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Skidmore College

An unprecedented presidential inauguration

September 28, 2021
by Angela Valden

While maintaining many of Skidmore’s ceremonial traditions, the inauguration of Marc C. Conner as Skidmore’s eighth president will be unlike any other in the College’s past — most notably because it will take place nearly 16 months after Conner officially took office on July 1, 2020.

Delayed by the historic challenges posed by COVID-19, Conner’s inauguration will celebrate a president who has already been leading the College through a global pandemic, has prioritized Skidmore’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion through the introduction of its Racial Justice Initiative, and has begun a new Campus Master Planning process that will align the College’s future with its evolving goals and aspirations, among other accomplishments.

This unprecedented circumstance, combined with the enhanced health and safety measures that remain in place amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, will most distinctly set Conner’s Oct. 16 ceremony apart from those of any of his predecessors.

What is an inauguration to Skidmore College?

Ahead of the Nov. 16, 1925, installation of the College’s second president, Henry T. Moore, student writers for The Skidmore News summed up the importance of a Skidmore inauguration in this way:

The inauguration of a new president is especially significant to the Skidmore student, more so than a similar event would be to most other undergraduate students. … This autumn, we greeted the stranger who is to be our guide. As we approach the fork in the road, we trust he will choose the one leading to the greatest self-development."

A Skidmore College inauguration is the celebration of a new chapter in the institution’s story and of renewed promise for the future of the College and its students. Over the decades, the ceremony has also been a defining symbol of Skidmore’s character, distinction, and evolution.

The College’s first inauguration, of Charles Henry Keyes on Oct. 26, 1912, was a major academic festival designed to put Skidmore on the map.

“A more imposing spectacle could hardly be imagined than the sight of the academic delegates to the inauguration and the students and faculty of the Skidmore School of Arts, all attired in the collegiate cap and gown, and accompanied by the board of trustees of the school, as they slowly wended their way from the Circular Street entrance, around the Spring Street corner, and into the Regent Street entrance of the auditorium,” according to an Oct. 28, 1912, article in The Saratogian newspaper that described the ceremony at the former downtown Saratoga Springs campus.

The academic processional for the Oct. 26, 1912, inauguration of Skidmore’s first president, Charles Henry Keyes, makes its way around the old campus in downtown Saratoga Springs. (Bolster Collection)

The academic processional for the Oct. 26, 1912, inauguration of Skidmore’s first president, Charles Henry Keyes, makes its way around the old campus in downtown Saratoga Springs. (Bolster Collection)

Keyes, in his inaugural speech, asserted that Skidmore would be a model of the new synthesis of vocational and liberal education, and its growth would lead to an improved society. As described in a passage from “Make No Small Plans: A History of Skidmore College,” the president of Columbia University and 17 other colleges and universities, as well as various commissioners of education and superintendents of school, read letters of praise and congratulations at the ceremony.

Thirteen years later, the inauguration of Henry T. Moore in College Hall showcased Skidmore’s continued progress and evolution.

The steady growth of the college and its recognition as an educational institution of the highest standing in the country was reflected in the presence for the ceremonies of more than fifty-four representatives of colleges from every part of the United States."

Nov. 16, 1925 article in The Saratogian 

Moore's 32-year presidency would bring Skidmore to a position of leadership in women's education.

Val H. Wilson, who during his presidency focused on strengthening Skidmore’s faculty and academic programs and creating interdepartmental offerings, stated in his Oct. 11, 1957, inaugural address that “while Skidmore has much in common with other colleges and universities, in many ways it is a college with a distinctive flavor and quality of its own.”

A new tradition incorporated into the 1965 inauguration of Skidmore’s fourth president, Joseph C. Palamountain Jr., became a symbolic nod to Skidmore’s past and to its bright future on its new North Broadway campus, then in the final stages of construction. Immediately following Palamountain’s inauguration in the Saratoga Springs Convention Hall, near the old downtown campus, President Palamountain, Trustee Josephine Young Case, and a group of students, alumni, and friends walked up Broadway to the site of the new campus for the dedication and unveiling of the Skidmore Honor Post. Now located near Williamson Sports Center, the plaque in front of the Post is inscribed with the names of Skidmore’s past presidents and leaders and will one day bear Marc C. Conner’s name as well.

The Skidmore Honor Post, which is inscribed with the names of the College’s past presidents and leaders, is situated near Williamson Sports Center.

The Skidmore Honor Post, which is inscribed with the names of the College’s past presidents and leaders, is situated near Williamson Sports Center.

Beyond the formalities and symbolic significance of a Skidmore inauguration, the associated festivities and events have become just as much a part of the all-inclusive celebration of the College. The more modern inauguration weekends have been filled with open houses, lectures, presentations, and musical celebrations that fete all things Skidmore, in addition to the early traditions of receptions, luncheons, and dinners.

The inauguration of Skidmore’s fifth president, David Porter, on Sept. 26, 1987, was followed by a buffet dinner and jazz on Case Green and rock music in a tent outside the Sports Center. “It did not take long for Porter to discard his academic regalia for a denim jacket and sit in with student musicians, at one point playing rock on an electronic keyboard alongside one of the Filene music scholars,” reads a passage from “Make No Small Plans.” “The memorable evening ended with a spectacular South Park fireworks display.”

After his formal installation as Skidmore’s fifth president in 1987, David Porter caps his inauguration festivities by jamming with Amy Briggs (Dissanayake) ’89 and other student musicians. (Photo by Scott McKiernan)

After his formal installation as Skidmore’s fifth president in 1987, David Porter caps his inauguration festivities by jamming with Amy Briggs (Dissanayake) ’89 and other student musicians. (Photo by Scott McKiernan)

The inauguration of Jamienne S. Studley as Skidmore’s sixth, and first female, president on Sept. 25, 1999, was held before a capacity crowd of some 2,300 students, staff, faculty, alumni, and Saratoga residents in the Sports Center. “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,” read an article in the fall 1999 edition of the College’s Scope magazine.

With the inauguration of Philip A. Glotzbach as Skidmore’s seventh president on Oct. 18, 2003, Skidmore’s traditional parent/family weekend became known as Celebration Weekend. The name was chosen to represent the festivities surrounding Glotzbach’s inauguration, which also took place in conjunction with Skidmore’s Centennial Celebration.

Celebration Weekend has since served as an occasion to mark other major milestones for the College as well, from the conclusion of the Creative Thought, Bold Promise campaign to the opening of Zankel Music Center, and will this year set the stage for the second presidential inauguration to be held within its framework.

Philip A. Glotzbach, Skidmore’s seventh president, delivers his inaugural address on Oct. 18, 2003, in the Sports Center.

Philip A. Glotzbach, Skidmore’s seventh president, delivers his inaugural address on Oct. 18, 2003, in the Sports Center.

Marc Conner’s inauguration will be the first to take place in Zankel Music Center, after the prior three were held in the College’s Sports Center. Though the ceremony will be open to all via livestream, in addition to being simulcast to Filene Recital Hall, seating in Zankel will be limited and by invitation only due to the limited capacity necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though important health and safety precautions will be part of the experience, the weekend — filled with in-person and virtual events for Skidmore students, faculty, staff, retirees, alumni, parents and families — promises to be an impressive celebration for the history books.

The traditional elements of a Skidmore inauguration

Academic processional

The traditional academic processional is led by the Schenectady Pipe Band and features a grand marshal, current and life trustees, Alumni Board members, faculty emeriti, faculty representatives, student representatives, and delegates from colleges and universities throughout the country.

Robed in traditional academic regalia, the processional for Marc Conner’s inauguration will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at Palamountain Hall and proceed down the path alongside Bolton Hall on the way to Zankel Music Center.

The grand marshal for Conner’s inaugurationwill be recently retired Professor of Economics Roy J. Rotheim.The Dean of the Faculty’s office selects the grand marshal, who is traditionally a retiring or senior member of the faculty.

Delegates from over 100 colleges and universities throughout the country have been invited to participate in this inauguration, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they will be taking part via livestream. Delegates from New York Six Consortium schools are, however, invited to attend in person.

The Schenectady Pipe Band: The October 1957 inauguration of Val H. Wilson, who was born in Scotland and remained ever proud of his Scots roots, marked the first campus appearance of bagpipes and drums, now a traditional feature of Skidmore commencements, convocations, and inaugurations.

The Schnectady Pipe Band plays at a Skidmore event

The Presidential Medallion

Skidmore introduced a new element to its academic regalia at its 1987 Commencement— a presidential medallion and chain created in honor of then-retiring President Joseph C. Palamountain Jr. The piece was designed and fashioned by Earl Pardon, a world-renowned jeweler, who retired from the Skidmore faculty in 1989 after 38 years in the College’s Art Department. In describing the piece, Pardon said that he consciously departed from the more traditional and somber design of such medallions to create a work of “opulence, color, and richness” to complement the festivity of academic occasions. Each of the 52 rectangles of the chain is individually designed, using a variety of materials to make a “statement of color” — gold of various hues, silver with enamel, abalone shell, ebony, ivory, and semi-precious stones. Hanging from the chain is the presidential medallion, which bears an abstract “S.”

The Skidmore presidential medallion and chain created in honor of then-retiring President Joseph C. Palamountain Jr.

Invocation

Also known as the benediction, the tradition of prayer has been incorporated into every Skidmore inauguration. This time led by Parker Diggory, director of Religious and Spiritual Life, prior prayers have been delivered by Dean Sarah Gridley Ross at Moore’s inauguration and Dean Norma MacRury at Wilson’s, the Rev. Thomas R. Davis, College chaplain, at Porter’s inauguration, and the Methodist bishop of Boston at Keyes’ inauguration.

Greetings

The “greetings” portion of the inauguration program has traditionally presented an opportunity for members of the Skidmore community, representatives of the city of Saratoga Springs, or representatives of other academic institutions to welcome Skidmore’s new president.

Welcoming President Conner will be Skidmore student, faculty, and staff representatives: Issy Mejia ’22, representing the Student Government Association; Jason Ohlberg, associate professor and associate chair of the Dance Department and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; and Amelia C. Clarke, academic administrative assistant for the Economics and Classics departments.

Remarks

Skidmore inaugural remarks have been delivered by speakers ranging from presidents of other colleges to the first lady of the United States.

In a noteworthy inauguration appearance, Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the installation of Jamienne S. Studley on Sept. 25, 1999, saluting Studley as “the last Skidmore president of this century and the first of the next.” Clinton warmly described Studley, whose path she had crossed several times 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."

At the inauguration of President Conner, remarks will be delivered by Dr. Lena Hill, a longtime former colleague and current provost of Washington and Lee University; noted novelist and philosopher Charles Johnson, professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington; and Conner’s wife, Barbara Reyes-Conner.

Then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the inauguration of Jamienne S. Studley as Skidmore’s sixth president on Sept. 25, 1999, in the Sports Center.

Then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the inauguration of Jamienne S. Studley as Skidmore’s sixth president on Sept. 25, 1999, in the Sports Center.

Investiture of the president

Also referred to as the “induction of the president” in Skidmore’s early inaugurations, the investiture of the president is carried out by the current Board of Trustees chair. Nancy W. Hamilton ’77 will lead the formal investiture of Marc Conner.

Inaugural address

Also known as the “response,” the inaugural address is a new president’s opportunity to speak to Skidmore’s strengths, convey his or her priorities as a leader, and outline a vision for the College’s future. In Marc Conner’s unique circumstance, he will be addressing a Skidmore community he joined over a year ago, in July 2020, and with whom he has already accomplished a great deal.

Interludes and postlude

Particularly in Skidmore’s more modern inaugurations, the interludes and postludes have highlighted performance art from members of Skidmore’s own community, including the Skidmore College Chorus and the Skidmore College Orchestra. President Conner's inauguration will feature a performance of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by Skidmore alumnus Garland Nelson ’96.

Alma mater

Performed by the Vocal Chamber Ensemble, “Hymn to Skidmore” has been the College’s alma mater since 1934. Written by Skidmore’s second president, Henry T. Moore, in 1928, it replaced the College’s very first alma mater written in 1917.

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