Sterritt inaugurated as SMC’s first female president
D. E. Lorraine Sterritt, 17th president of Saint Michael’s College and the first woman to hold that title, was direct, clear, optimistic and warmly personable in her Saturday afternoon Inauguration Address that celebrated roots, scholarship, confident aspirations and the primacy of serving others.
“I am among you as one who serves,” Sterritt said, quoting the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke to start her address during the 90-minute formal Inauguration ceremony that began at 2:30 p.m. on September 22 in the Ross Sports Center. It was one of several times during the speech that she asserted her appreciation for and connection to the College’s French Catholic founders, the Society of St. Edmund, and their original and ongoing mission
The dais party for the ceremony included three presidents emeritus of Saint Michael’s – Paul Reiss (president 1985-1996), Marc vanderHeyden (1996-2007) and John J. “Jack” Neuhauser (2007-2018). Besides Sterritt’s well-received address that brought a standing ovation, the climactic moment of the ceremony for several hundred in attendance was the Investiture and Presentation of the Symbols of Office, led by Mary-Kate McKenna, trustees chair, Sterritt’s predecessor Jack Neuhauser, and student, faculty and staff representatives.
Master of Ceremonies was the College’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean Jeffrey Trumbower, who read greetings on behalf of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy ’61. Other greetings came from Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges on behalf of colleges and universities; and from Jacqueline Murphy ’74, a member of the Colchester Town Select Board (also representing by extension the State of Vermont). Other greeters represented faculty, students, staff, alumni, international partners, the Society of Saint Edmund, and The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington (trustee Rev. Patrick Forman ’85, pastor of St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington).
Sterritt in her address also connected touchingly with her Irish roots: Her sister Anne and brother Nigel traveled from her native Northern Ireland to be present. The new president spoke with love and admiration of her late father’s passion for learning and reading, despite his limited opportunities for formal education, recalling how he quoted Shakespeare all his life and read all 310 books in his grammar school library – as did her uncle shortly after. She was visibly moved during a musical interlude in the ceremony when Saint Michael’s student Patricia Kohn ’19 sang an ancient Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.”
Sterritt and her husband, Bert Lain, moved to Vermont this summer from North Carolina where she had served as president of Salem College. She started on the job July 1, and, as several remarked in their greetings, quickly became a strikingly visible, friendly, welcomed and welcoming presence around campus.
Her address also directed kind personal words toward wide campus and community constituencies – in turn, students, faculty, staff, military veterans and particularly the nearly 50-year-old Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue squads and their Founder Don “Pappy” Sutton” – a group she said she has grown to admire greatly in her months on campus.
A large ceremonial procession into the Ross led by bagpipers featured faculty in full academic regalia, led by Grand Marshall Peter Harrigan ’83, Student Association and class officers, and undergraduates and international students of Saint Michael’s bearing flags of their nations or of the Academic Honor Societies they represented.
Sterritt’s address revealed her strong academic background – she studied at Princeton University earning a doctorate in Renaissance French literature, and later worked there, with other professional positions also at Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania and Stanford before she became Salem president. Her speech contained scholarly references to Rabelais’ “Gargantua and Pantagruel” that included the words “Be helpful to all your neighbors … Respect your tutors … avoid the company of those whom you would not care to resemble.” Later she said that “like the Janus figure, we look both to our past and our future…Our vision for the future mandates that we be as bold, as brave, as courageous and as creative as the Edmundites who founded this College.”
She was not shy or half-hearted in invoking the College’s namesake, Saint Michael the Archangel. Noting challenges facing higher education and larger society, she said we “must not be defined by them. We must fight back. Just as Saint Michael himself fought and conquered Satan, so must the College that bears his name fight and conquer the challenges confronting higher education today. We must celebrate the idea of education as intrinsically worthwhile and as preparation for careers.” She also called on addressing “the issues of our day — poverty, healthcare access, prejudice, the sustainability of our planet…”
“We must teach students to do well and to do good,” Sterritt said.
Music for the ceremony included the national anthem sung by Caleb Roman ’20; the Vermont State Song “These Green Mountains” by Diane Martin, sung by Emily R. Chabot ’19; the musical interlude sung by Patricia Kohn ’19 with Susan Summerfield, emerita professor of fine arts, at the piano; the singing of The Alma Mater, “Hail St. Michael’s” with Summerfield at the piano, and a recessional featuring James Duncan on trumpet accompanied by Summerfield.
Prior to the Inauguration ceremony, a 12:30 p.m. Interfaith Prayer Service in the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel set the day’s tone of serene celebration, with blessings from many campus constituencies, and from the Muslim and Jewish communities (Atheer Hasak Al-Mayyahi, a Fulbright MATESOL Scholar at Saint Michael’s, and Rabbi James Glazier of South Burlington’s Temple Sinai and the College’s Religious Studies faculty).
The day was sunny and crisply cool, allowing an outdoor reception on the lawn by the library after the ceremony, with a long receiving line for the new president.