Inauguration of our 19th President
Lebanon Valley College faculty, students, staff, trustees, and alumni celebrated the inauguration of Dr. James M. MacLaren as the institution’s 19th president on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in the Frederic K. Miller Chapel.
Greetings from the Trustees—Elyse Rogers
As an alumna of the class of 1976 and the chair of the Board of Trustees, it is an honor to speak on behalf of the Board as we inaugurate Lebanon Valley College’s 19th President.
This ceremony is an opportunity to reflect on the distinguished history of LVC and to imagine the future of our beloved community.
Since arriving in July 2020, Dr. James M. MacLaren has already demonstrated his passion for student success and commitment to collaboration. Persevering through the challenges of the pandemic, he has energized the LVC community around a new vision and strategy that will advance LVC ever forward.
President MacLaren, on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Lebanon Valley College, we are delighted to welcome you and your family to LVC and to have this long-overdue celebration. The Lebanon Valley College Board of Trustees imagines a bright future together with you leading the way.
It is now my pleasure to invite Dr. Joel Kline, LVC Class of 1989 and professor of design, media, and technology, to offer greetings on behalf of the faculty.
Greetings from the Faculty—Dr. Joel Kline
Good afternoon: In addition to teaching at LVC, I am the current Chairperson of the Faculty Steering Committee, also known as FSC, which is the committee that directs faculty governance in the college.
I’d like to provide a welcome to Dr. MacLaren from the faculty of the college.
Normally, I would say it’s a bit weird to welcome someone with whom you’ve been working for the past 18 months. However, like many of you, my scale for weirdness has changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
President MacLaren was hired and introduced to the college community as someone who managed the crisis at Tulane during Hurricane Katrina. Since his start at LVC, his management style for reviewing options, seeking consensus, and promoting transparency during the pandemic has been a guiding force for this institution.
The Faculty Steering Committee has been invited to have a seat at the President’s Staff meetings, and the President has opened dialogue with FSC members regarding issues that affect faculty, including policy decisions for COVID classroom policies, vaccinations, online learning, and the college’s Strategic Plan.
Not every decision has been met with unanimous faculty approval. Such is to be expected as a President balances the needs of so many constituents in their fiduciary responsibility. For example, faculty were not in favor of President MacLaren’s proposal to rename our streets to College Bourbon and Sheridan Canal to make him feel more at home like New Orleans. Truthfully, few faculty had a problem with “bourbon,” but we’re very precise people, and the idea that there is no canal in the area really bothered faculty…
Seriously, every good leader should begin a new opportunity with the assumption that their stakeholders want the best for their institution. In our case, our faculty are passionate and committed to our students and to this institution. President MacLaren has acknowledged this faculty passion and demonstrated an inclusive leadership style during this COVID crisis that values our opinion. We thank him for that. If the collective college response to COVID is any indication, we’re on the road toward a successful future, even if that road might not have a French-sounding name.
Now, please welcome to the lectern Julia Resele, LVC Class of 2022 and Student Government President.
Student Government Greetings: Julia Resele
It is an honor to be here this afternoon to celebrate the inauguration of Dr. MacLaren. On behalf of the students at Lebanon Valley College, I would like to officially welcome the MacLarens to the LVC community.
When I first met President MacLaren, what struck me most was his authenticity. He conveys a genuine interest in the well-being of the students. Although his first year at Lebanon Valley College was quite unconventional, he managed and continues to prioritize the health and safety of LVC students, staff, and faculty. It is our hope as students to continue to cultivate a community that cares for each other.
In a society that stands divided on so many levels, we want LVC to be a community united. Moving forward, we hope that President MacLaren can provide the leadership to accomplish this unity.
As President Kennedy once said, “Divided, there is little we can do.” However, together we will be able to accomplish great things. I am now pleased to welcome Susan Sarisky Jones, LVC Class of 1992 and director of alumni and family engagement, to deliver greetings from the LVC staff.
Greetings from the Staff—Susan Sarisky Jones
Hello. I am honored to bring greetings from the staff of Lebanon Valley College.
President MacLaren, your time here started with great uncertainty … in the world … in our country … and here in the Lebanon Valley. We were proud of our student-centered, residential campus .. alive with learning, sports, and music … where the community interacted face-to-face, people held doors for each other, everyone said hello as they passed on the quad, and certainly where we welcomed our newest members, especially leaders … in person.
As staff accustomed to doing a lot with a little and wearing many hats, we buckled down with you through the disruptions of COVID. We worked hard to serve students and provide the LVC experience in the least LVC-like circumstances possible, while also imagining LVC’s future with you, hopeful and optimistic we would emerge from these challenges changed, but stronger and planning strategically for the future.
President MacLaren, one week ago, you opened your first in-person Homecoming weekend at the annual Blue and White Club Golf Tournament. A crowd watched as you stood 50 feet away from the hole for the putting contest, putting first to give one lucky golfer the line and a chance at $5,000 dollars.
The crowd cheered when you nearly sank the putt!
The golfer followed your line closely, hitting just past the hole. President MacLaren, though not a golfer, you stood confidently over that putt, and with the crowd watching intently, you displayed poise and humor as you showed the path to success. Much like that morning on the golf course, you are leading the way out of challenging times and into an exciting future. On behalf of the staff of Lebanon Valley College, we are grateful for your steady guidance. We imagine, and we look forward, with you, as members of your team, to leading LVC boldly into the future.
I’m now pleased to welcome Bob Johns, LVC Class of 1975 and chair of the Lebanon Valley College Leadership Council, to offer greetings from alumni.
Greetings from the Alumni—Bob Johns
On behalf of the alumni and families of Lebanon Valley College, it is my honor to welcome you, Dr. MacLaren, and your family to Lebanon Valley College.
It is great to see you [nod to James]—and all of you [gesture to guests]—in person! You all look great!
President MacLaren, you have done an incredible job steering the LVC ship through this precarious time in history.
The alumni and friends of the College are excited about what comes next.
The students of today and tomorrow will have bright, meaningful, and successful lives, largely because of their LVC education, which only gets better and better.
We are here to support you and the LVC community in moving our beloved institution ever forward and always together. The alumni are “all-in” on imagining the future together.
We welcome you and your family as official Dutchmen! Go President MacLaren! And go LVC!
Keynote Address—Dr. Rebecca Mark
Thank you, James, for inviting me to speak today. It is wonderful to see you and Gina and Emily, Meg, and Caroline. Thank you to the inauguration committee, which has kept me informed every step of the way. And thank you to this beautiful college for inviting me as a guest speaker.
You—the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees of Lebanon Valley College are very lucky— very lucky indeed. Today you are inaugurating as the 19th President of this distinguished 155-year-old institution for higher learning a man who already has and will continue to do you proud. As you begin the journey of fulfilling your new strategic plan—Imagine LVC—I will help you imagine what your new President (who is not so new anymore!!) will bring to Lebanon Valley College. You have already experienced his steady, inspiring leadership throughout this pandemic. You have already found out what I have known for over thirty years of being colleagues.
James MacLaren is not only a brilliant physicist. President MacLaren is not only a beloved, inspiring teacher. Professor MacLaren is not only a terrific administrator—Chair of the Physics Department, Associate Provost, Acting Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, founding Dean of Newcomb–Tulane College at Tulane University, Provost of St. Xavier University in Chicago, Ill., and now president of Lebanon Valley College.
James is an empathetic human being. Just imagine. This might not sound like much, but in this world spiraling into violence because we cannot understand each other, challenged by climate change, controlled by a small percentage of the people with too much of the world's wealth, in this, often troubling and always challenging time, being an empathetic human being is everything. James is a person who understands the complexity of being a student in 2021, who cares about the professional life of his faculty, who considers the conflicting demands of professional and family life, who worries about the intractable challenges and problems facing this next generation of young scholars. James is a person who plans with care for all the tenets of higher education: the ability to think critically, a commitment to a caring community, and the practical application of new knowledge.
James’ scholarly achievements are truly exemplary. We sometimes forget when we are celebrating a new president that he earned his place on this stage. Imagine a young scholar, who after attending Cambridge University, studied the electronic properties of catalyst surfaces at Imperial College, London, and earned a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics. His research focused on the electronic structure of materials, particularly layered magnetic materials. His collaborative research demonstrated that spin-dependent tunneling between two epitaxial layers of iron separated by magnesium oxide could lead to a remarkably sensitive read head for magnetic hard drives.
If you did not fully comprehend this area of his expertise, you can read his article Determining the anisotropic exchange coupling of CrO2 via first-principles density functional theory calculations in which his team “investigated the magnetic structure of CrO2 by considering three near-neighbor Cr-Cr exchange interactions.” [SIGH] We may not know what he is talking about, BUT the United States Department of Energy recognized James’ early scholarship in this field with an Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Metallurgy and Ceramics Award. President MacLaren has published a combined 150 peer-reviewed articles, reviews, and books and presented 22 invited papers at national and international conferences. We mere mortals stand awed. But don't worry. James is first and foremost a human being. Just Imagine.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated Tulane University and our beloved city New Orleans, James hunkered down with the team in Houston to rebuild. The University emerged from the crises with a new college named Newcomb–Tulane College, and, as the founding dean, James welcomed wary parents and students back with open arms and detailed plans. As the Founding Director of the newly created Newcomb College Institute, the legacy of Newcomb College, I collaborated with James often. James, who was raising three girls, knew the importance of women's education and respected and supported the plans we were making to meet the needs of our grieving Newcomb alumni.
Throughout the years James and I plotted and planned together at Tulane University, we shared a professional dedication to diversity, inclusion, and racial and gender equity. Under his leadership of Newcomb–Tulane College, he created the Center for Academic Equity. In his own words:
“One of the things I'm proudest of is the work that the Center for Academic Equity has done ... This university has not until recently put a high-level focus on supporting college accessibility and supporting diversity inclusion in the student body … What we want to do is make sure we continue that trajectory by helping the students here.”
James helped conceptualize, find funding for, and advocate for the establishment of the Center for Academic Equity. As the Director of the Center, it was exciting to design new solutions for our students with a dean who always had our back and transformed the idea of equity into real equity.
The CAE serves all underrepresented students, first-generation college students, students of color, and LGBTQ students. Several of our students struggled with introductory courses in Calculus and Physics and often fell into difficult academic probation situations entirely because of lack of adequate high school preparation—no fault of their own. We all knew that we could go to James at any time of the day and ask him to advocate for a student.
The challenges were staggering, and the real-life consequences of our decisions for our students critical. James made make sure that we would be able to help every single student in need find a flight home, take an extra required course, secure funding to continue the program, secure course books, take a summer course, and on and on. It may be a cliché, but no problem was too small or too big for James to address when it came to students’ needs.
James, I want you to know I was just down in New Orleans, and your efforts have borne fruit. The beautiful new Center in the beautiful new space is fully staffed, received several large donations, and is now an integral part of the undergraduate experience at Tulane.
LVC: Our dean, now your President, had the imagination, the vision, and the understanding of social justice, to commit to the CAE. So many students have followed their own dreams because James did not give up. James knew the students' names, celebrated their successes, and showed up for every program, dinner, event, graduation.
Often when I went to look for James, I found him meeting with a student in his physics class. I do not remember physics being the most popular class when I was in college, but with James as the teacher, students loved their physics courses. I think “awesome” was the word I heard repeated most frequently. James McLaren has never and will never give up his love for teaching. A college President who excels at teaching. Imagine. For several years, Dean MacLaren taught an honors colloquium entitled "Relativity, Einstein, and the Quantum World” for first-semester Honors students, focused on the interaction between scientific concepts and society at large.
And you already know that your President is a fully grounded human being who loves his family. Of all the experiences James and I shared together, it was my distinct pleasure to be a swim team mom and watch James and Gina cheer on Emily, Meg, and Caroline. Gina and James and I traveled together to such illustrious destinations as Sulphur, Louisiana, for weekends spent watching our children swim Backstroke or Butterfly for 36.39 seconds and then sit by the side of the pool for five hours until the next 35.63 seconds. James often watched from the bleachers clutching a stack of papers he was grading, or administrative issues he was reviewing, but he never missed a meet.
James is a human being who just happens to be “density-functional –theory" brilliant, an extraordinary administrator, and an amazing fundraiser. I ask you: Who has a classroom and garden named after them when they are still alive? Seriously, donors endowed the James M. MacLaren classroom and MacLaren Garden at Mussafer Hall, the home of academic support services, in his honor.
Our Dear Friend and Associate Dean of Newcomb Tulane College Molly Travis, who worked with James, wrote at his going away party, “James is among the kindest person I have ever known. A gentle person, compassionate and generous, who celebrated the successes of his staff and supported them in their times of personal stress and loss. I knew that I could be honest and candid with him without his reacting defensively; he always listened productively. This is such an important quality in a leader. What a joy to work for someone who is secure in his skin, sanguine, balanced, devoted to his family, and grounded in the importance of life beyond the campus.”
My first memory of working with James was in that rocky period immediately after Hurricane Katrina when he served as acting dean in the last months of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As a department chair of English, I was struggling, along with all my other fellow chairs and directors, to keep the department together, to maintain some semblance of community at a time when everyone was dealing with pressing personal matters. James did a remarkable job of guiding us through. As one of my colleagues remarked recently, James has always been one of “us” (meaning faculty), and he maintained close relationships with faculty through his years as dean of the College.
People at Tulane told me to ask him to tell one of his Baffling Physics Jokes—or not...
I will end with two quotes that inspire me in the fight to make higher education accessible to all—quotes I think James will appreciate:
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity, there is beauty, and there is strength.” ~ Maya Angelou
So go on. Imagine what you would like Lebanon Valley College to become. James MacLaren, your 19th President, will take you there.
James MacLaren is my dear friend, and I am so overjoyed that he is being inaugurated as the 19th President of Lebanon Valley College on this crisp autumn day in October, on this beautiful campus. Congratulations, James. Congratulations, Lebanon Valley College.
Presidential Response—James M. MacLaren
Thank you, Dr. Mark, for such kind words and for being such a great friend and colleague for more than 30 years. And a heartfelt welcome to Dr. Felicia Brown-Haywood, LVC’s first associate vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and institutional success! We are so excited to welcome you to the College’s leadership team.
To the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of Lebanon Valley College: Thank you for welcoming the MacLaren family so warmly. I send my deepest gratitude to LVC’s trustees, who have been such dedicated thought partners in imagining the College’s bright future. I am especially indebted to Elyse Rogers, board chair, who has given so much time and energy to help me hit the ground running.
To Skip Missimer, who chaired my search committee—and who, I have since learned, is a fellow beekeeper. To Kathy Bishop, who chaired my transition committee, and to the other members of that committee: Your insights and guidance have been priceless to my having a successful first year at LVC.
I am humbled to join the distinguished group of LVC presidents who have shepherded this exceptional College for 155 years.
I especially want to acknowledge my predecessor, Dr. Lewis Evitts Thayne, the 18th president of Lebanon Valley College. Dr. Thayne, you have been so gracious with your time and counsel throughout the transition and beyond. It was an honor to join you in charting a course through the early days of COVID that would allow LVC to open for in-person learning last fall. The strength and growth of LVC’s academic programs, enrollment, and retention increases, and this beautiful campus and its facilities reflect your eight years of leadership and commitment to taking LVC further. Gina and I thank you, and we wish you, Dorry, and your family all the best.
Dr. Stephen C. MacDonald, the 17th president of LVC. Welcome back to campus. After six years as Lebanon Valley College’s vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, Dr. Stephen MacDonald served as president of LVC from 2004 until his retirement in 2012. MacDonald’s years at the Valley were marked by major building and capital projects, as well as the expansion of the College’s academic program. His impact also extended beyond campus into the surrounding community of Annville, where he was able to re-establish strong bonds of mutual trust and respect with the local community. Gina and I look forward to getting to know you and Mary better.
And last but certainly not least, thank you to my family: my wife Gina, and my three daughters Emily, Meg, and Caroline, who have been both inspiration and support over the years—as well as a sounding board for so many bad dad jokes.
My journey from London to Annville was far from linear, as is probably the case for many people’s life’s journeys. Singular events have changed the course of my life in profound, unexpected, and fortuitous ways. At a time when academic jobs in my discipline were scarce, Tulane University offered a fantastic opportunity. Before arriving at Tulane in August of 1990, I had visited New Orleans just once for a conference. I was excited to have a faculty position in which I could conduct research, teach, and train graduate students and postdocs—and I loved my job. I must admit, the southern heat and humidity took some getting used to. I had never lived somewhere where there was such heavy rain that, on occasion, it allowed students to canoe on the streets. I had yet to understand what catastrophic damage so much water could do.
I was happy teaching and researching, and I even enjoyed my time when it was my “turn” to chair the physics department. A new path to higher education leadership came when a colleague in the theater department at Tulane, unbeknown to me, suggested me as a candidate for associate provost. What a great job: As a tenured professor, if I didn’t like the opportunity, I could go back to my original position in the physics department. It turned out that I immensely enjoyed working across the university with the faculty, deans of Tulane’s schools and colleges, and student leaders.
Those leadership experiences energized me and gave me new insights into how my career in education could benefit students and transform lives and communities.
Everything was going well at Tulane in the early 2000s. Our enrollments were strong and growing, and we had emerged from some financial challenges. Then, late in August 2005, a tropical storm named Katrina crossed the Florida peninsula and emerged into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina was initially projected to turn eastward into the Florida panhandle near Tampa, but high pressure over the U.S. and ideal conditions for strengthening caused the storm to explode into a large and dangerous Category 5 hurricane that was now tracking right toward New Orleans.
Tulane packed up students and bussed those who couldn’t go home to Jackson, Mississippi. My family and I left New Orleans with our pets (a Great Dane and two Guinea pigs) and headed to meet colleagues and students in Jackson. Over the next few days, we watched the news in disbelief as the levee system failed and caused the flooding of about 80 percent of New Orleans. It was clear we were going to be displaced for some time. The MacLarens relocated that fall to join Tulane’s core leadership in Houston, and I set to work with my colleagues on the high-stakes task of rebuilding a university.
I am so thankful for the leadership and mentorship of President Scott Cowan and my colleagues, including Dr. Mark. It took a lot of hard work to re-envision and rebuild, but we did it: We brought Tulane back to the world to offer an even higher quality, supportive, and inclusive education to our students.
I’m recounting this story for you today because I learned many lessons from that time of crisis, and among them are three principles that define my leadership approach. I believe they will resonate with you because they very much reflect the LVC community’s values and practices.
The first principle is this: Always value the importance of people and community. Relationships and trust are the currency that allows us to go beyond the immediate, to look further out, and successfully plan for the future—and then to work together to achieve that future.
Relationships and community are intrinsic to LVC. I could sense that in the early conversations with the search committee. The more I learned about the College and the more of you I met, the more in awe I became of the genuine warmth and regard that members of the LVC community have for one another.
An organization that values trust and grace is on course to achieve its vision. LVC has this ethos.
The second principle that I have embraced as a lesson of the Katrina recovery process is this: In times of duress, the need to care for oneself and care for each other takes on great significance. The world is barely beginning to comprehend the physical and mental health ramifications of the pandemic. As LVC’s leader, I will ensure that resources, programs, and policies are in place to support wellness and well-being—from psychological and physical health to student financial education to employee support and investment.
We have already been through significant challenges together, so the third principle I will share with you today is the principle that drives my optimistic outlook on life and work. The principle is this: Out of crisis, seek opportunity. When unexpected, dark times occur, they force us to reevaluate everything—to take five, ten, or 100 steps back and consider the new, better ways we might approach our lives and work. To acknowledge that, yes, these times are traumatic and uncertain—and also: Now is the time for hope, vision, and imagination. Now we will plan for better days and better ways of being.
Colleges that thrive in the coming years will have a clear vision and financial sustainability, and they will innovate while staying true to their mission and values. That is why I initiated the Imagine LVC strategic planning process during a pandemic in my rookie year as a college president.
We planned for the worst regarding the pandemic, and then we did more than hope for the best. We engaged in deep, intensive dialogue about what LVC stands for, how we should invest our time and resources, and how we can shine even brighter. The College community joined together remotely in late 2020 and spring 2021 to define the College’s path to the future.
Among the questions discussed: What do we stand for as a community? What will we do during the next three to five years that allows us to outperform our competitors and educate our students to go further and achieve more than they ever thought possible?
Building on great prior work, including the Envision 2020 strategic plan and One Campus Master Plan, the community coalesced around a mission, vision, value set, value proposition, and action items that are authentic to LVC, ambitious, and energizing.
The result: A data-informed, focused, inspiring strategic plan that leaves room for agility as circumstances change. We seized the opportunity to articulate how we, together, will achieve the ideal version of how to prepare students for lifelong personal and professional success.
Upon reviewing the Imagine LVC plan in the context of these remarks, I noticed that … there they are! The three principles of community, care, and opportunity that I outlined a minute ago, underpinning the strategic plan.
You can hear them echoed in our community’s shared values:
- Placing students at the center of every decision
- Broad and deep learning
- Critical thinking, communication, analytical, and creative skills
- Inclusive Excellence
- Health and wellness
- Kindness, community, and relationships
- Service and global citizenship
- Adaptability and innovation
- Environmental sustainability
- Shared governance
You can see the commitment to community, care, and opportunity, threaded through—and threading together—the strategies and tactics of Imagine LVC, among them:
We will establish a distinctive, integrated career counseling and vocational exploration model. The Edward and Lynn Breen Center for Graduate Success will facilitate many of these efforts, but they will also be infused and embraced throughout the campus culture.
We will enhance our ecosystem of highly personalized engagement and support for students. This ecosystem includes building on powerful academic support and retention work, addressing equity gaps in student enrollment and outcomes, building a wholly inclusive and welcoming community, and offering high-quality educational programs that prepare students to succeed in in-demand careers and become forces for good in society.
We will ensure an LVC education is affordable and accessible. Scholarship resources must increase, and we will embrace open-source learning materials as a start. But we must also get creative and establish a viable model that contains families’ debt and builds a firewall between LVC’s financial future and the discount wars destabilizing higher education.
We know the economy will continue to change rapidly, and there will emerge sectors of the job market with high demand. That’s why we will continue to build out undergraduate and graduate academic programs that prepare students to fulfill the needs of employers and society. The new nursing BSN program, master of clinical mental health counseling, and master of science in intelligence and security studies are excellent examples. They are proof of the power of staying alert for opportunities and then moving quickly and thoroughly to create new, mission-aligned programs that prepare students for meaningful work.
In imagining the future of LVC, I found it fun to think about how to prepare students for careers in sectors that do not yet exist. Skill in advanced and emerging technologies will be crucial for students to address complex issues. Thus, we will establish a digital learning commons that prepares students for future work environments. The second floor of Vernon and Doris Bishop Library will become a hub for technology, interdisciplinary learning, design thinking, and innovation, with an associated maker space.
We will focus on advanced technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and emergent technologies with transformative potential. I see LVC integrating digital learning commons programming and opportunities with curriculums across the disciplines.
As a physicist, I am comfortable saying that achieving what we have imagined is not rocket science!
LVC is well-positioned to lead the way in delivering a distinctive, highly effective model of education. Our successes in recent years include enrollment and program growth, significant retention gains, expanded brand recognition, new and upgraded facilities, national and international student awards, and the development of outstanding academic and career support services—among many other points of pride.
We have several friends of the College joining us from Annville, Lebanon, and the central Pennsylvania region today. Know that LVC is committed to forging additional connections with elected officials, businesses, nonprofits, schools, and community organizations. Mutually beneficial partnerships will help us all thrive together.
As your leader, I commit to assessing and continually refining our plans as circumstances shift around us. I commit to transparency and collegiality at all levels of operations, leadership, and governance. I promise to guide LVC in alignment with LVC’s mission and values, holding fast to the principles of community, care, and opportunity.
I am honored and humbled to have been chosen by the Board of Trustees as the 19th president of this esteemed institution of higher learning.
Lebanon Valley College is a special place with a beautiful campus, extraordinary faculty and staff, and talented, caring students. The MacLarens feel fortunate to be here with you.
We have imagined LVC’s future. Let’s go there together.
- Dr. James M. MacLaren
Inaugural Poem—Dr. Holly Wendt
"Five Sonnets on Dreaming"
Written and Read by Dr. Holly M. Wendt
Associate Professor of English; Director of Creative Writing
~After Rupert Brooke
Come autumn, we put the gardens to bed,
Turning gently under spent stems, bare stalks,
Whatever’s left—the leaves already shed
Into bright jewels crackling beneath our walks
Together past the old parts of the year.
Everywhere, though, the promise of the new:
Seed-heads spread, the milkweed down drifting clear,
The maple keys, all paper-winged and spun
To earth. There are few simple joys quite like
Throwing these little propellers up, out,
And watching them descend: there’s time alike
To make a wish and calculate the route:
What path it charts, our next steps, lovely clock
For dreaming what one seed, one key, unlocks.
~with a line after Toni Morrison
She said, and she would know: for those rising
Into positions of trust and power—
Let us dream a little before we think.
Let the dream be large, dreamy, surprising,
In grace and scope; make a tree big enough
To shade everyone who comes, no pruning
It narrow. A dream is a tree, no hedge
Dividing this yard from that. It is such
A great privilege and honor, dream-making:
What is built here builds a future for more.
We, here, are beholden to this ideal,
To nurture each other, firmly staking
A claim to include, and thereby excel.
What we imagine, with care, we do well.
A pelican does not, mythology
Aside, feed her young her own torn breast, slake
Their thirst without thought for her own. Agree,
Though, we are here to give more than we take,
To create what will endure and sustain
Not simply us, not simply now. The bald
Five Sonnets on Dreaming
Cypress grows despite high water, the pain
Of salt and wind to root and branch, the scald
Of summer; buttressed like a cathedral,
It is an anchor. So, too, a college—
Here, this one, deep-rooted and serving all
Pursuing truth, the arts, science—knowledge
Not for its own sake, but the light it brings,
To lift ourselves, and others, up, like wings.
There is no bridge from dream to plan to life
Save work: hands and minds and hearts together.
When Katrina landed, the need ran rife
Not only to rebuild but re-gather,
Re-see and re-make, remind each other
Of the needs so much greater than our own.
Those needs remain, no matter the weather,
The place, the shape of the disaster. No
Community is exempt. In calmer
Times, too, the call is as strong as ever—
Not to wait until the spotlight’s amber
Points, but seek out new challenges, procure
New allies in action, hear their insight.
We know: with many hands, the work is light.
If we are all the things we’ve ever loved
(Morrison again), our task is easy:
By loving well, loving widely, we prove
Ourselves equal to the work. We increase
Ourselves, become better, more ready for
This world and all it offers. And the world
Is many-leaved, many-branched; we ensure—
It is our duty—those who leave our fold
Can walk, confidently, gently, therein,
Charting their varied courses and planting
Their own seeds, growing, shading, sheltering.
Welcome every day for consecrating
Ourselves to the task, truths, purpose that feed
The open vision the best dreaming needs.