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Lehigh inaugurations bridge past, future

A word that dates back to the mid-16th century, “inauguration” is a rite of passage marking a “formal or ceremonial induction into an office.”

But the April inauguration of Alice P. Gast as Lehigh University’s 13th president will be far more than just pomp and circumstance. It will serve as an important bridge between the university’s past and future.

That’s the view of former College of Arts and Sciences Dean W. Ross Yates, who served as a Lehigh faculty member for 31 years, including the final nine years (1963-72) as dean of the college. Yates, who literally wrote the book on Lehigh history (Lehigh University: A History of Education in Engineering, Business and the Human Condition) worked on the inaugurations of two past Lehigh presidents: W. Deming Lewis (who served as Lehigh president from 1964-1982) and then Peter Likins (1982-1997).

“I believe inaugurations are an important part of a university’s life, affecting both the present and future of the university,” says Yates, now 82 and living in Hillside Manor, a retirement community in Oregon. “First of all, they can have a real unifying effect all around the university. Second, the visitors to the university—both invited guests and outside media—get an opportunity to see all the great things that are happening at Lehigh.”

“Plus, the inauguration speech often lays the groundwork for the direction that the new president hopes to take the university.”

Each inauguration is unique

In studying Lehigh’s history to write his book, Yates learned that no two Lehigh inaugurations are the same. Likins’ inauguration, for instance, included an Inaugural Ball in Stabler Arena with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. The inauguration of Gregory Farrington was followed by an evening of music and dancing at three campus locations—followed later in the month by a panel and dinner conversation on the “Nature of the University in the Information Age.”

(For biographies of all past Lehigh presidents, visit Generations of Leaders Shape Lehigh Legacy.)

Gast’s inauguration will also be distinct. She will be officially inaugurated as the university’s 13th president, on Friday, April 13. She is the second president to come to Lehigh directly from MIT (the other being Thomas Messinger Drown, who helped start MIT’s chemical engineering curriculum in the late 1880s before becoming Lehigh’s fourth president in 1895).

Keeping with tradition, Gast’s inauguration will include an academic procession of faculty, students, administrators, alumni and distinguished guests. Among the invited guests will be delegates from other colleges and universities; state, local and national dignitaries; and representatives of professional societies, community organizations, state businesses and the media.

Several highly respected academic leaders who are renowned in their fields in the world of higher education will be featured speakers during the ceremony. The centerpiece of the event will be Gast’s inaugural address, a speech in which she will share her perspective on Lehigh and the university’s future.

The inaugural ceremony will be followed by a university-wide celebration on the Goodman Campus. Later that evening, the Lehigh Jazz Ensemble will perform at the Zoellner Arts Center, and the Theatre Department will present Chay Yew’s Red in the Diamond Theater, directed by Pam Pepper.

Events commemorating the inauguration will actually span three days, including an academic research symposium on Thursday, April 12, and a Family Day of Service on Saturday, April 14.

Five prominent scholars of international stature, each an individual whose work has dramatically shaped the contemporary intellectual landscape, will deliver lectures during the symposium, which also will include an exhibition of student research and scholarship from across the university.

The Family Day of Service will include an expanded version of the annual Spring Fling event that brings dozens of children to Lehigh’s campus for a day of fun and educational activities. There will also be opportunities for Lehigh students, faculty and staff to volunteer in other community service projects in South Bethlehem.

--Bill Doherty

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