foundational years. Indeed the science and engineering education at RC was considered top-notch. In the beginning of the 1920s a medical school was founded at ACG in Bingham Hall in cooperation with the American Hospital. Though it didn’t last long due to financial problems, it is still a testament to the dedication of the school in contributing to the young Republic’s needs.

Applied and theoretical agriculture and animal husbandry were among the valued topics both at RC and ACG. Importance was attached to agriculture as one of the greatest needs of the country, and RC graduates were among the leading figures of the Republic in this field.

RC’s reputation in sciences continued to be strong over the next decades. Turkey's first "electronic brain" was established in RC in 1958. Prof. Necmi Tanyolaç's research at RC produced the world's first "odor meter". This invention, which attracted NATO's attention, was patented internationally. One of Turkey's first computers was donated to RC by IBM in 1965.

Atatürk’s credo of “healthy body, healthy mind” had intrinsically been a part of the RC culture. Indeed sports was an important aspect of the RC experience as early as the 1900s. RC and ACG provided opportunities in sports ranging from archery to field hockey. In fact, RC was the first venue where basketball was played in Turkey. Many RC and ACG alumni went on to become important national and international athletes and role models. One such example is Halet Çambel ACG 35, who, while studying archeology at Sorbonne University, participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in fencing upon Atatürk's special request and became Turkey’s first female Olympian.

The intellectual climate of RC contributed to the development of arts, publishing, and civil service in Turkey. RC and ACG were prominent in music and theater throughout the history of the Republic and raised countless artists. Teachers such as Hilary Sumner-Boyd, Charles MacNeal, and Dorothy İz played a major role in the birth and shaping of this tradition.

Publishing has historically been an important part of the RC experience, with the students producing high quality newspapers and periodicals, learning about self-expression, healthy debate and objective reporting along the way. Archeology and natural history were also always prized; the archeology museum at ACG and natural history museum at RC introduced students to examples from the rich heritage of Anatolia.

The RC Student Council, present since the early days of RC’s 160-year history, enabled students to develop democratic and social sensitivities while participating in school management. Initially called the RC Student Union, it carried its activities to other schools, and by the 1930s, it had begun to collaborate with students of various schools and spread the tradition of democracy. Decades later, there were three RC graduates at the conference establishing the United Nations: Hazım Atıf Kuyucak RC 1917 (Turkey), Nureddin Kahalle RC 1929 (Syria) and Dr. Shafaq (Iraq).

Robert College Student Council, 1925

Indeed the Republic’s and RC’s history are intertwined. The exhibition curated by Cem Akaş RC 86 (and which showcased many of the facts highlighted above) showed just how connected they are in a comprehensive manner full of striking visuals. The materials from the exhibition can be seen here. Today RC continues to be a bastion of the Republic’s values.

The Making of the RC 100th Year Anthem

The RC 100th year anthem caused waves among the RC community, when it was first released. Everyone felt proud and uplifted. Of course it took a lot of hard work to create such an excellent piece. 

At first, there was a contest for students to submit lyrics, which was won by L12 student Baran Bilginer. Bilginer says his inspiration for the lyrics came from the 10th Year Anthem. Music teacher Koray Demirkapı, who wrote the music, states that he had a melody in mind, and Baran’s lyrics gave the inspiration continue with it. Baran and Demirkapı re-wrote the lyrics together to suit the melody.

Demirkapı worked on the music with a friend from Koç Lisesi, Gürsel Türker, over the summer. RC Guitar Club advisor Ant Şimşek adapted it to the orchestra with some additions and beauty. RC Orchestra leader and conductor Deniz Baysal worked with the orchestra to learn and perform it. The song was performed and recorded by the RC Orchestra and RC Singers after carefully rehearsing it. Demirkapı underlines that the student input and effort were remarkable. The students enjoyed singing the anthem which was the best gift for Demirkapı.

Listen to the anthem on Youtube and Spotify

Celebrations Around Campus

RC celebrated the Centennial and its own 160th anniversary in colorful ways all around campus this year, reinforcing all the causes for celebration, by integrating them to the intellectual endeavors of the students. Here is a peek at what took place in the first semester.

Centennial Speaker Series

Throughout the year, subject area experts will speak to students about different aspects of the Republic. The series began with a talk on October 27 given by Fuat Keyman, Sabancı University Administrator, who spoke about Atatürk and the Centennial of the Turkish Republic. The series will continue through the spring semester.

RC’s Library History and Literature Highlights

The library has always been the intellectual heart of RC, and Robert College İbrahim Bodur Library is the latest library in RC’s 160-year- history. Therefore, RC librarians felt it would be interesting to delineate the history of all library locations at RC on a timescale. Librarian Müge Ayma Kelem used Tepedeki Okul (School on the Hill) by Cem Akaş RC 86, Dünyanın Tam Orta Yerinde: Robert Kolej (In the Middle of the World: Robert College) by RC history teacher Önder Kaya, and RC librarian and archivist May Fincancı’s The Story of Robert College, Old and New 1863-1982 as the primary sources, as well as scouring the Boğaziçi University archives. She reviewed Robert College and American College for Girls separately and united their histories in 1971, when the two schools merged.

The library also held an exhibition on Turkish literature, focusing on the writers who dwelled on social problems, injustices and conflicts to help develop Turkish society. Writers featured were selected through the opinions of RC students, teachers, and librarians. Assistant Head Librarian Atakan Aydın states that the exhibition underlines how literature encourages differences in opinions, lifestyles, experiences, cultures, and questions and thus aids societal development.

Celebration of Poetry and Theater

Working together with the Poetry Club, the English Department celebrated the poets of RC, of which there are many in RC’s 160-year history. The first event was kicked off with the poetry of none other than Head of School Adam Oliver. Furthermore, In the second semester, the RC Theater Company will perform excerpts from up to twelve plays performed over the last 100 years at RC. These include classics like Shakespeare’s Twelfthth Night, first performed in 1928, Brecht’s Life of Galileo performed in 1973, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1994) and Legally Blonde, Jr. (2017). Actors will take on a multitude of roles, and surprises are in store, including a few appearances by teachers.

Atatürk’s Contributions to Math

Incredibly, Atatürk translated a French geometry book during the War of Independence. It was only fitting that the Math Department displayed a video about Atatürk’s interest in math and geometry at the Commons Amphitheatre during lunch periods in the first semester. The students also prepared a display about Republic mathematicians, highlighting one mathematician every week.

Alumni Talks on Republic Values

The Turkish Language and Literature Department wanted to introduce students to notable alumni who are keeping the Republic spirit alive today. Among these alumni are Damla Doğan Tuncel  RC 07 speaking on the subject of Contemporary Women and the Republic, Nigar Alemdar ACG 66 on Aşiyan and Tevfik Fikret, and Yeşim Özsoy RC 90 on theater.  

Students Present Highlights of the Republic

Social Studies L12 students created brochures that reviewed each decade of the Republic in terms of events, prominent people and political, cultural and economic developments. Not only did they create the content, but they also designed their brochures and oversaw the printing process.

Celebrating Sports

The PE Department has always been proud of RC’s long sports history. This year, they have been drawing the students’ attention to panels in the gym stairway from RC’s 150th anniversary exhibition which recognizes physical education and sport in RC’s long history. Activities such as 100 skips, 100 hula hoops and 100 steps on the stepmaster were some of the thematic celebrations in PE classes.

Science in the New Republic

The Science Department is displaying Turkish scientists of the early Republic era, and science clubs are highlighting Atatürk quotes and contributions, according to the nature of each club. 

Celebrating 160 Years of RC Through Graphic Design

L11 and L12 Graphic Design students, as part of their traditional intaglio printmaking techniques unit, engraved acetate sheets with dry point needles and printed them on paper. The aim for the project was to combine an image of RC with the numbers 160 or 2024 (if they were seniors). As resource images, they were free to use or be inspired by the photography archive presented on the RC website or take a photo themselves in a place that they feel represents the school the most. 

Creative Projects in French and German

The Foreign Language Department found creative ways for students to use their French and German skills in this historical, once in a lifetime context. French 4 students wrote imaginary letters in French by famous Turkish artists and writers who studied in France in the 1920s and 1930s. German 3 students wrote diary entries in German in which they imagined waking up on October 29, 1923, when the Republic had just been founded. German Advanced groups researched how German people contributed to the Turkish Republic, including many university professors and scientists who immigrated to Turkey during World War II.

Level 1 French and German students expressed what they loved most about Robert College through colorful drawings and short sentences, and these multi-lingual love letters were displayed as flags on the wall in the Suna Kıraç Theatre alcove. The French club, Le Circle Français, created a map of Turkey filled with many of the Turkish words which originated from the French language. French teacher Jo Ann Vigen sums up the source of this creativity perfectly: “There is a French word “patrimoine” which encompasses history, heritage, and a sense of grateful belonging. Our celebrations this fall have given our students a sense of all of that.” 

RC Green Kids Cumhuriyet Forest Established

RC Green Kids of İstanbul is a student-led initiative that aims to raise awareness and fight deforestation in Istanbul and Turkey, while also spreading happiness to the youth by helping them be grateful for what they have. The initiative achieves this purpose by organizing campaigns and fundraisers, planting trees in and outside of school, and organizing a variety of events such as free dress days to raise awareness and funds. The idea of creating a forest started during the previous school year as a memorial for the graduating 12th-grade students and the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Berra Vatansever L10, Sena Güzelsevdi L11 and Hasan Mert Özarslan L11 state that they had to postpone the fundraiser due to the earthquakes last year: “Fortunately, with the huge help of our PTA and alumni and the students of RC, we were able to collect the amount needed and reach our goal. Now we have a forest to go to and visit. We are hoping to organize a trip in the spring to our forest with our interested seniors.”

Indeed gratitude is a key word in all these celebrations: Gratitude for democracy and modernity. Gratitude for the opportunity to have an excellent education and hence a chance to contribute to the greater good. Gratitude for the strength of our connections, traditions and values as the RC community.

Published January 2024

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