Inauguration, Behind the Podium

Reflections on the Inauguration from someone on stage

For the folks who were presenting at the inauguration, the event began at 4:00 p.m. We shuffled into the Grey Lounge of Kaul Auditorium because, you know, that’s where one would responsibly put the Grey Lounge: in Kaul. The room was bustling with folks suiting up into their academic regalia. At about fifteen to 5:00 p.m., Dawn Thompson bustled everyone into their places in the lines. The first folks out were all delegates of various colleges from around the country, preceded by a bagpiper. From trustees, to current professors, to the president of PSU, they all lined up to represent their institutions. Following the delegates were the faculty (including emeriti), then trustees, and then presidents of the college: Diver, Koblich, and interim presidents like Stienberger. The last folks in the lines were the ones on stage. We were paired in two, though The Honorable Earl B sort of trailed off by himself. 

They had prepared two routes of entry: a wet route and a dry route. As we marched out, one after the next, following the dry route, it began to lightly sprinkle. I was chatting with Adrienne Nelson, and as we entered the series of tents before the big one, a group of students wearing Divest Reed shirts lined the entryway. 

The Inauguration was begun by Roger Perlmutter, who chairs the Board of Trustees. The speeches were themed around the ampersand, but Hugh and Nigel seemed to be the only folks who really took that to heart. Each of the speakers who were invited brought a different perspective to the stage. Earl Blumenauer and Adrienne, who welcomed Audrey on behalf of Oregon, both spoke about Audrey and then politely welcomed her into her job. On behalf of the college, I welcomed Audrey in a more holistic sense with a bit of humor, and reflection about the rough period the college is hopefully coming out of. Hugh and Nigel both spoke about how the faculty and staff are happy to welcome Audrey, and about her many ‘ands.’ Audrey is a scholar, to the point where she is apparently the only president to also get tenure, a theorist, a drummer, and an author. Jinyoung talked about what exactly it is that the alumni do, and how they are happy to welcome Audrey to the college. 

As the performances for the evening began, Shadab Zeest Hashmi, class of ‘95, delivered her poem “To Ampersand, with Love” with more intensity and determination than my mother did me. The Reed String Quartet played “Op. 110, No. 8” by Dmitiri Shostakovich, which was uncharacteristically depressing. At this point in the program though, the rain was starting to really pour down, and it blended with the more melancholic tones of the Shostakovich that made it sound melancholic to the point of intentionality.

As the final speakers prepared to lean awkwardly into the mic, Libby Drumm introduced Yoon Sun Lee. Professor Lee gave one of the best speeches of the night. Though we wrote our speeches entirely separate of one another, we both spoke about our hopes for the future, and trust that Audrey may be one of the few people up to the job. Lee and Audrey both started in the Claremont McKenna College Department of English in 1994. Apparently, Audrey was kind even when she didn’t have to be, telling Lee that she could trust her despite the competition that Lee had worried about as they were both women studying a similar field of literature at a moderately sized institution. As Yoon Sun finished, Roger took the stage to give Audrey her investiture, a large necklace in the style of Flava Flav style that I honestly hope she wears around the college for the rest of her term.

Audrey then gave her inaugural speech, and it was a kind of master class in pleasing multiple constituencies. She inspired and roused the pockets of donors in equal measure. It left the audience — as I saw it — with a kind of hope that she would be the kind of president that we haven’t really seen before, beyond our first gay female president, but one who is an honest-to-God professor. One who could really care for students and listen to staff. To repeat something I said on stage: she came off like someone who could tell our story. After Audrey took her seat, Claudia Brant and Henry Alberto Castro Carrion sang and played piano respectively; their music was one of the absolute highlights of the night, and a delightful cap to the evening. 

One of the things that lingers with me is something Adrienne said to me during the final applause for Audrey: “We made the right choice.” After all that pomp and all that circumstance, I can’t help but think that we have made the right choice. I made a remark during the ceremony about celebrating someone before they’ve really done the job, and while that sentiment rings true, so does Adrienne’s. A committee made a choice that the trustees ratified, and now we’ll start to live the everyday that comes after it. I hope it ends up a little brighter. 

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