Inauguration of Dr. Julie E. Wollman

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Inaugural Address

 

Thank you all for being here today.

Thank you to Chairman Pichini, Governor Shields, Chancellor Cavanaugh, Chairman Horan, Senator Earll, Mayor Lucas, Mr. Mineo, Reverend Falco, Professor Renn, Dr. Hannan, Dr. Sablo, Dr. Jones, Ms. Carson, Mr. Roberts, members of the Edinboro University ROTC, Dr. Grant and members of the Brass Ensemble, members of the Edinboro University Pipes and Drums, Dr. van den Honert and the Edinboro University Chorale, and Ms. Hart. Your participation means a great deal to me! 

Thank you, as well, to all of the distinguished and honored guests who’ve joined us today. President Emeritus Diebold, college and university delegates, Edinboro students, faculty, and staff. Your participation is deeply appreciated. And thank you to the wonderful colleagues who so attentively planned this entire week of spectacular events! They are acknowledged in the program.

I know all of these thank yous may seem perfunctory; but I want you to know they are genuine and heartfelt.  It is truly humbling to be entrusted with the responsibility and to be granted the opportunity to serve with you to shape the brightest possible future for Edinboro University. And I respectfully pledge to do all in my power to justify that trust and to honor your support for the University and for me as a steward of its future.

Thank you to my family and friends who have traveled to be here today. My mother and father, Anne and Harry Wollman, my daughters Sara and Rosa, my sister Emily, and my dearest friend from childhood, Caroline MacMoran. Thank you to my ever-supportive husband and best friend, Dan King. 

Excellence. Optimism. Leadership. I chose these three concepts as my theme because I think there is value in lifting up, celebrating, and recommitting to what makes Edinboro special and what will carry us into the future.

Remember, it was Excellence, Optimism and Leadership that led to the founding of Edinboro Academy in 1857 and that has shaped our rich history and brought us to where we are today.

But my focus will not be on the university as an institution. Rather, I want to focus on our students. Our students get it—they are here to be transformed into better people than they think they can be when they come to us.  And they are open to the possibilities and optimistic that the transformation will occur. Their stories exemplify what is best and most distinctive about Edinboro University.

Those who work with me know that I’m committed to the highest expectations and the highest standards across Edinboro University. Just as we encourage our students to find and foster the excellence in themselves—to do better than they thought possible—we must also work to ensure second-to-none quality in everything that we do. Everything from daily building maintenance to teaching the most complex concepts in nanotechnology must be emblematic of excellence. 

There is no better way to describe excellence than to introduce you to the story of Edinboro University senior, Jeff Person. Jeff happens to have been born with Arthrogryposis so he grew up in a wheelchair but that’s not the first thing you notice about him. Instead you notice his energy and engagement. No surprise that he is committed to dispelling the notion that disability is a barrier. He says, “I’ve done everything, just like a person without a disability.” And he makes it all sound so natural and simple that it’s easy to forget that he has achieved unusual excellence for anyone his age.

Jeff is a political junkie who is addicted to C-SPAN, CNN and other news outlets and also reads extensively about public policy.  Since he was 10 years old he’s had a passion to run for public office. As a freshman in high school he methodically called every congressional office until one finally hired him as an intern. Jeff is also a veteran of the Model United Nations, where he’s been on the floor of the UN General Assembly, a fraternity brother at Edinboro, an active member of the Student Government Association, a leader in the College Democrats, and he had a fellowship to work on the presidential campaign this past year. Jeff believes that as citizens we are responsible for being engaged and invested in our communities and their leaders—he works tirelessly to eliminate civic apathy among his fellow students.

Jeff has been interning for well-known US Senators in DC each summer since he started at Edinboro. When he graduates Jeff plans to work on Capitol Hill as a Congressional staffer. Eventually, he dreams of being a candidate for Congress himself. I feel confident it won’t be long before that happens. When he runs I can tell you I will vote for Jeff Person because he tackles everything he does with his signature engagement and energy, and he settles for nothing short of excellence from himself and from others.

Like Jeff, our students face many obstacles; some physical, some emotional, some financial, but they refuse to “settle.” Given their example, we have no choice but to rise to a new level of excellence so that Edinboro University is recognized nationally as a destination for students who seek to be challenged; and is recognized nationally as a University that changes lives. 

This is a difficult time for higher education and an especially difficult time for the students we serve, yet we are full of Optimism. Why wouldn’t we be? We provide access to a high quality education for a remarkable group of motivated and hopeful students. We are genuinely welcoming and inclusive of students who bring a diverse range of characteristics, some of which would make attendance at a typical university nearly impossible. We celebrate that our graduates leave us ready to make the world a better place. We are privileged to serve in this role of educating those who will shape our future; our pride in what we do makes Edinboro a profoundly optimistic place.

Perhaps you’ve met Tom Ricci, a freshman music education major. Tom grew up in Chicago experiencing the same kind of discrimination his Mexican grandmother had experienced when she sacrificed everything to make a life in the US.  He lived in a neighborhood where few attend college, but his grandmother assured him that he would go. 

A talented musician, Tom was a shy, uneasy young person who daily experienced verbal and physical bullying and was afraid to go to school because of it. He longed to escape the intolerance of his neighborhood. His grandmother died when he was in 8th grade, but left him with the belief that it doesn’t matter how negatively people view you; they’ll figure out they were wrong and in the meantime you need to forge ahead, with self-respect, ready for any opportunity. Color, she taught Tom, isn’t the measure of one’s worth.

Here, farther from city life than he’s ever been, Tom feels at home and welcomed and, in his words: “it is a miracle” that he found Edinboro University. His sense of responsibility to improve his own life and to improve the world validate his Grandmother’s teaching and the way she lived her life: ever hopeful in the face of adversity, appreciative of opportunities, willing to imagine possibilities, and ready to embrace the future, whatever it might bring. Tom’s aspiration is stunningly simple: to be a good person and a loving and loyal family member.

You all could tell a similar story of an Edinboro student like Tom. Given how optimistic our students are despite their life’s challenges, there’s little room for negativity here—our students displace negativity and fill our context with hope and commitment to solving problems and forging ahead. How fortunate we are to work among young people who have profound faith that they have the power to make things better for themselves, for us, and for the world around them. They model the optimism we need to be successful in the face of challenges!

Edinboro University students understand both personal and shared responsibility. And they understand that responsibility as a fundamental component of civic and community leadership. More important, they demonstrate this understanding in their daily lives. They become “everyday leaders.” Our students work to promote justice, fairness and campus engagement. Their education here, in and outside of the classroom, helps them to turn their gaze toward their community and to acknowledge not only others’ needs and rights but also the imperative to act to achieve those rights.

Rachel Goldstrom, a freshman art education major exemplifies everyday leadership. Rachel describes herself as shy, but she stepped forward boldly when she had a chance to do what she thought was right. Coming from a strong high school art program near Pittsburgh, Rachel was disappointed with the introductory drawing studios here and quickly recognized how they could be improved. Her professor suggested that students write letters about the issue, but Rachel knew that few would do that, and a couple of letters might not have much impact. She decided to start a petition—on large sheets of drawing paper, of course!

What made a timid freshman become a community advocate who gathered 230 signatures in her first two weeks of college? Rachel realized that college was a chance to become a more engaged person and, she explains: “I want to be someone who makes a difference.” Edinboro is a place where students have not only the space but also the support and encouragement to become leaders and advocates for what’s right.

In her first month at Edinboro, Rachel presented her petition to me. I don’t know about you, but as an undergraduate I would never have dared to attend an open meeting with the President, especially with a lengthy petition in hand! I’m not sure that Rachel wasn’t anxious either, but she did it! And, in so doing, she modeled personal and social responsibility and civic engagement. Yes, she presented me with a challenge: she focused campus-wide attention on a change that’s needed—but I am so proud of her commitment to improving the University. And the attention she has drawn to the studio space has helped to speed up planned changes. She can take credit for that.

Rachel is special, but she is not alone here at Edinboro. Our students demonstrate unwavering idealism and advocacy for what is right. They understand and accept their own power to make a difference. It’s no wonder we feel optimistic about a future with such leaders!

Excellence. Optimism. Leadership. These are qualities that characterize our students and qualities that are hallmarks of our university.

Jeff, Tom and Rachel are at once extraordinary and typical. Having heard their stories it should come as no surprise that I feel privileged to lead this outstanding university into a future of high hopes, high engagement, high standards and highest recognition for what we do in the way that only a Fighting Scot can! Thank you!

Dr. Julie E. Wollman, President