by Gaye Swan
When Student Government President Thomas Mitchell ’18 spoke to welcome the 20th president of Rhodes College on behalf of the student body, he could have said, in all sincerity, “Welcome to Rhodes.” Instead, he gave a heartfelt “Welcome home.”
“My vision for the student body this year is for each one to know they belong here, and this is their home,” says Mitchell. “In saying ‘welcome home,’ I wanted all members of our community to understand how deeply impactful this place is, and I especially wanted our new president to feel that in coming to Rhodes, she was coming home.”
January 13, 2018, was filled with special moments like the ending to Mitchell’s speech, as Rhodes and the Memphis community officially installed the college’s first female president – and the first of Jewish faith. And although the inauguration of Dr. Marjorie Hass fell on a day of ice, snow, and freezing temperatures, the crowd that braved the cold will remember the warm moments inside the Bryan Campus Life Center.
There was the moment when Dr. Hass, in response to the soaring voices of the Rhodes Singers, extended her hands in applause to the students and commented, “Beautiful. Just beautiful.”
There was the excitement in the voices of those who came to the podium to welcome her. President of the Rhodes Alumni Association William Townsend ’84 expressed pride and pleasure in Rhodes’ bold choice of president. Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes, associate professor of chemistry and a member of the search committee, told of the faculty’s elation in the hire of one so energetic, warm, and compassionate. Inaugural committee co-chair and Rhodes trustee Meg Crosby spoke directly to Dr. Hass: “Memphis is grateful you are here.”
There was the laughter of the crowd when Rabbi Jeremy Simons explained the “sacred tradition” of throwing hard candy at an honoree–followed by thoughtful insights on the Torah portion of Moses and Aaron preparing for their own inauguration of sorts as they made ready to rise and lead their people. Visibly touched, Dr. Hass bowed her head to receive the priestly benediction from the Torah: “May God bless you and keep you, may He lift His countenance upon you, and give you strength.”
And then, of course, there was the moment when Dr. Hass stood at the podium.
“I stand before you in joy and gratitude, humbled to be at the center of this morning’s activities,” she began.
Dr. Hass spoke to the core strengths of the college, and highlighted her commitment to the future: to offer an education fit for future world changers, grounded in face-to-face relationships, that supports the spirit, and that remains relevant and accessible to the students of tomorrow.
To that end, she announced a yearlong strategy process to bring forward the best ideas to meet these ambitious objectives. A Strategic Planning Committee and working groups have already been formed to examine questions relevant to the future of the college, including student body size and composition, new programs and revenue, and the campus boundaries and space. These committees will also consult with alumni, parents, and friends of the college to gather their expertise.
In addition, Dr. Hass unveiled two new projects already underway to support the college’s core commitments. The first: a new master’s degree in urban education program launching this spring, with its first cohort beginning the intensive 15-month program this summer. With a unique curriculum that will incorporate state-of-the-art research and hands-on learning, the program will produce 100 teachers annually, each equipped to make a difference in the lives of Memphis city schoolchildren.
Dr. Hass then announced plans to greatly increase Rhodes’ investment in community partnerships, made possible by a transformational gift from a Memphis family. The newly named Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center will focus on urban education, the arts and social change, neighborhood and community development, and youth empowerment and justice in our community.
Following the inspiring inauguration, the reception was a festive affair. Conversations centered on the excitement and hopefulness felt by the faculty and guests, as Dr. Hass exchanged warm greetings and chatted with her guests.
Professor David McCarthy, chair of the Department of Art and Art History and a member of the inaugural committee, was among the faculty that turned out in full, supportive force for the event. “With Dr. Hass’ inauguration and her strategic plan for the future, Rhodes finds itself in an exciting moment. We are welcoming a new president, and turning our attention to the opportunities we have to renew our commitment to academic excellence and to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.”
A Community-Wide Affair
Chairman of the Board Dr. Cary Fowler ’71 presided over the inauguration. In spite of the lingering cold and icy weather, Dr. Fowler greeted guests that included representatives of colleges and universities from Memphis and from across the country. More than 50 Memphis community partners were represented, including City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and U.S. Representative Steve Cohen. A special welcome was extended to the 19th president and first lady, Dr. William Troutt and Carole Troutt; and the co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee and former Board of Trustees chair William Michaelcheck ’69. The President’s family was there to support her—the very first “first gentleman” of Rhodes College, Dr. Larry Hass, their children Cameron and Jessica, and her parents, Drs. Mike and Sally Hoit. The Rhodes family—faculty, staff, student, and alumni—was also there to witness the historic occasion.
Events leading up to the formal inauguration ceremonies included “Open Windows on Academic Life,” featuring faculty presentations on subjects ranging from Michelangelo’s David to immigration to health disparities. Student sessions highlighted artistic expression, including voice, instrumental performance, and visual art. Student research, internships, and fellowships within the Memphis community and on mentored academic student scholarship from programs across the campus was presented, while poster sessions lined the first floor corridor of Robertson Hall. A festive lunch celebration featured local restaurants, from barbecue to sushi to MemPops.
President Hass moderated “Windows on the City,” a panel that included President Michael J. Sorrell of Paul Quinn College in Dallas; President Elizabeth Kiss of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA; and President John Smarrelli of Christian Brothers University in Memphis. The lively discussion centered on the impact that liberal arts colleges have on their cities and the ways in which the city fosters teaching and learning.
Click on the photo below to view an album of inauguration events.