The inauguration of a new president is a major event in the life of a college and so it is at Warren Wilson College. Typically the formal ceremony occurs several months after the president assumes the position, and the hope of any college is that it doesn’t need to inaugurate a new leader very often. Warren Wilson has been fortunate in that regard, having had just seven presidents in its 71-year history as a college. Steven L. Solnick, Ph.D., is president No. 7, and his April 27 inauguration came roughly 10 months after he began his presidency in July 2012.
One of the nice things about an inauguration – which really is as much a celebration as anything else – is the fact that it brings together delegates representing many colleges and universities. The Solnick inauguration attracted more than 50 delegates, including a dozen or so from N.C. colleges and universities. The ceremony also brings alumni back to campus, with alumni greetings at the recent inauguration delivered by Alumni Board President Melissa Davis ’71.
In planning an inauguration (or commencement), is there a lovelier venue for such an event than Sunderland Lawn, the greensward beneath hemlock, spruce and hardwoods framed by the Great Craggy and Swannanoa mountain ranges? Likely not. In late April, redbud, dogwood and azalea in bloom provide even more of a visual feast.
But, yes, often there are the elements to worry about. Over the years the College has been exceedingly fortunate in dodging rain and even thunderstorms at commencements and inaugurations. This year, however, inauguration planners were on edge all week when the weekend forecasts began calling for a good chance of rain, beginning the morning of the ceremony. As it turned out, light rain did fall early morning, but the decision was made about 7 a.m. to proceed with the 11 a.m. ceremony outdoors and to serve the picnic lunch indoors, in venerable Bryson Gym.
At the ceremony itself greetings came from many quarters, including the City of Asheville via Mayor Terry Bellamy and the Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees via Chair Alice Buhl. There was even a poetry reading from Ellen Bryant Voigt, founder of Warren Wilson’s renowned MFA Program for Writers.
But the highlight, as expected, was the terrific inaugural address by President Solnick. Although a light rain started falling as he began to speak, it failed to dampen the enthusiasm with which his address was received by those who had gathered on the Sunderland Lawn. Titled “Not the Old, Not the New, But the Necessary,” the entire address can be found here. Congratulations, Mr. President, and also to Warren Wilson College.