BUDDY COWGILL: On behalf of the trustees, faculty, staff and students of Transylvania University, I am pleased to welcome all of you — virtually — to the Installation and Investiture of our 28th president, Mr. Brien Lewis.
While university inaugurations are usually grand affairs, today’s event is non-traditional. But the lack of pomp and circumstance doesn’t lessen the importance of what we are here to do… celebrate the arrival of a new president.
Founded in 1780, Transylvania University was the first college west of the Allegheny Mountains and the 16th in the nation. Throughout those 240 years, Transylvania has been known for its engaged faculty and its high-achieving students, creating a national reputation for academic excellence and public service.
Transylvania today has many strengths: as I mentioned, our distinguished faculty, an academically impressive and increasingly diverse student body, loyal and supportive alumni and friends, campus facilities which have been in great part recently rebuilt — including a brand new state-of-the-art campus center — and a solid financial base.
In Brien Lewis, Transylvania is getting a catalyst, motivator and experienced educator committed to the value and purpose of intellectual and personal development. His experience as a college president and his passion for shaping, delivering and providing access to the finest collegiate experience are all characteristics the search committee recognized as the attributes required in our next president. As a member of that search committee, I am confident that Brien is the right person to lead the University through the rapidly evolving 21st century.
Before we officially install our 28th president, it is my pleasure to turn our program over to representatives from our faculty, staff, students and alumni who recorded messages of welcome for today’s event.
ZOÉ STRECKER: On behalf of the Transylvania faculty, I want to warmly welcome President Brien Lewis and his family to our community. We’re eager to work with President Lewis to make courageous use of our humane liberal arts values within our classrooms and beyond. We’re in the midst of a truly hopeful opening for social justice, but we’re also in a time of global crisis with the COVID-19 epidemic and pressing challenges around climate change. Our Transy mission statement ends with a commitment to lifelong social responsibility in a diverse world. This is our moment to work harder and more constructively than ever.
In this moment we are extremely pleased to begin a collaboration with you, President Lewis, and, again, we welcome you warmly.
BETH CARPENTER: As incoming chair of the Staff Engagement Team, I am so excited to welcome Brien Lewis to campus. In working with him virtually over the last couple of months, I’ve been able to see his enthusiasm for working with staff and his congenial and very friendly manner, and I know that he will be a great asset to us as we work to grow and change in these coming
SAVANNAH LAMBERT: On behalf of the Student Government Association, we are so excited to welcome President Lewis to his new role in the Transylvania community. Although of course we wish we has been able to meet with him in person on campus over the past couple of months, many of us have had the chance to get to know him virtually and we are so excited about his student-first perspective. We look forward to working with you in the next couple of months and welcome to Transylvania.
NATHAN LEE: On behalf of the Transylvania Alumni Board, the Young Alumni Council and alumni from across the years, I bring greetings of welcome and congratulations to President Lewis on his investiture as the 28th president of Transylvania University. President Lewis, the alumni of Transylvania look forward to partnering with you as you lead our alma mater into its next chapter. We promise to support positive, transformative change in our community, to offer challenge where appropriate and to work toward our common goal to make sure Transylvania continues as a leader in liberal arts education for its next 240 years. Congratulations, welcome and Hail Transylvania!
BUDDY COWGILL: Today is a special day for the Lewis family, and we are honored to have Laura Lewis join us here in Carrick Theater. I’d like to welcome you — and also your children Josh and Anna Louise who are not able to join us today — to the Transylvania family. It is now my pleasure to ask Brien Lewis to come forward to be presented with the symbols of office — the presidential medallion and the university mace.
By the power vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I confer upon you the title of President of Transylvania University with all the rights and duties attended with that position. It is my honor to present President Brien Lewis, the 28th president of Transylvania University.
BRIEN LEWIS: Thank you Mr. Cowgill and warmest congratulations to you on becoming chair of the Board of Trustees of your beloved alma mater. Thank you to you and Judy for your warm hospitality that you’ve shown to me and my family. It is a time of new beginnings. And new beginnings are typically full of hope.
Perhaps the ultimate collegiate hope was expressed by the late Bart Giamatti, who issued the following memo on his first day in office as President of Yale University: “In order to repair what Milton called the ruin of our grandparents, I wish to announce that henceforth, as a matter of university policy, evil is abolished and paradise is restored. I trust all of us will do whatever possible to achieve this policy objective.”
Thanks to my late mother the English professor, I got not only my fair share of Mother Goose, Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh, I also was exposed at a fairly young age to James Joyce, Jane Austen and Shakespeare. I was also exposed to Mozart, Rudolf Nureyev, Charlie Chaplin, and, always, the evening news. In countless ways my parents exposed me to the life of the mind: to ideas, to artistic expression, and to trying to reach some understanding of the human condition.
Lest you think that our family dinner table was some stuffy affair straight out of Downton Abbey, let me assure those of you who don’t know my parents that it was anything but. Throughout my childhood and youth, my father and I had an unofficial ritual of watching a weekly television series together.
Which show it was changed over time as shows came and went but it was always deep, intellectual stuff.
The sequence was roughly this: The 6 Million Dollar Man, The A-Team, and of course, the one constant: Hockey Night in Canada. Taken together my childhood was, in retrospect, a remarkable Liberal Arts education. It was great early training for a college president. And I have my parents to thank for it.
Collectively, my family has made many sacrifices over many years to allow me to pursue my dreams. My partner, my teammate in multiple adventures over the last 32 years – 30 of them in marriage – has been my wife, my buddy, Laura. She is without doubt the most patient and supportive person I know and the most amazing mother I will ever encounter.
Our two children, Josh and Anna Louise, are already smarter, nicer, and better people than I could ever aspire to be. They are my greatest pride and my deepest joy.
My thanks go to the Transy Presidential Selection Committee and the Board of Trustees. I am grateful for your trust, support and commitment to stewardship of this wonderful place and for being my partners in the endeavors to come. My job now is to make you look brilliant.
Thanks also go to Megan Moloney and all those who have worked so hard and so well to make this Investiture ceremony come together. I trust you all took really good notes because I hope you won’t need to put on one of these again for a long, long time!
I am also grateful to the Transy faculty, staff, and alumni and members of the greater Lexington community – for the warmth of your welcome, the candor of your counsel, and your potent desire to give tirelessly of yourselves for our students.
And to the Students – “You are Transylvania University!” You are Transy today and tomorrow.
People with hope, vision, and commitment helped craft the Transy we know today, a place where we seek to provide not just a credential but an underpinning for lives of meaning. To kindle unknown capacities, to embolden, and to empower.
An exciting but uncertain future faces Transy, faces higher education, faces all of us. So what does that future hold? As some of you already know, one of my favorite philosophers is the venerable trainer of Jedi Knights, Master Yoda. As he says in one of the Star Wars movies, “Always in motion is the future.” In one scene, young Luke Skywalker is at the mouth of a dark, foreboding cave. “Only what you take with you.”
So what do we take with us into that uncertain future? We take our ideas, we take our optimism and our aspirations, we take our hope. This does not mean we simply rest on our many deserved laurels or do things the way we have always done them.
Benjamin Franklin gave us all a pointed warning when he said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” And so in the coming months we will explore some challenging strategic decisions.
Together, we will pursue bold paths for Transy. We will develop and implement comprehensive plans for: Delivering the fullest Transy experience possible while protecting the health and safety of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic; Upholding our commitments to access and individual development and ensuring we take action to live out our belief that Black lives matter; Enhancing our capacities to deliver our enduring Mission and Core Values in ways uniquely suited to preparing students of today as leaders of the future; and Enabling continued innovation and financial strength through enrollment growth. There is no doubt that this is an ambitious list.
There is no doubt that items on this list will challenge us. We will make mistakes along the way. But we are ready. And we are grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in this rapidly changing world. Tom Friedman calls the globalized economy “the flat world” where (thanks to technology and reduced barriers) people anywhere can connect, collaborate, and compete with anyone, anywhere.
In the age of Zoom this is even more accurate. Daniel Pink has argued that we are on the cusp of a new age – following on the heels of the Agricultural Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age, he has coined the term, “The Conceptual Age.” This, he claims, will be a time when creators and empathizers will be the key – because those things cannot be outsourced or automated.
Perhaps most powerfully, he argues that we need to prepare students who will be not just problem solvers but problem FINDERS. These people can look around the corner and identify a solution where we are not even thinking there is a problem. We must shape Transy for this age and those who will live in and craft it. We must prepare our students for an age where information is available like never before – but critical thinking and assessment of that information has never been more difficult or more necessary.
Joseph Aoun, in this book “Robot-Proof”, contends that today’s graduates will need to build on the traditional literacies by adding three more—data literacy, technological literacy, and human literacy. He argues that in addition to these literacies we will need a set of “cognitive capacities” including systems thinking, entrepreneurship, cultural agility, and critical thinking. I believe that Friedman, Pink, and Aoun are on target.
If we are to properly prepare our students and ourselves, we must seize these challenges. We must understand, embrace, and forge this “Conceptual Age” by delivering an exceptional, personalized education designed to enhance the literacies and cognitive capacities of our students.
We will do this through initiatives where students are provided opportunities to explore the world (literally), to research and create, to get real world experiences through internships, and to serve their communities.
Will we also do it through more innovations in how, where, and when we offer our academic courses and programs? Will we get more creative in how we use our calendar, in how we use technology, in how we meet and engage students who have come to expect (and thrive in) an on-demand, personalized environment and economy?
I hope so and I believe we will.
Our students’ future success depends on it – and Transy’s future success depends on it. I began with Bart Giamatti and I return to him, as I continue to find his descriptions of the university and the value of liberal arts education to be eloquent and inspiring. Giamatti said, quote “The university today is very different from the one twenty-five years ago, or fifty or one hundred or two hundred and fifty years ago, and yet it is not different. It is still a constant conversation between young and old, between students, among faculty; between faculty and students; a conversation between past and present, a conversation the culture has with itself, on behalf of the country.
Perhaps it is the sound of all those voices, over centuries overlapping, giving and taking, that is finally the music of civilization, the sound of human beings shaping and sharing, mooring ideals to reality, making the world, for all its pain, work. The university… is a good place that continues to want to make her children better.” (end quote)
What a wonderful and accurate description of Transylvania University: a good place that continues to want to make her children better. A place making the world, for all its pain, work. Clearly, the challenges we face may only be addressed together and the goals I have outlined are not mine alone to accomplish.
They may only be achieved if we commit to each other and persist together. So as we set sail on this voyage together, it is fitting for us to be, I hope, inspired and challenged by Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. His poem, a Prayer for Spiritual Revival may, I trust, call to us and call us to reflect. Drake wrote: Disturb us, Lord, when We are too well pleased with ourselves, When our dreams have come true Because we have dreamed too little, When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, To venture on wider seas Where storms will show your mastery; Where losing sight of land, We shall find the stars.
May we indeed find the stars and may they shine brightly on Transylvania University. And in that light, may we pass on the light.
Hail Transylvania! thine own are we Our hearts in loyal love we pledge to thee; True to thy crimson flag thro’ all our days,
Hail Transylvania! we sing thy praise. seeker of truth, May He who guides above renew thy youth; Far thro’ the coming years firm in the right
Hail Transylvania! pass on thy light.