With gratitude to the Board of Trustees for their confidence and mindful of the important trust given to me — I accept this charter and pledge all my efforts to honor this office and to serve as the 26th President of Hobart and 15th President of William Smith.
Bishop McKelvey, we welcome you as one of the newest member of the Board of Trustees — and as we both begin our new duties let us pray that the almighty will equally share his divine counsel and inspiration on both of us! I will certainly look to our very distinguished Chaplain, Rev. Lesley Adams, for guidance.
Mayor Wisor — your greetings from the community evidence the historic ties of these Colleges to Geneva and I welcome them as your newest citizen. And I look forward to working with you and other civic leaders to insuring that Geneva's future is a strong and vibrant one. Our students, faculty and staff call this wonderful place home — and we are committed to fulfilling our collective duty as citizens.
To Ms. Leshnower and Mr. Smith and the Hobart and William Smith students you represent — I thank you for your kind greetings. My eight weeks on campus already make clear to me the caliber and vibrancy of our student body. The intellect, character, and integrity I have seen in Hobart and William Smith students continues to inspire me. Thank you in particular for the warm welcome to my two young daughters from the earliest days to Geneva. This may well be the first time in the history of HWS that the students have complained about the noise in the President's House.
To Professor Ciletti and the faculty whose greetings you eloquently extend I honor you all for your commitment to our students — present, past and future — as well as for your scholarship. In the classroom, labs and studios, scholarly journals, academic conferences and leading our students literally around the world — you bring honor to Hobart and William Smith. I pledge to you a collaboration based on respect for your many contributions to insure an academic environment of challenge and opportunity.
I acknowledge and thank Professor D'Angelo for his magnificent composition, Professor Cowles for his steady direction and our H&WS students in the chorale group whose voices have lifted our spirits with the beautiful selections.
To the many visiting guests from academic institutions near and far including colleague Presidents, personal friends, members of my family and even my college roommate — who could certainly tell far to many stories. — I thank you for your attendance and for the support you show for higher education in general.
To our Trustees — our distinguished Chair and his three predecessors who join the Platform Party — I offer the words of the first President of Hobart College, Rev. Jasper Adams in an address in which he said of the then Trustees:
"The generations which shall come after you, to whom you shall have furnished the blessings of instruction, will rise up and call you blessed. This institution has been to you an object of deep solicitude. You have bestowed upon it your exertions, your resources, and your ardent prayers. It will be a monument in all future times."
To the three past Presidents who join us today — with nearly three decades of stewardship to these Colleges — I thank you especially and recognize your many personal contributions to Hobart and William Smith. Allow me the personal privilege to note that President Brewster's daughter, Dina, is presently a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines.
And finally, to my family and friends -- to my friends from Washington and, yes, even my college roommate (I'm sure he could tell some stories!); to my friend the U.S. Attorney for the state of Massachusetts; to the family members that are with us tonight; and most especially to my life partner and best friend, my wife Mary, and our girls, Madeleine and Kathleen.
We are grateful for the many personal kindnesses extended to us on our arrival to Geneva. How we feel today may best have been first expressed by Elizabeth Blackwell in a letter from Geneva in 1847:
"I cannot but congratulate myself on having found at last the right place for my beginning."
We gather today as the changing colors of Fall and the briskness in the air mark the start of a season and the close of a century. As these fine colleges prepare for their 2nd and 3rd century — this inauguration ceremony symbolizes more than a transfer of leadership for it also is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our past as we plan for the future. 25 times before us — students, faculty, alums, trustees and citizens of Geneva have gathered to observe this rite of passage.
Twenty-five times before us, in times of Civil War, World War, Cold War and no war, single sex education and coordinate colleges, semester, trimester, Western Civ, Baccalaureate Essay and goals, the Hobart and William Smith family has each time gathered to mark a new moment, a new era, a new chapter in this history of this remarkable institution.
I say "remarkable" with deliberate choice. For as the Colleges respected Historian, Warren Hunting Smith has observed. "Two characteristics repeatedly emerge. One is tenacity — the other an elusive stylistic flair which may perhaps be called panache."
How else to explain — the tenacity of a place that withstood a variety of fiscal and administrative challenges without ever closing its doors.
And this elusive stylistic flair called panache can well describe this place that stands in sharp contrast to its peers. Why even a former President left here to become a Passionist monk. (Don't get nervous, Mary!)
It's the place that in 1832 admitted a Black man as a student after his church seminary's rejection — or in 1825 an Onondaga Chief funded by the US War Dept. Or of course, the admission of Elizabeth Blackwell to study medicine.
Contrast the resolutions passed at the same time by the Harvard Medical School faculty and the Geneva Medical College - now Hobart:
Harvard medical faculty:
Resolved: That no woman of true delicacy would be willing in the presence of men to listen to the discussion of the subjects that necessarily come under the consideration of the student of medicine.
Resolved: That we object to having the company of any female forced upon us, who is disposed to unsex herself, and to sacrifice her modesty, by appearing with men in the medical lecture room.
Geneva Medical College (today, Hobart College) students:
Resolved: That one of the radical principles of a Republican Government is the universal education of both sexes; that to every branch of scientific education the door should be open equally to all; that the application of Elizabeth Blackwell to become a member of our class meets our entire approbation and in extending our unanimous invitation, we pledge ourselves that no conduct of ours shall cause her to regret her attendance at this institution.
I am grateful for my Harvard education. But today, I am proud and honored to be the President of Hobart and William Smith.
Mr. Smith in his historic treatment concludes that our history is almost a "suspense story with so many hair breadth escapes that its founding has been called an act of faith."
But from the first visit of Bishop Hobart to Geneva - coincidentally at the very same age I enjoy today — to the vision of William Smith — we meet today at a different juncture. No longer are we subject to the hair breadth escapes of a suspense story. No longer is our future dependent on an act of faith. No longer is our future dependent on an act of faith. And while the years ahead demand the unequaled tenacity of our past — and I would hope — unequalled panache; we reach this point due to the remarkable generation of men and women who have given us this legacy, this history, this moment.
Do not misread my cheer as sophomoric observations — but join me in rejoicing and celebrating our shared moment. Let us all — together — enter the new century grateful for the past and with an unparalleled excitement to mark our time here together.
Past HWS Presidents have well observed the challenge of adherence to a liberal arts education. In 1836, President Benjamin Hale cautioned of the tendencies of that age as excessive emphasis on the "practical".
President Langdon Stewardson who would preside over the founding of William Smith College described the tension between what he termed the "ideal" with the "real world" writing.
President Allan Kuusisto expressed concern for the "mounting call for specialization which has featured our technical age."
President Carroll Brewster spoke of the importance of making public issues of our day the "urgent concern of our students"
And my immediate predecessor, President Richard Hersh wrote extensively on the topic and became a nationally recognized voice on the importance of a liberal arts education.
That is our proud history. That is the legacy left to all of us at this time — this moment in history. The question then for all of us — what then to make of it? How do we honor the past — build upon it — and leave this remarkable place a better place?
From the 19th century concerns for accessibility for all economic classes — to the 20th century founding of William Smith College to provide access for women — to the 21st century imperative of providing access to a diverse student body, HWS has led. And that — as the Psalms proclaim is a "goodly heritage."
What, then — a presidential inaugural address without stating problems or in our 90's parlance - challenges? Of course there are — and will be. Indeed, any institution without challenges is an institution without a future. But as we begin this new chapter — let us commence with an assessment of our strengths — and celebrate them.
Let us build upon our commitment to a liberal arts education. For we know that in the 21st Century the skills of effective communication — both written and spoken; critical thinking and argumentation, the ability to reason quantitatively with appreciation for the arts, science, and culture — and an intellectually grounded foundation for ethical judgement and action — will be prized areas of knowledge and qualities of mind and character.
Let us build upon our commitment to community service — an ethic that runs thru the very fabric of this institution — dating back to President Jasper Adams, who told students "never to forget" that while we are "born to a great, a splendid inheritance... there is a corresponding trust. Our fathers have done much for us," he wrote "we should do something for the benefit of future."
Let us build upon our commitment to off campus study — a distinction that we enjoy. So that our graduates leave Geneva as global citizens mindful of cross cultural differences and appreciative of diversity. Into the global economy and the multi cultural societies they will go as leaders — not only of this great nation, but many others.
Let us build on our commitment to diversity in our student body and our faculty. For we know that in the 21st century a well educated man and woman will understand and see our diversity as a strength for our country.
Let us build on our commitment to a campus life of intellectual vibrancy and options for community engagement from the athletic fields to the stage and dance, from political clubs to the juggling club. For in the 21st century our graduates will benefit from the leadership roles that exist at Hobart and William Smith and the partnership we have with students in the full range of decisions large and small.
Let us build on the excellence of our faculty. For their years of scholarship and genuine concern for our students we honor them. They have prepared our students well.
Let us build on the dedication of our staff. From the dining halls to residence hall, the upkeep of our grounds to the care for our administrative matters — we are exceptionally well served.
For all our colleagues — faculty and staff — they should be honored. For in the 21st century our campus community would do well to observe Mr. Scandling's successful management philosophy cited in his book: assure employees of fairness and the opportunity for individual self-expression and continuous personal growth.
Let us build on the phenomenal loyalty of our alumni and alumnae who have supported these colleges with their hearts, resources and time. From our trustees who exhibit such commitment on an ongoing basis — to a graduate who refers a star student — we have a treasure trove in their commitment. The 21st century HWS must have their ideas and efforts.
In 1936, President William Alfred Eddy observed that Hobart was founded by pioneers as a frontier college. Indeed, the nearest neighbors to the east were Colgate, Hamilton and Union with none to the west. And while Geneva was no longer on the American frontier, President Eddy stated that every liberal college is there — building men and women for the precarious and unknown future.
Let us continue to be a frontier college. On the frontiers of excellence in teaching and scholarship, the frontiers of international study and community service and co-curricular student life.
Fifty years from now — a future HWS President will be preparing for his or her inaugural address — and what will be said of our time? Did we honor the past and build upon it? Were we bold? Did we work in community with trust in each other's good faith even while we were disagreeing? Did we seize the opportunities of our real momentum, quality students, financial stability, academic reputation and tremendous alumni/ae support?
What is important to me is that we will be able to say with truth and humility that we made a difference. That we worked together. That we honored the past, and that we made sure that Hobart and William Smith remained filled with both tenacity and panache. My friends, this is our time. Together, let us seize the day.
Ladies and gentleman, on behalf of my family I thank you most sincerely for the honor of today's events, the outpouring of good wishes and the opportunity to be of service.
I reiterate: "I cannot but congratulate myself on having found at last the right place for my beginning."
President Mark D. Gearan Inaugural Speech
Oct. 22, 1999