Standing up for Free Enquiry
According to Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, a free university was necessary to safeguard a ‘pure and moral education.’ But what did he mean by this definition, which is now somewhat obsolete? Simply put: no more - and no less! - than education with Free Enquiry as its basis. This is how you find it in the first article of the Charter of ULB. Now, perhaps co-founder and first secretary of ULB Auguste Baron also found Verhaegen's wording a bit vague and grandiloquent at the time. And so he put it this way at the opening ceremony of the university in 1834: ‘We swear to inspire our students to love their fellow man, which shall henceforth be the goal of our education, without distinction of background, opinion, and nation; we swear to devote their thoughts, their labour, and their talents to the happiness and betterment of fellow man and humanity.'
St V, the festival of Verhaegen
If there is one thing that hundreds of students from VUB and ULB look forward to, it is St V. This celebration, which takes place every year on 20 November, commemorates the foundation of ULB on 20 November 1834. A varied group of students, alumni, researchers, and professors from both free universities gather at the Sablon in Brussels and head for the Stock Exchange.
For the general public, the most eye-catching part of St V is this exuberant procession, which always places the spotlight on a political or social theme. But the festivities already start in the morning, with a solemn part during which the board and the umbrella student associations of VUB and ULB pay their respects with floral tributes and speeches not only to Theodore Verhaegen, but also to other key humanist figures, such as Brussels' university resistance fighters and students who died in the world wars.
Truly a party for students
For decades, St V has been the moment of choice for the fraternisation of Brussels' university and other communities and generations in the capital. But first and foremost, the party belongs to the students. The reason is simple: without them, the party would never have happened. In 1888, some two hundred students gathered for the first time at the statue of Pierre-Théodore on the campus of ULB. Then, they marched in a procession to the Evere cemetery to lay a wreath at his grave. Through their action, they were protesting for more openness within the ULB administration, paying tribute to a true defender of free thought and non-dogmatic education. Over 130 years later, the tradition remains.