WOOSTER, Ohio – With pomp and dignity, joy and – of course – a healthy dose of bagpipes, Sarah R. Bolton was formally inaugurated as the 12th president of The College of Wooster on Saturday, Oct. 22, in McGaw Chapel.
The Wooster Chorus, under the direction of Lisa Wong, performed a new work entitled “Vivat crescat floreat” (“Live, grow, flourish”) composed by Jack Gallagher, the Olive Williams Kettering Professor of Music, to celebrate both Bolton’s inauguration and the 150th anniversary of the college’s founding in 1866.
Adam Falk, president of Williams College, where Bolton served as dean of the college prior to being named Wooster’s president, praised her vision, clarity of mind, and depth of heart. He also lauded her new academic home. “You returned from your early visits to Wooster clearly in love with the people and the place,” Falk said, “and after only a day here, now I know why.”
Then, as members of the board of trustees and alumni board, faculty, staff, students, and invited guests looked on, board chair William A. Longbrake ’65 and vice chair Mary Neagoy ’87 presented Bolton with a key to Old Main, the college’s original home, which burned to the ground in 1901. Recovered from the ashes, the key was bent by the heat of the fire but unbroken, and serves as a symbol of the continuity of Wooster’s mission and heritage.
In her inaugural address, Bolton reflected on that distinctive mission and heritage.
“The College of Wooster was, from its founding, a leader,” she told the audience. “A leader in its determination to offer an excellent, modern education that would best prepare students for the challenges and opportunities they would face in a world that was changing as the nation began slowly to unwind the terrible legacies of slavery, and also a leader in its commitment to equity – explicitly welcoming students of all genders and ethnicities to that education, on equal terms. These commitments of Wooster’s were powerful, and they remain so today.”
Bolton also singled out President Howard Lowry’s creation of the Independent Study program as a transformative moment in Wooster’s history.
“We know that this approach is powerful,” she said. “It drives toward excellence, in that every student reaches a very high level, building the skills, confidence, fluency of expression, and problem-solving ability that will serve their lives and work. And at the same time it embodies equity, in that every student, no matter how strongly resourced or under-resourced their high school may have been, whether or not they struggle at the beginning of their time at the college, whether they are confident or shy, whether or not they learn in the same way as a ‘typical’ student, will have this transformative opportunity. This is one of the keys to Wooster’s promise – that we are invested, from the beginning, in bringing every student to the place where they can (and must!) jump off from the known and wrestle with all that is involved in doing work that has never been done before.”
Bolton’s inauguration capped a weekend in which the campus community celebrated the 150th anniversary of the college’s founding in 1866 with student exhibits, alumni panel discussions, music, and fireworks. All four living ex-presidents of Wooster – Georgia Nugent, Grant Cornwell, Stan Hales, and Henry Copeland – returned to campus for the festivities, and on Friday participated, along with President Bolton, in a wide-ranging discussion of the liberal arts and Wooster’s place in American higher education that was live-streamed from Gault Recital Hall in Scheide Music Center.
Next month, Wooster alumni in more than three-dozen cities around the world will hold their own 150th birthday parties, and on Dec. 18, there will be a special town-gown celebration in downtown Wooster.