Reflections on the Inauguration Weekend

Jim Amidon — More than a week has gone by since Pat White was inaugurated as the 15th president at Wabash College. That’s enough time to reflect on the entirety of the weekend and lift up a few of the more memorable moments. By the end of the festivities, Wabash hosted a total of 11 inauguration-related events and fed more than 3,000 people. There were elegant dinners for 660 and 720 people; an arts event; receptions; a Celebration of Student Research; sports; and the formal inauguration ceremony itself.

Lots of good memories; lots of good feelings.

The weekend kicked off with a Celebration of the Arts. Theater professor Michael Abbott conceived the idea of collaboration between students and faculty, showcased through creative writing, musical performances, visual art displays and demonstrations, and a couple of plays.

While every performance was amazing, for me the highlight came when four students — Braden Pemberton, Sterling Carter, Dustin Foster, and Spencer Elliott — starred in a play called “Sandwich,” which was written 20 years ago by none other than Patrick White.

Directed by Professor Jim Fisher, the play was riotous fun with laugh-out-loud line after line. The best part was watching President White’s expressions —†and those of his family. It was a perfect way to honor the president and demonstrate the collaborative process of the arts.

Friday night, nearly 500 students dressed up in shirt and tie and spent the evening at a formal dinner. Repeat, 500 college guys elected to spend time paying tribute to their new president on a Friday night!

Two things made Friday evening special, even remarkable. First, students planned and executed the entire event. Bryce Chitwood and Josh Bellis turned Knowling Fieldhouse into a winter wonderland with more than 400 lighted luminary candles, 50 pine trees, birch clusters, and two snow machines. With Brett Gann coordinating things, almost a dozen students participated in the program — giving speeches and tributes to the president.

Second, the College’s VIPs — trustees, alumni board members, and class agents —†were spread evenly among 84 tables. Each of the VIPs served as a table host and note taker, and the conversations were focused on the students’ dreams for the future of Wabash. By the end of the evening, there were 80 notepads filled with ideas, which will be keyed in as an important part of Wabash’s strategic planning efforts later in the spring.

Friday evening marked the first time in decades when that many students were involved in close, personal conversations with Wabash’s most influential alumni.

Saturday morning, about 150 people gathered in Lilly Library to pay tribute to former President Andy Ford, who returned to campus with his wife Anne. The occasion was the unveiling of Andy’s official presidential portrait, which will one day hang in the Pioneer Chapel with Wabash’s 13 previous leaders.

At 4:00 Saturday afternoon, we had squeezed the last of about 800 people into the hard, wooden pews of the Chapel. The academic processional — comprising almost all of the Wabash faculty, the trustees and administrators, and about 40 college presidents or their delegates — provided academic formality, pomp, and excitement for the occasion.

The “moment” for me, though, came when in his inaugural address President White asked his college buddies in attendance to stand and be recognized. I counted 13 men, I think, who have shared friendship with President White for more than 30 years. It was a terrific example of the kind of lifelong bonds that are formed among young men in their college days, friendships that endure through good times and bad.

The formal festivities ended Saturday evening with a gala attended by more than 700 people. The fieldhouse, only hours before a winter forest, had been transformed into a Mediterranean garden, complete with palm trees and fountains. The space was stunning, to say the least.

Planned entirely by Amy Williamson, Mary Jo Arthur, and Kevin Nanney, the evening came off without a hitch. Much thanks goes to Campus Services, too — David Morgan, Charley McCormick, and Tim Riley and their crews — for a quick turn-around in difficult circumstances.

The “moment” Saturday night came when Paddy, Molly, and Katie White walked to the lectern to tell the crowd about the other side of President White — the guy they know only as “Dad.”

Finally, looking back at a glorious weekend of celebration — of the College, its traditions, and its new president — a person who had never before set foot on our campus provided some of the most moving words of all.

Paul Harder, one of Pat White’s college roommates, spoke in Chapel Thursday. He finished by saying of his good friend, “The fully conscious person, the humanist, the idealist capable of being skeptical without being cynical, the lover of words, your new President, sees the beauty of your souls and the beauty of this place you all love. This is where Pat White belongs.”

Indeed, Paul. We think so too.