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Wow.  During the speeches and videos, I was thinking...I’d really like to meet this person someday. 

Thanks everyone. Thanks Ross, for your outstanding leadership of the Board of Trustees.  My thanks to the rest of the board as well, for the confidence you showed by giving me this opportunity of a lifetime.  I’m also blown away by your gifts to the Presidential Fund for Equity in the Marist Experience. I am so thrilled that we are united in the support of Marist students. 

President Emeritus Dennis Murray: Your vision and leadership for nearly 40 years transformed Marist into the remarkable college it is today, and positions us well for the future. Thank you for your generous counsel to me in these early days.  I know I can count on your support in the future. 

Biddy. I am so touched. Everything I learned about this job, I learned from you.  Thank you for being such an inspiring mentor, leader, and friend.  

Thanks to each of the delegates from so many institutions here today, including representatives from each of my degree-granting institutions. Special thanks to University of New Hampshire history professor Kurk Dorsey, my dissertation adviser, who you saw in the video. Kurk, the patience you afforded me was never warranted but always appreciated. 

I’m grateful to the members of the Inauguration Committee for planning these events to showcase the vibrant Marist community. Thank you to the faculty and students who served on panels and shared their research this morning. Finally, to the hundreds of amazing staff here at Marist who worked to make this event a reality, I offer you my deepest thanks. Just like every day, you’ve gone above and beyond in service of this great College. 

Brother John Klein, thank you for your moving invocation and for your service to our community.  I also want to take a moment to remember our beloved Sean Sammon, your fellow board member, Marist graduate, and Marist Brother. Sean sadly passed away exactly two weeks ago today.  NO ONE embodied the ideals of Marist College more than Brother Sean.  

Thank you, Nick, Eileen, and Gabe for your remarks and for representing our faculty, alumni, and students here today. 

Thanks also to the Marist Singers and the Marist Band for your fantastic performances. 

To my friends and former colleagues alike from greater Hanover, New Hampshire and Amherst, Massachusetts... please behave today! I’m touched that you are here to spend this special day with Beth and me. 

To the many finance and administrative professionals from other colleges: We formed SUCH a vibrant network for idea exchange. Also, for important forms of professional therapy, especially as we steered our respective schools through the pandemic.  I’m proud to call you friends. 

To Marist students! YOU are why I am here. You inspire me each and every day. It will be my never-ending mission to help you get the most out of your Marist experience.  

To our nearly 50,000 alumni: once a Red Fox, always a Red Fox. You’ve already told me how much you loved your Marist experience, how deep your passions run for this place, and how high your hopes are for Marist’s future. I AM UP FOR THIS TASK. Together, let’s build upon all that Marist has accomplished, and do all we can to meet its full potential.  

Now, to my family. I first want to say thanks to my parents Joe and Dolores. My dad is watching from his home in South Carolina, as a health issue precluded his travel here today. My mom sadly passed away far too soon 8 years ago. From humble beginnings they built a great life together over 44 years of marriage, and provided my siblings and I with a world of opportunity. I am forever grateful to you. 

To my twin sister, Karin, thank you for being with me, LITERALLY every step of the way. Yes, for those who are wondering, we are named Karin and Kevin, and Karin is ALSO spelled with an “I”, because that’s what parents do to twins.  On another note, I think part of the reason I’m so committed to shared governance is that I only experienced being alone for the first 12 minutes of my life. 

To my younger brother Keith (yes, another K, for those scoring at home) who is tuning in today with his family from Longmont, Colorado, thank you for your love and support. 

I’m also grateful to be surrounded by other family members here today, who have deep roots in the area.  My dad’s brother Len was a lifelong IBMer, and he and my Aunt Jane live in Fishkill.  My mom’s late brother Jack was a New York State trooper. My Aunt Gina still lives in the Red Hook home they shared together for over 50 years.  Along with my own roots in Queens, Long Island, and Northern New Jersey, I have felt that arriving at Marist College and the Hudson Valley has been a homecoming of a sort for me. 

Most of all, thank you Beth, Alex, and Brooke. This job places immense and unfair burdens on each of you.  Through it all, your support for me is generous and unwavering.  However, sometimes that support manifests in unique ways.  For example, some of you know Alex often heckles me in the comments section of my official Marist Instagram posts. And, as you know now, he is just as adept at verbal takedowns of his Dad at inauguration ceremonies.  As a parent of a college-aged son, I learned long ago to interpret this as a sign of affection. Brooke, thank you for that amazing piano solo and for sharing your talents with more than just mom, me and our dog Abbe. 

Beth, my last words of love and affection are for you.  We are having quite an adventure together.  You’ve always said yes to my crazy ideas even when logic suggested you say no. Or, at least, “maybe we should think this through a little more?”  Our major life transitions were never easy.  But the rewards have been immense.  Sharing the stage of life with you is my greatest honor.  

My lifelong love for higher education got off to a rocky start. On December 5th, 1988, I received a letter from the admissions office at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, my dream school. I have this letter here today, and I’d like to read a little of it to you. 

“It is our unpleasant task to deny many fine young people admission,” it said.  I immediately knew, of course, that I was one of those fine young people who was not getting into UNC today. Not satisfied at this, the letter quickly dashed any hopes of appeal. “Based on our experience, we believe EVEN with strong improvement, your record (STILL) will not be competitive for admission.” 

However, there was also this curious line: “It is particularly unpleasant for us to do this in your case since you have family ties with the university.” A ray of hope set in. I don’t have ties to UNC!  My parents never went to college, neither did their parents. I didn’t even know any Tar Heels. Maybe this was a mistake! 

I ran to the rotary-dial telephone in our kitchen. The admissions officer who answered the phone politely heard me out, and then shuffled away for a bit, perhaps in the manner that a car salesperson might go to speak with their manager in the other room.  

She soon returned and uttered the following. “Um, yes, we DID send you the wrong letter. However, you still didn’t get in.” There was an awkward silence. Perhaps not unlike this one. Then she asked: “Would you like us to mail you the correct rejection letter?”  

Thankfully, I landed squarely on my feet at Notre Dame. However, like many first-year college students, I got off to a tough start. I felt an acute sense of not belonging. I came to Notre Dame from the tiny town of Kinnelon, New Jersey.  How tiny? At Kinnelon High School, my sister was senior class president and I was senior class vice president (In truth, I wanted to be president, but Lee Miringoff and his students at the Marist Poll determined – correctly – that if I ran against Karin I would have lost in a landslide).  

So, being a big fish in a small pond was WELL in the rearview mirror now.  I was on a campus of 10,000 amazing students where I was vice president of NOTHING. I thought seriously about transferring. 

Then, two things happened that led me to love my Notre Dame experience. First, I formed amazing lifelong friendships, including with Bill Keen and Tom Hitselberger; I’m thrilled that both are here today. Next, I found history, choosing it as my second major alongside accounting.  Discovering a traditional liberal arts discipline opened my eyes to a new world of wonder.  I grew as a person and as a scholar in ways I never imagined.  

In doing so, I drew upon the same lessons that Marist College students learn from our amazing faculty and dedicated support staff –  

  • Demonstrate grit and resilience 
  • Discover a love for learning;  
  • Explore the curriculum;  
  • Develop critical thinking skills;  
  • Write until your hand hurts;  
  • Build community;  
  • Form lifelong friendships;  
  • Get involved;  
  • Embrace diversity in all its forms 

Blending the liberal arts with the pre-professional set me up for a wild ride...a career that began in public accounting and now has me with the immense task and honor of leading a highly selective institution of higher education.  

As you know, there is much debate about the continuing value of the liberal arts compared to a form of education that focuses on professional training.  I don’t understand this. In fact, I see no debate here at all. 

For one, I believe deeply not only in the enduring value of the liberal arts, but also its necessity.  No one has articulated this more clearly than Bill Cronon.  Cronon is a preeminent environmental historian whose work has heavily influenced my own scholarly interests and research. He also wrote a short essay titled, “Only Connect: The Goals of a Liberal Education.”  

First, he clarifies that a liberal education has nothing to do with political liberalism, or the ideology of the left. Rather, a liberal education is one that “nurtures growth of human talent in the service of freedom.” To illustrate, the Latin word “liber” means freedom, and we know what “liberate” means.    

Cronon writes that “liberally educated people” aren’t so because they took certain classes. Rather, they possess traits like these: 

  • They listen, and they hear 
  • They read, and they understand 
  • They can talk with anyone 
  • They can write clearly and persuasively and movingly 
  • They can solve a wide variety of problems 
  • They practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism 
  • They understand how things get done in the world 
  • They nurture and empower the people around them 

Can you imagine anyone, in any discipline, succeeding WITHOUT these traits?  Conversely, can you imagine the enormous potential for success for someone WITH these traits?   

Cronon notes that a liberal education allows people to connect. “More than anything else,” he says, “being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways.” 

His focus on connection is both brilliant and instructive. Connecting allows us to solve problems that span narrow concerns.  Think about it…every major problem our society faces requires connection with others, cultural connections, and connection across disciplines.  Structural racism, climate change, a global pandemic, poverty, global conflict, threats to democracy.  Scientists and humanists must work together to address these challenges.  Even better is a world where each scientist is also a humanist, and each humanist, a scientist.   

Furthermore, the debate between the relative merits of a liberal arts education versus professional education presumes that we must choose one or the other. WE DON’T! Not only can they co-exist, they are mutually reinforcing.  

This is especially true at Marist College. Here, we aspire to AND, not OR. Our students explore every corner of our broad and diverse curriculum while remaining keenly focused on preparing themselves for meaningful careers. Our students blend coursework, research, and experiential learning across the schools of:  

  • Science 
  • Communications & the Arts 
  • Management 
  • Social & Behavioral Sciences 
  • Computer Science & Mathematics 
  • and of course, Liberal Arts.   

Our students routinely mash together eclectic combinations of majors and minors, seeking the forms of connection espoused by Cronon. For example, our former student body president Tenzin Tsundu, who you saw in the video, majored in both finance and philosophy.  He often quipped that he will spend his career trying to make a lot of money while simultaneously telling himself that money is not the key to happiness.   

That said, competition for talented students is intense, and intensifying. Questions about the value of higher education abound. As a result, complacency IS NOT a strategy. As important as a continuing commitment to the liberal arts is, we also need to do two things to succeed as we move forward: First, innovate, and innovate relentlessly. And second, make Marist’s form of education available and accessible to any student who has the talent and drive to succeed here. 

On the first point, thankfully, innovation is in Marist’s DNA. We have consistently launched new successful undergraduate and graduate programs to meet the emerging needs of a shifting society. 

You can see this in our 34-year partnership with IBM, which was well ahead of its time at inception, and continues to make Marist one of the nation’s MOST technologically advanced colleges. Today, majors in  

  • Cybersecurity 
  • Computer science 
  • Data science and analytics, 
  • and Games and Emerging Media are in high demand,  

and master’s degree programs in  

  • Information Systems  
  • and Computer Science and Software Development 

attract students from around the globe. 

Although MY daily choice of attire might belie this fact, Marist has a world-renowned fashion program. For a college rooted in the liberal arts, this is an innovation in and of itself.  Yet this amazing program is full of other forms of innovation in  

  • Merchandising 
  • Product development 
  • Retailing 
  • Operations,  
  • and sustainability   

Innovation gave birth to our four-year bachelor’s degree program at our branch campus in Florence, Italy.  It also infuses our Freshman Florence and Freshman Dublin Experience programs, where about 4 percent of our new students study their entire first year in these cities that are both cosmopolitan and steeped in history. We are proud that these distinctive programs just won a national award for their uniqueness and excellence in campus internationalization. 

A spirit of innovation led Marist to create a fully online MBA program – the first of its kind in New York State – and our Master’s in Public Administration program, which has been recognized as among the nation’s best. In addition, we recently launched successful programs that address the growing demand for allied health professionals, such the physician assistant master’s degree and the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, Marist’s first doctoral program.  

From its earliest days, Marist has always embraced adult and commuter students. We meet people where they are in their complicated lives. As someone who has worked full-time while pursuing degrees, and who has taught non-traditional students, I know how important it is to welcome these students into the classroom, and how much richer the learning environment is when they are here.   

Marist long ago embraced a form of Division I athletics and a vision for student-athletes that emphasizes BOTH the ‘student’ and the ‘athlete.’ Our amazing coaches, athletics administrators, and our student-athletes wouldn’t have it any other way. The results speak wonders. Marist has led its conference in Academic Honor Roll selections for a truly unbelievable 21 consecutive years. Our student-athletes also excel on the playing field. Marist has won 117 championships in the history of our conference, 26 more than the next closest school. Once again, at Marist we aim for AND, not OR 

As we are innovating and improving, we are also opening our campus to an ever more diverse and talented group of students.  We are a proud participant in the American Talent Initiative, a group of schools committed to enrolling increasing numbers of students from income levels that make them eligible for federal Pell Grants.  For too many high school students with high potential --- the students who would benefit immensely from a college experience --- higher education remains out of reach. We must continue to focus on making a Marist education accessible to every student who can succeed here.  This is at the very core of our mission.   

That said, it is not enough simply to admit and enroll talented students.  Every student must feel a sense of belonging, that Marist is THEIR College. Each student must have equitable access to the same experiences as their classmates, free of the financial and social barriers that too often exist on college campuses today.  I won’t rest until we achieve this important goal. 

As an historian, let me balance this discussion of our future by reaching into our past.  We are here today on this beautiful campus because of the Marist Brothers’ belief in the power of education, and its ability to change lives for the better. They designed and built many buildings here on campus, often carrying the stones with their own hands. Their spirit of humility, of doing good quietly, continues to define this college.   

We have evolved dramatically since our founding into a vibrant, independent and secular college.  Yet, at 93 years old, we remain a young institution, competing with revered colleges that have been around for centuries.  Rather than see our age as a weakness, I view it as a tremendous strength.  We have learned to be scrappy and entrepreneurial, to embrace tradition while avoiding its constrictions, and to dream of a bright and bold future. 

Even as we celebrate the Marist of 2022 here today, I am already looking ahead to our centennial in 2029. My dream includes both an epic celebration of the conclusion of a remarkable first century and a launchpad for an even more amazing second century.  

Let me conclude by talking about one of our most stunning features…the captivating river that you see over my shoulder.  As someone who has studied history through an environmental lens, this river endlessly fascinates me. Let’s first be clear, it has only recently been known as the Hudson. The Mohican Indigenous Peoples, whose ancestral lands we stand upon today, called it Muh-hee-can-tuck, which means “river that flows two ways.” 

This is because it is not a typical river — rather it’s a tidal estuary…a blend of saltwater and freshwater, and one that flows in all directions at different times in response to the tides.  As a result, it supports incredible biodiversity and contributes to the vibrancy of life in the region.  

In this way, the river mirrors the human diversity and richness of Marist College, of Poughkeepsie, and of the Hudson Valley.  We love the river here at Marist not just because it’s beautiful, but also because it represents our values, our community, and our aspirations. 

I tell Marist students all the time...their lives are going to be complicated.  Things will never flow in just one direction. Like this stunning river, the crosscurrents they face will be relentless and unpredictable.   

Their Marist education equips them to succeed no matter what comes their way. There will be times to stick to a plan and fight through the current to get to where they want to be.  Our crew team, for example, has to get to the finish line no matter what, rowing through whatever this river throws at them.  This forges strength and character, and gives them a leg up on other crew teams who train on simple rivers that only flow in one direction. (Some even get to row on lakes…how boring and easy is that?).   

However, there will be other times when patience is called for...when fighting the current is not the best option. Marist students have the wisdom and the confidence in their education to know when to let the current take them where it will. Opportunities often present themselves in unexpected ways. Those who are willing to take risks, embrace new challenges, and bet on themselves will be best positioned to succeed. In the spirit of letting the current take you where it will, it’s worth noting that sometimes accountants are lucky enough to become college presidents.  

As you now know, Marist is an institution rich in history and well-positioned to thrive in the years ahead. Our mission - excellence in education, a sense of community, and a commitment to service – is perfectly aligned to meet the needs of the current moment. It's what compels top faculty and staff to want to work here; talented students to want to learn here; and alumni to return home here, again and again. The future for Marist College is bright. I could not be more honored and humbled to serve as Marist’s President. We are going to do great things together. 

Thank you for being here today, and for celebrating Marist College with me.