Howard I. Dillingham was the first president at Ithaca College to be inaugurated at a Presbyterian Church in downtown Ithaca. Fifty-two years later, the college celebrated another milestone in its history — the inauguration of its eighth president, Tom Rochon — Friday in Ben Light Gymnasium.
Though Rochon began his presidency last July, the event was specifically planned to occur during the James J. Whalen Symposium — a reflection of Rochon’s strategic visioning program. The symposium emphasizes cross-campus academic achievements. Students, faculty and staff of the college, as well as community members and visiting delegates, witnessed Rochon’s formal ceremony that marked the beginning of his presidency.
SGA president and senior Cornell Woodson said this was an important day for the college.
“Ithaca College starts a new chapter today,” he said.
Rochon said he will remember how he was treated him when he arrived on campus.
“What I’m going to remember for a long time about this year are the faculty, students and alumni of Ithaca College and my deepening feeling, that as wonderful as this place is, we’re poised to be absolutely spectacular in terms of rebuilding for the needs of society,” he said.
During the event, Rochon was inaugurated with symbols of his office: the mace, the college’s charter and medallion. The mace is a ceremonial staff carried by specific officials, the college’s charter is a document outlining the conditions of the college, and the medallion symbolizes Rochon’s role as president with the school crest and his name embossed on it. Rochon said the event held more ritualistic meaning than anything else.
“It has an important symbolic function to remind ourselves of who we are, where we have been, and where we are today but is also a great moment to think about the future,” he said.
Representing delegates arrived first in the processional followed by the faculty at the college. Each section of the processional was led by a student bearing a sign of what the group was: delegates, faculty or the platform.
David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University, spoke on behalf of the higher education community. In his speech he congratulated Rochon on his new position and the highlighted dreams of the college.
“Ithaca has grown and evolved and will continue to do so in the future,” he said.
C. William Schwab ’68, chairman of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, welcomed the audience with a heartfelt salute to Rochon and his vision for the college.
“This is a time to reflect on the past and look to the future,” he said. “A new president marks a new era and vision for the future.”
Following the brief interlude in which the Ithaca College Choir sang, “Lift Every Voice to Freedom,” Robert D. Putnam, Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, received an honorary degree from the college.
In his talk “A New ‘Greatest Generation’?” Putnam challenged the audience to participate more in communities. Shortly after in Rochon’s address, Rochon brought up the same idea that the generation needs to participate in more cross campus activities. He said human beings are born to learn and do so in the environment they live and learn in.
“You cannot prevent infants from learning if you tried,” he said. “And you cannot prevent college students from learning either.”
Though the majority of students did not attend, some students said the negative turnout of students was unsurprising. Woodson said many students did not care enough to attend the inauguration.
“It is a mixture of not understanding the importance of the ceremony,” Woodson said. “There is the general feeling that students don’t care enough — it is not that they were protesting. It may be that they don’t care enough to get up and stop what they are doing to go to the ceremony.”
Junior Cole Lechleiter said he came because he felt that it was a great opportunity to stay involved with the campus community.
“It was so interesting for me to go and see all the delegates that were there and to see the magnitude of the collaboration and participation in this one event,” he said.
In the end, Rochon said the college is a good fit for him. Rochon said he and his brother had a conversation about the perfect college at which to be president.
“[Ithaca College] is small enough to have an impact as a leader but larger enough that the institution itself makes a difference,” he said. “Ithaca College is right in that sweet spot — we can make a difference but are not simply a large bureaucracy.”