September 9, 2022 | NEWS | By Emma McDermott | Photo from The Catalyst Archives
Everything that I’ve done, even being a criminal defense lawyer and a death penalty lawyer and a public defender, those aspects one might not think translate into the role of being president of a liberal arts college, but they do. Those same skills that I learned there translate to what I’m doing here.
I remember when I was a student and when both in college and in law school and it really meant a lot to me to see people who were like me in positions. Whether it was a professor or others who looked like me just because it’s easy to often feel like an imposter and when you see role models, people who look like you, even if that’s all it is, it can be really meaningful.
I could name Thurgood Marshall, he’s a role model, I could mention a lot of people, and I have in the past, but now when I think about it, for me it’s people like my parents. It’s people that I work with here every day. People who are able to accomplish so much in a way that’s often unrecognized. Now, when I think about who are my role models, it’s the people who are accomplishing amazing things every day and they might be people whose name you don’t even know. Those are my role models because of what they’re able to do every day without recognition. That’s my new way of thinking about role models.
Most of the life experiences that I’ve had from college onwards have never been anything that I planned to do in my life. Except to go to law school because I knew I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer, but besides that each experience are opportunities that presented themselves to me. Even when I felt scared and apprehensive and anxious about saying yes to opportunities. Being willing to say yes to opportunities that come up in your life, whether you think you’re ready for them or not, whether you think you might fail at them or not, being willing and open enough to embrace all of it.
The pillars that I spoke about during inauguration could not have been the pillars I was speaking about without the important work that every prior president has done here at CC. Each one had a vision that built on the one that came before that led us to being where we are right now, on the cusp of more great things.
I think the primary through line between the three presidents, the two who were there and then Jill Tiefenthaler, who I speak to a lot, I think the primary common through line between all of them is that they were fearless and courageous and innovative. And that’s why I feel like that’s the community we now have.
What I have realized in my time here, my year here, is that we do such groundbreaking and remarkable things, but we don’t think that they are groundbreaking and remarkable. We just kind of do them, and we don’t think that they’re a big deal, which blows me away. Every time I learn about the things we do, and I’ve been at a lot of different schools, I can’t believe that I didn’t know about them. Everyone here is just so much like yeah, we just did that.
The reason I think it’s so important for the world to know who we are is because of our students. We’re all here for you, you’re our top priority. The world should know about you and what you are capable of. And the way that you think differently, already when you come here, because you’re coming here knowing we have the Block Plan, and then you go through that Block Plan, and you have these remarkable classes and the way that you think and analyze information and are able to get all this information quickly. That is something that most people can’t do.
Our students can do whatever they want. I want the world to know about you. The world is your oyster, it already is, but I didn’t know about you before I started this process of becoming the president of CC. The more I learned and saw how remarkable our students are and our community is, we owe it to you, our students, to have the world the world know who we are.
Whether you go to graduate school, or you apply for a job, whatever it is that you want to do, I don’t want you to have to spend any time explaining to anyone what CC is. They should just know.
I think the greatest obstacle facing CC is likely the same one that’s facing higher ed in general, which is how do we increase access and opportunity to the remarkable education that we offer. That, to me, is one of my top priorities because I think it’s a difficult question and I think at CC we can answer it just because we think differently about everything, and we are so creative and innovative.
I think our democracy depends on it. I think what we are seeing in the world right now is difficulty speaking across difference and actually listening to each other. The grand challenges and questions of our society right now require us to listen and to have different points of view. And when it comes to a liberal arts education, which I think is more important today than ever because of the types of questions we need to answer, in order to solve some of the messy problems that exist in the world today we need to have a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff. I just believe so much in our ability at CC to contribute to solving some of these difficult problems that exist in society, which is why having diverse viewpoints, which then requires access and opportunity to the education that we offer here, is why our democracy depends on it. And I believe that we can solve those problems. That’s why I’m here.