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Madison – Attached are the remarks made by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz at today’s sesquicentennial kickoff. In addition, the text of the poem read by Andrea Musher, Madison’s poet laureate, is available upon request.

Mayors, council members, legislators, County Executive Falk, Chancellor Wiley, Chairperson Wagner, distinguished guests. Thank you for being here today.

Today we mark 15 decades as a city. It is a good time to reflect on our past, take honest stock of our present advantages as well as our challenges, and plan for our future. Today is a day to ask ourselves what Madison has meant to those who have called themselves Madisonians and to the world beyond our borders.

Since our founding as a city, probably a million people have lived at least part of their lives here in Madison. And before we were a city, for 1,500 years untold numbers of American Indians made their lives and their culture among these lakes. The sons of New Englanders came here to build their fortunes and sometimes lose them and sometimes build them again. Artisans came here from Europe to help build our State Capitol and to build a life for themselves in the neighborhoods on the South Side. African Americans came here to escape prejudice, too often only to find it again. People moved in from farms to work in city factories and hundreds of thousands have taken jobs that have made our state government one of the best and most efficient in America. And students have flowed through the campus on the shores of Lake Mendota, some only passing through, some, like me, finding reasons to stay, and others making their lives elsewhere only to return to finish them here.

Chief Blackhawk, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert La Follette, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O’Keefe and Gaylord Nelson have all spent time here, had at least part of their lives shaped here, and some have made history here.

For virtually everyone who has lived even a small part of their lives here, Madison has meant a place to dream of better things. Not just personal advancement, but progress for the broader community. More beautiful buildings, a cleaner environment, a more just society, cures for diseases, more perfect art – all of these things were dreamed of in Madison and created and given to the world.

Above everything else, above the lively debates and the sometimes seemingly high strife, Madison is at heart an optimistic city. We are people who believe that problems can be solved and who are sometimes impatient to solve them. No one who falls in love with this city can help but inherit its optimism.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Jairus Fairchild, Madison’s first mayor, said, “We commence our city under most favorable circumstances… and we challenge the world to produce a location for a city whose position embraces so many practical advantages.”

One hundred and fifty years and 51 mayors later I can echo Fairchild. We still enjoy “most favorable circumstances.” We have been given much as a community: a stunning natural setting, abundant farmlands surrounding us, a world class university, the seat of state government. But from those who have been given much, much is asked in return. It is our challenge – and our opportunity – to do something that has not been done much in America: to not grow ungainly, ugly and unmanageable but instead to grow better, healthier, more fair, and more welcoming to everyone.

So much history, so many lives have coursed through this isthmus. But for all of us who have had our lives shaped between these lakes, Madison means hope, it means promise and no matter where our lives take us, for those of us who have been touched by this city, Madison will always mean home.


  • George Twigg, 608-266-4611