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Warmth, zest, and promise light up inauguration

by Barbara A. Melville

On a sunny weekend brilliant with fanfare and festivity, Skidmore inaugurated Jamienne S. Studley as its sixth president. Saluted by America’s first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as "the last Skidmore president of this century and the first of the next," Studley was formally installed on Saturday, September 25.

Coming from a multifaceted background in law, education, government, and community service, Studley brings to Skidmore a newcomer’s insights, a personal passion for art and intellect, and a crusading commitment to social justice–exactly the qualities that College founder Lucy Skidmore Scribner brought to Saratoga Springs nearly a century ago. And the Studley inauguration celebrated those qualities with gusto.

Inauguration weekend included a science open house, a collaborative-research display, student dance performances, historical exhibits in Scribner Library, and two art shows –one of which, "The Warmth of Wood," was curated by Studley’s husband, environmental lawyer Gary Smith. An SRO concert featured Skidmore’s orchestra and jazz ensemble, a student

Read about the "Warmth of Wood" exhibit

Wood has a lot of soul

dance troupe, and the Boys Choir of Harlem, whose annual summer residencies make them seem part of the College. At a Saturday morning symposium, distinguished panelists debated thorny issues in higher education. And the campuswide excitement rose a notch on latebreaking news that the first lady would speak at the inauguration.

With the audience of some 2,300 alumni, students, taff, faculty, and Saratoga residents settled into the Sports and Recreation Center, the cry of bagpipes heralded the arrival of the Schenectady Pipe Band, leading a colorful processional of trustees, faculty, alumni and student representatives, and delegates representing 170 colleges and universities. A buzz swept the crowd ("Hillary’s with Jamie!") as Studley and Clinton passed by together, looking as cheerful and relaxed as school chums on a field trip. The orchestra chimed in with the bagpipes, softly at first, then swelling into a spine-chillingly beautiful fanfare.

Skidmore music lecturer Yacub Addy, in African robes touched with glittering gold, fired off a Ghanaian drum salute. Then verbal welcomes were offered by representatives of the faculty, trustees, alumni, staff, and state Board of Regents. The ceremony also featured crowd-pleasing selections from the Skidmore Chorus, Skidmore Orchestra, and Boys Choir of Harlem.

A roar of applause greeted President Emeritus David Porter, followed by a wave of groans at his trademark puns. Quoting poet T. S. Eliot–"to approach the stranger is to invite the unexpected"–Porter predicted that "as together you build the future, things will happen that not even Jamie Studley can imagine. Genies will be let out of bottles, new forces released that will defy expectations and will surpass our highest hopes." His tag line was also from Eliot: "Fare forward, voyagers!"

And like genies let out of bottles came some surprises. Saratoga Springs Mayor J. Michael O’Connell recounted how his Irish-immigrant grandfather had been a caretaker at Woodlawn, the former estate on whose grounds Skidmore now stands. "How proud my grandfather would be to see his grandson welcome the new caretaker!" he said. And SGA President Sarah Strauss ’00, told Studley, "Students here want to be stars. We take on double majors and a minor so as not to miss anything." But, she warned, there’s a lighter side, displayed by such free souls as the campus frisbee team "that occasionally plays naked."

Among the guest speakers were three chosen not only for their eminence but for their warm place in the new president’s life: Judith Shapiro, president of Barnard College, where Studley, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate in American studies, has been an active alumna; Judith Winston, general counsel at the U.S. Department of Education and director of the President’s Initiative on Race, who was Studley’s most recent boss and colleague; and the Honorable Guido Calabresi, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge who was Studley’s mentor at Yale Law School.

All three called for uniting liberal arts values and social activism with a vigor to rival Mrs. Scribner’s own. Shapiro said Studley had "demonstrated in her own life and work that a liberal arts education gives us the skills to act upon our basic values–values that allow us to help shape the world the way it should be." Winston asserted that democracy is "as much a matter of values as of laws" and suggested that Skidmore is "likely to be a much livelier place [led by] this activist lawyer" who relishes tackling issues of justice and equity. And Calabresi, describing education as "activity that is intellectual, stimulating, and just plain fun," spoke movingly of blending "excellence, decency, and humanity together with zest" and of the need to "do better by the shy, the needy, women, minorities, first-generation students, and those who are most new to what we are about."

Next, after receiving a standing ovation with relaxed assurance, Clinton warmly described Studley, whose path she had several times crossed in legal and educational circles, as "a woman who embodies not only the best of liberal arts education values and the work of the mind but also the imperatives of social action." Clinton said Studley brings passion and compassion to a college where 30 percent of students volunteer, a passion for art to a college known for art, and a knack for forging partnerships. Among the challenges Studley faced, she said, was improving access to education: "The cost of tuition still keeps too many parents up late at night and still prevents too many worthy young people from following their dreams." Then Clinton lightheartedly shared with Studley an epigram from former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt–"Women are like teabags: they don’t know how strong they are until they get into hot water"–as well as an imagined piece of advice from Lucy Scribner: "Ignore and do not participate, in any way, in naked frisbee!"

Invested by Trustee Chair Joan Layng Dayton ’63 with Skidmore’s presidential medallion and chain, an admittedly exhilarated Studley spoke to an audience that included many friends from her personal life–including, she said with a grin, "my high-school band director, my summer-camp bunkmate, and my first summer intern." Calling attention to the stage centerpiece, an abstract wood sculpture from her and her husband’s art collection, she noted that the piece, Two American Quilts, represents "an eternal search for balance: two independent, yet cooperative shapes" and a "tiny but critical distance between them that permits negotiation, adjustment, and separateness."

"Skidmore’s magic," Studley went on, "lies in perfecting a similar delicate balance–between mind and hand, individual and community." And like Lucy Scribner, whom she portrayed as tirelessly soliciting the Saratogians of her day to contribute to the education of her working-class students, Studley pledged to work "to redeem our national promise of educational opportunity and inclusion."

After the ceremony, festivities continued with an open dinner and dancing under a gigantic tent on Case Green. There, ceremonial regalia discarded for slacks and jacket, Studley delighted the crowd, especially the large student contingent, by jumping onstage and joining a boisterous, bouncing sing-along of ’70s-era popular songs led by students and alumni of the Dynamics, Bandersnatchers, and other a cappella groups. A dazzling, intense cannonade of fireworks made for a fitting finale.

On Sunday morning, visitors flocked to greet the new president at home in Scribner House, where contemporary artworks from the Studley-Smith collection– including Two American Quilts–stood in sunlight softened by Lucy Scribner’s cherished stained-glass windows.

 


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