Music, dignitaries, students, faculty, alumni, high praise and high spirits filled King Concert Hall on Friday afternoon for the Investiture Ceremony for SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Schaefer Horvath.
Outside prior to the ceremony to honor the school's 13th president, the Fredonia African drumming ensemble performed as guests entered the hall.
Once inside, guests were treated to the room-filling sounds of the recently renovated wind organ. The organ is made with 2,459 wood and metal pipes which line the rear of the stage. The renovations took about 12 weeks to complete and were made possible by donations to the college. Preludes were played by Organ Instructor Brian A. Bogey of the Class of 1969.
OBSERVER Photo by Shirley Pulawski
Dr. Virginia Horvath, center, was given the presidential medallion by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, left, SUNY trustee Eunice A. Lewin, and trustee Dr. Angelo M. Fatta, left, on Friday during the investiture ceremony.
The procession of academic dignitaries was accompanied by the Fredonia Wind Ensemble, a group composed of more than 40 SUNY Fredonia students, directed by Paula Holcomb. After the dignitaries were seated, the ensemble played "The Star Spangled Banner," sung by student soloist Eric Wilbon.
Many speakers followed the musical opening, all of whom had great praise for the new president, Dr. Horvath. For seven years, she served as Vice President for Academic Affairs, and interviewed for the president's position earlier in the year in competition with over 50 applicants.
Frank Pagano, chairman of the College Council and former Fredonia mayor, said in his opening remarks, "Over 50 applicants came forward, ... but President Horvath had the clearest set goals ... with the students at the center of those goals."
Pagano lauded the many achievements and initiatives Horvath has made during her time at the college. Of the programs she developed, he noted "each has the word 'community' in it." He said, "her tireless work ethic is already legendary."
People had "many reasons to celebrate the 13th president of this great college," according to Pagano, because, among other reasons, she is the first woman to serve as president, a Western New York native, and a graduate of the SUNY system.
Horvath earned a B.A in English from SUNY at Buffalo and her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Kent State University. She also spent many years in the classroom as a professor of English literature.
Alumni Association President Dr. Greg Gibbs of the Class of 1971 welcomed Dr. Horvath on behalf of the alumni. "We don't want to count on luck in our success, but we are very lucky with our 13th president, and we know it," he said.
Todd Tranum, President and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, praised Horvath's interest in partnering the college with the local business community. "It did not go unnoticed that ... she went up and down Main Street and personally introduced herself to every business owner," he said.
Tranum also noted the community is estimated to receive $370 million in revenue per year. "Many of our businesses can trace their success directly to the college," he stated.
An emotion-filled speech was given by Horvath's oldest daughter, Emily Davey. "When you decided to pursue administration, it was such a hard decision for you to leave the classroom. You never lost that focus (on students). ... Your classroom has just gotten a little bit bigger," she said.
The students of the Fredonia Chamber Choir sang "The Road Home" before SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher began the installation. Zimpher said it was a "most momentous day" and praised Horvath's scholarship and said she is "standing on the broad shoulders of President Dennis Hefner," who was also present among the dignitaries, and received enthusiastic applause when recognized.
Zimpher and Eunice A. Lewin and Dr. Angelo M. Fatta of the SUNY Board of Trustees placed the presidential medallion and chain of office around Horvath's neck, which is engraved with the name of all past presidents. The medallion is typically worn by the president for all formal functions, such as graduations, Zimpher explained.
Horvath opened her inaugural speech by dedicating her words to her late mother and godmother, both of whom told her "to stand up straight, look into people's eyes, and speak my mind." She thanked family, friends and mentors who traveled to the event, and went on to outline some of her goals and plans for the college.
A portion of her salary will be donated to the college foundation, according to Horvath. She outlined the numerous scholarships, named after members of the college who had historically gone on to great achievements, she is supporting and which would benefit students.
The creative atmosphere, Horvath said, is part of the reason for her love of the campus. "You can not walk across this campus without hearing music coming from Mason Hall ... or students rehearsing lines from theater," and other creative activities. "I am thrilled to be SUNY Fredonia's 13th president because it is such a good place," she said, and quoted from "The Road Home" sung by the choir, "'There is no such beauty as where you belong.' I feel like I belong here."
The history of the development of the college since its inception in 1826 was outlined by Horvath, which she called a "legacy of strength that provides a solid foundation" for students. She outlined some of her goals for the college, which include developing a more international focus and "global perspective" for students and teachers in the classroom, through travel and in language opportunities. She said it is important to make those activities more affordable. She also noted a desire to help students find ways to pay for college and manage their debt loads carefully.
She closed with a refrain from a poem by Mary Oliver, "to focus on what matters," and said of the work she has ahead with students and faculty, "Let's go!"
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