October 21, 2022

Inauguration Speech

Good afternoon. Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, elected officials, and esteemed guests:

It is an honor and privilege to be standing before you. (pause) With a heart that is bursting with gratitude for all who contributed to this special day.

Thank you to our performers for your beautiful and inspiring music.

Dr. Michael Johanson, in all my days I never thought someone would compose a fanfare for me.

I might have to make it my cell phone ringtone.

Thank you to our ushers, our mace bearer, marshalls, and flag bearers, representing 30 countries, our state, our city, and our campus. A special note of gratitude to all of the members of the inaugural committee who worked tirelessly to plan this event.

Dr. Kundai Chirindo, thank you for serving as our master of ceremonies and to Hilary Martin Himan for blessing today’s festivities. David Harrelson, thank you for honoring our indigenous communities.

A special thanks to Representative Blumenauer for representing our state so ably all of these years and taking time out of his busy schedule to offer greetings. And to Chris Ohman, thank you for your service to the Alumni Association and to the Board of Trustees and for being here today.

In thinking about this ceremony and who would speak on my behalf, I reflected on the many people in my life who have been inspirational to me, helped me to become the leader and person I am today, and whose love, friendship and support have sustained me over many years. It was an easy realization that my inauguration must have the sage words from three people who have been instrumental in my life:

A big thank you to our featured speakers,

  • Dr. Mia Tuan, a brilliant educator, who I met and had the honor to work with when we both were at the University of Oregon;
  • President Lori White; who has been a long time colleague who I have learned from and admired as one of the seminal Student Affairs professionals in the field;
  • And, Ms. Asia Wooten, alumna former LC and current Oregon Health and Sciences 2nd year medical student and soon to be a physician. I am so very proud of you. Asia and I have a long friendship that began when she was a young person looking for an African-American mentor, and I was lucky enough to be selected to play that role for her. At this point in our friendship, I am not sure who is the mentor and who is the mentee anymore. We just learn from each other.

Thank you all three for your kind and thoughtful words today. I appreciate you all.

And finally, to our colleagues in higher education who traveled to bring greetings from their campuses, thank you for honoring us with your presence as delegates.

No one achieves success alone. I am blessed to be able to say that I have an abundance of support from family and friends.

The first person I think of when I get up in the morning and lay my head down at night is my amazing wife, Kathy Holmes-Sullivan.

After almost 29 years of partnership, Kathy and I have been through many adventures—some good, some exciting, a few hard—and of course we weathered through the losses of our mothers together.

There is no one in this world I would want to be going through this journey with other than you, Kathy.

You make me a better person, a better mother, and a better leader. You are my most important and reliable confidante. You always tell me what I need to hear whether I want to hear it or not.

I am one of your biggest admirers, and I am not quite sure how I was able to have the good fortune of being your wife, but I am eternally grateful for it. I can’t imagine starting this next chapter without you by my side.

Kathy and I are blessed with two incredible sons, Josh and Nathan, an amazingly impressive daughter-in-law, Kaitlyn, and an absolutely perfect, best grandson ever, Kayden.

Our children have been a source of immense joy and pride for us and I am so grateful to be their mom and Nana. Thank you for keeping me humble, and focused on what is really important—family.

To my extended family, my father, sisters and brothers, father-in-law and his partner, Donna, brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces—thank you for being here and for always being so supportive of our family and of me.

I love all of you very much.

I also would like to thank the many friends who have traveled from near and far to witness this moment. We have had many amazing memories together, and I am so admiring of the strong, accomplished people you all are. Thank you for always being in my corner and for witnessing this moment with me and my family today.

And finally, I would like to take a moment to honor my mother, Ethel Marie Holmes: my rock, my cheerleader, and sometimes my biggest critic. I would not be who I am today without the loving guidance and support that she provided to me.

She would so much want to be here today to celebrate this moment. Her physical absence is one of the only places of sadness on this special day.

A few minutes ago you heard the Lewis & Clark Cappella Nova sing “A Beautiful Noise,” a song originally performed by Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile.

Talk about amazing voices.

The song reminds me that everyone has a voice. You just hope that you get invited to use it.

And it is significant that Lewis & Clark invited me to use my voice—as the first woman, the first person of color, the first openly gay person to lead this institution.

In one hundred and fifty-five years.

And as the song says, I promise to let my voice speak for the ones who aren’t yet really free.

As I mentioned, no one accomplishes success alone. If you are lucky you not only had some support, you had a lot of support—that definitely describes my life to this point. Let me tell you about the people who gave me my voice.

Some of my earliest memories are of the Marine Corps Base in El Toro, California, where my father was a Master Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. A well-respected, successful leader who broke down barriers and excelled on base. He was so respected by the men and women that he led.

But truth be told, my mother was the real master sergeant of our house.

My mother was a big woman—6 feet tall— with a big voice. Big enough that it worried—and thrilled—me when she said she needed to go “talk” to someone who’d displeased her, or who she perceived did her family wrong. You never wanted to be on the back end of that conversation, trust me.

Like the time a PE teacher told me I needed to tone it down on the seventh-grade basketball court to give the other girls a chance to compete.

When I told my mom about it, she said, “What?” “Well, I’ll go talk to her.”

I guess the PE coach heard her because I kept right on playing as hard as I could and she never spoke of limiting me again.

My dad, his voice was gentle and soothing. He never raised it. Can you imagine? A master sergeant who never yells?

That’s my dad.

And oh, he was my hero in uniform. I loved that uniform. I used to shine his boots, starch his hat, polish his buckle. All to show my love for him.

Dad, would you please stand for a moment so we can show our love and appreciation for you and thank you for your years of service?

My parents gave me something that every child deserves: Unconditional love. Acceptance. Protection. Structure.

Rules—lots of them!

But mostly love.

They built me up. Because they believed in me. They set high expectations for me. Because they believed in me. And they pushed me to attend college. Even though they never had the privilege to attend themselves, it was never a question that I would.

Because they believed in my voice.

They were raising a young Black woman. And they knew the world might not believe in me the same way that they did.

And they were right about that.

I could tell you a lot of stories about times when the world didn’t believe in me. But I’m going to share just one because I want to spend the rest of our time talking about why I believe in Lewis & Clark and the great things we’re going to do here together.

As a kid, I played basketball. Obsessively. Passionately. For hours on end. It was how I expressed myself. It was my voice.

I didn’t know what else I was going to do in college, but I knew I was going to play basketball there.

And at a summer basketball camp, when I was 14, I finally got a chance to talk to a real college coach.

She said, “What are your goals?”

I said, “I want to play college basketball at the Division 1 level.”

She said, “Yeah …”

“That’s probably not going to happen.”

“Your shot is inconsistent. You’ve got this sidespin. I wouldn’t get my hopes up—at least not at a Division 1 school.”

I was crushed. Crushed!

Back home, my brother caught me crying.

“What’s wrong?” he said, and I laid it all out.

And he was not having any of it!

“Get your ball,” he said.

“We’re going outside.”

Off to the high school court we went.

To shoot the basketball.

For hours.

And I mean hours. Because while that coach was wrong in many ways, she was right about one thing: my shot needed work.

So we practiced and practiced and practiced.

Night after night.

Until I nailed that shot.

And was recruited to play college basketball—in a conference against the very coach who told me I wouldn’t make it. I enjoyed when we played against her teams, probably a little too much—but that’s me.

Now, imagine if I had listened to that coach and just stopped playing basketball.

Imagine if I’d let her take my voice.

Where would I be? Not on this stage.

But all too often, we listen to the wrong voices.

The ones that say some students just aren’t cut out for college, and we shouldn’t expect everyone to graduate.

The ones that say we can’t afford that at Lewis & Clark. We don’t have the resources to pay our excellent faculty and staff or to invest in innovative programs and build the best facilities.

The ones that say we’ll never come back from this pandemic.

The ones that are screaming at each other in the comments and on the cable news and on our social media feeds.

The ones that are poisoning the minds of our young girls over social media as they strive for perfection they will never achieve.

Those are the voices we hear.

But not today. Not while I’ve got something to say.

You’re about to hear some different voices. Stories from people right here at Lewis & Clark who set the tone for the kind of institution we can be.

For the kind of community we can be.

For the kind of country we can be.

From a member of our staff who was tasked with welcoming new students to campus during the pandemic.

And when most of our beloved traditions were out of reach, who found a way to give our students the stars.

From a member of our faculty, who summoned the silenced voices of his indigenous ancestors and composed for them a chorus.

And from a recent graduate whose Lewis & Clark studies led him to Uganda, where he challenged his assumptions and opened himself to new voices.

Each of these people shows the value of a Lewis & Clark education and points to the potential that is simmering away under the surface of our institution.

Franchesca Spann is one of these special people.

I hired Franchesca as the director of our new student orientation program in 2020, right before she graduated from Lewis and Clark.

Student orientation is one of the most important programs on our campus. It gives students their first impression of college life at Lewis and Clark.

Students get five days to meet their professors, make new friends, learn the campus, interact with staff and understand the services we will provide to them—and to begin to find their place.

Orientation sets the tone for the entire academic year. We want students to come away from it feeling like they made the right choice when they selected Lewis and Clark.

I thought Franchesca, being fresh out of college, probably understood how to do that better than anyone.

But just as she was settling into her new job, COVID struck.

We may be ready to put that period in our past. But I want to talk about it for just a minute because our community’s response to COVID perfectly illustrates what makes Lewis and Clark great.

In March 2020, our campus shut down along with the rest of the country.

And by April we were up and running as a fully remote campus.

Think about that.

We were literally afraid for our lives. Under enormous stress.

And amid that, we shifted what was then a 153-year-old institution fully online. It sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud.

But we did it. In a matter of weeks.

Everyone, I mean everyone, was scrambling.

And Franchesca had an orientation to plan for the fall.

But she had no idea whether the campus would even be open in the fall.

Health conditions were changing daily, and so were the rules about social distancing and safe events.

At one point Franchesca had ten different back-up plans going. And days before she was set to welcome her carefully planned groups of 12 students, the state set the group limit at, you guessed it—11 students.

Did she give up? No! She moved sessions outside or online.

And in a stroke of true genius, Franchesca and her team hosted a star-watching party on the Great Platt Lawn.

Creating an unforgettable memory and a new tradition at Lewis and Clark.

At that moment and so many others during the pandemic, Franchesca and our entire faculty and staff pulled together and showed us what a community of care looks like in action.

When I arrived here in 2019, I was struck by the spirit of support, care and collaboration at Lewis and Clark.

It was everywhere.

Impressively, this campus is still alive with it, even after our shared experience with COVID.

In fact, the COVID crisis made us stronger.

Faculty and staff, your academic innovation has paid off in greater interest in Lewis & Clark and in higher enrollment across all 3 of our schools.

Your efforts to develop our community of care, to provide wraparound services and touchpoints for students along their academic journey, have increased students’ sense of belonging–and, thus, their willingness to stay in school.

Our success is palpable and paying off. Between 2020 and 2022 we have:

  • Enjoyed the biggest enrollment gains in our history
  • Retained the highest number of students ever; and
  • Raised the most private money in our history.

COVID set us on a journey that none of us wanted to take.

And we’ve arrived at a wonderful moment on our campus.

To paraphrase Lin-Manuel (Lin-Manwell) Miranda, now it’s time to take this moment and make it a movement—on our campus, and beyond.

Time to celebrate and elevate the good work happening every day at Lewis & Clark.

And to challenge ourselves to do more.

To eliminate roadblocks for our students by delivering unwavering constituent service across all departments and offices.

To identify and invest in promising academic and support programs that will meet the changing needs of our students and our community.

To reward and retain our loyal faculty and staff with competitive compensation.

To open our doors to new and diverse faculty and staff.

And to remind ourselves of the role that higher education can play in healing our country.

We will commit fully to educating our students.

Creating the sense of belonging that is the antidote to disconnection and divisiveness.

Teaching them how to learn across their differences without shutting down or becoming locked in rigid thinking.

In the coming months and years, you will be reading and hearing more about the excellence that exists at Lewis & Clark. It is among my top priorities that we sustain and grow our local, regional and national reputation across all three campuses.

In the past, we’ve been shy about promoting ourselves. But it’s simply too competitive out there to be humble. We must tell our stories of success to persuade the finest students, faculty and staff to join our ranks. So, listen for us to raise our voices, for we have an abundance of stories to share. Our faculty stands shoulder to shoulder with the best in their fields.

Faculty like Dr. Freddy Vilches, whose beautiful music you will hear at the reception. Dr. Vilches is an associate professor in the Department of World Languages and Literatures and an instructor in Latin American instruments in our Music Department.

A native of Chile with indigenous roots, Dr. Vilches composes music that centers around indigenous voices and instruments.

He’s making music featuring languages, melodies and rhythms dismissed and historically marginalized.

Restoring ancient sounds to the musical canon.

And vindicating the silenced voices of indigenous communities in South, Central and North America.

Dr. Vilches’ Latin American Suite celebrates five musical regions: The Andes, Venezuela and Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Cuba.

This summer he traveled to Bolivia with conductor Lance Inouye to perform Vilches’ Latin American Suite with an orchestra of indigenous musicians. And together they filled this jungle community once more with the sounds of the cuatro, flutes from the Andes, and more.

It was a tribute to the indigenous communities themselves and to Dr. Vilches’ artistic vision.

A vision that continues in his Abya Yala Choral Suite, commissioned by Lewis & Clark’s own Kathy Fitzgibbon’s Resonance Ensemble. The Choral Suite is an ambitious collaboration between Dr. Vilches and bilingual poets from five different regions, whose poetry he has adapted into a multilingual composition.

Preserving the languages and cultures of indigenous communities for future generations.

Dr. Vilches is just one example of the excellence, innovation, and collaboration alive on the Lewis & Clark campus.

Excellence and innovation that I am determined to see us support through competitive compensation that recognizes the accomplishments and talents of our current faculty and staff and that will make us an attractive destination for new faculty and staff who are at the top of their fields.

And who can help us launch academic programs that will give us a strategic advantage as we recruit students and meet the needs of our community and country.

Because a scarcity mindset doesn’t serve our community, and it doesn’t serve us.

Remember that every investment in Lewis & Clark is an investment in a future student. And our students are worthy of that investment.

Students like Cole Harris.

Cole came to Lewis and Clark after spending most of his childhood in rural Texas, an alienating experience for someone with a queer identity.

He arrived at Lewis and Clark a “lost soul” without passions or a clear sense of what he wanted to study – a minor character in his own life, without much of a voice.

But that changed almost immediately with his first class with Cyrus Partovi.

Studying international affairs through the lens of the 2016 election cycle awakened Cole’s interest in the world around him.

Lewis & Clark trusted Cole to take responsibility for his educational journey. He began to see that his ideas and opinions could evolve as more information came to light and he took in new perspectives.

This freedom led Cole to pursue research opportunities as an undergraduate, with professors like Dr. Elizabeth Bennett and Dr. Laura Vinson who trusted him to make meaningful contributions to their research.

And who helped him secure funding to study abroad in Tanzania.

Cole says that getting off the airplane for the first time in a new country felt like his first “main character moment.”

He’d found his voice.

The quality and depth of Cole’s undergraduate experiences and the support of his professors led to his selection as a Fulbright scholar.

He traveled to Uganda to study the social programs of Pentecostal Churches, in a country that is notoriously dangerous for people who are LGTBQ.

Going in, Cole made an assumption that gay people wouldn’t be welcome in the church and wouldn’t choose it. But in Uganda, he found a Pentecostal Church led by a devout gay man.

In Cole’s words, “My ideas evolved. I grew, and I realized I was not the same person. It wasn’t that I was wrong. It was that I had grown.”

That is the true power of higher education.

To allow our students to hear differing points of view and work in multiple cultural contexts.

And that is why we’re investing in our community dialogues initiative. This year, we plan to complete at least three of these dialogues, learning how to have difficult conversations right here at home and becoming a model for institutions across the country.

It’s imperative to make room for new voices and encourage the discussion of ideological and philosophical differences.

We’re living at a time where political positions and beliefs seem chiseled in cement. Where change is a sign of weakness. Where ideas and people can be canceled.

But on this 26th inauguration day, we’re reminded that higher education has a higher purpose.

It brings us together to make a beautiful noise.

One that is loud and clear, and so much stronger than your fear.

Franchesca, Freddy and Cole, please stand for a moment so we can recognize you.

Thank you for adding your voices to the beautiful noise of this community and for accepting the invitation of higher education.

That’s really what we’re sending when we mail acceptance letters in the spring to students.


We’re saying you are cordially invited to Lewis & Clark.

Where you’ll learn how to learn.

Where you’ll change your mind. And change it again.

Where you’ll find your voice.

And use it to make the world sing.

Thank you!