Community meets President-designate Sterritt

January 30, 2018
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
Sterritt with sweatshirts

Directly above, Dr. Sterritt picks up some new Saint Michael’s shirts as her host, President Jack Neuhauser, “shops” behind her. (photos by Ethan Simmons)

The full community of Saint Michael’s College — students, faculty, administrators and staff – packed into McCarthy Arts Center on campus Tuesday morning (January 30) to meet and welcome Dr. Lorraine Sterritt, who was named last Friday (January 26) to be the College’s 17th president. She will be the first woman to lead the Catholic, residential liberal arts college.

“When I first started exploring this opportunity, Saint Michael’s stole my heart,” said Sterritt, who charmed the large audience by likening the whole process to online dating. “The more I fell in love with Saint Michael’s, the more I realized how fundamentally the institution’s values and mine were in alignment” — devoted to learning, social justice, hospitality, respect of the dignity of every human being and stewardship of the planet, she said, adding, “The spirit of Saint Michael’s came through loud and clear at every turn.”

Sterritt proposed taking a “Triple A” approach to her work, which she said stands for “analysis, assessment and action.” That means “building on the great work” of current President Jack Neuhauser, making an assessment of possible bold new directions and taking actions on the best of those options. “All of that takes a village and we’ll do it together,” she said. “As a person called to a life of service, I am profoundly honored to be admitted to your company.”

The standing-room only gathering also was an occasion for the community to thank and appreciate John J. Neuhauser, Saint Michael’s president since 2007, who received extended warm applause when introduced, as did Sterritt.

During the half-hour gathering, the assembled community heard from members of the Search Committee – Trustees Chair and Committee Chair Mary Kate McKenna ’80, Mike New, former VP of Human Resources and Administrative Services, who emceed; Kimoi Seale ’06, assistant dean of students/assistant director for the Center for Multicultural Affairs, representing staff; Emily Ferreri ’19 representing the student body; and Professor of French Peter Vantine, representing faculty. Sterritt greeted and thanked each with a warm hug.

New spoke of the notion of “service leadership” as embodied by Neuhauser, and he evoked the legacy of some early woman pioneers in the Saint Michael’s community such as Cary Kaplan, Buff Lindau, Joan Wry and Jacqueline Murphy. Edmundite Fr. Brian Cummings, director of campus ministry, prayed from Sirach – “… reflect on the precepts of the Lord; let His commandments be your constant meditation and He will enlighten your mind”; Kimoi Seale of the staff and student Emily Ferreri shared how they had worked very hard to assure that a wide range of voices were heard among their respective peers and constituencies.

They kicked off a fun thread of a theme that ran through many of the short Committee remarks – offering various “tickets” to Sterritt; Seale presented a “ticket” to every event on campus; Ferreri’s was for unlimited meals at Alliot Dining Hall, both of those aimed at helping the next president connect and get to know more intimately the College community in its many rich facets  – Ferreri recommended chicken patties and creemees in the dining hall; Vantine from faculty had a “ticket” entitling Sterritt to be first on the agenda of Faculty Assembly meetings (to spare her waiting through hours of deliberations).

In his remarks, Vantine made a connection with Sterritt as a fellow scholar of French literature. Noting how one of Sterritt’s former colleagues at Princeton is a leading scholar of the French humanist Francois Rabelais, Vantine quoted Rabelais’ comical and philosophical chronicles about the giant Gargantua, who “strives to make the most of his talents” and explores “certain practical and human applications” of what he’s learned – “what we might today call experiential learning,” Vantine said, adding that Gargantua “balances the health of his body, mind and spirit” — with the “active and thoughtful practice of his faith” also central to Gargantua’s education, along with physical exercise. Vantine said he believed Sterritt’s vision of a 21st century liberal arts education “shares a belief in the noble ideals and practical applications of a meaningful education evoked by the Humanists …that prepares one both to work well and lead a good life.”

Before and after the program, Jerome Allen ’09 of the Information Technology office, a professional DJ who was overseeing audio and video for the event, played upbeat tunes that perfectly set the right positive and optimistic tone.

Directly following the community event, local press gathered with Dr. Sterritt and the Search Committee and administration leaders in the Hoehl Welcome Center for brief remarks and interviews. The remainder of her day on campus included lunch with the College’s founding Edmundite community, a stop in the Campus Book Store to stock up on Saint Michael’s/Purple Knight “bling,” and a tour of the president’s house hosted by President Neuhauser. Late in the afternoon she headed back to North Carolina, where she currently serves as president of Salem Academy and College in Winston-Salem N.C.

Among those attending Tuesday’s community gathering was Saint Michael’s College’s 14th president, Dr. Paul Reiss and his wife, Rosemary.

The Presidential Search Committee announced its selection Friday to the Saint Michael’s community. Dr. Sterritt will assume her duties as president in July 2018.

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