Transcript of the Inauguration of President Anne F. Harris

[music, “Gloria” from Lord Nelson Mass, arr. Walter Barnes]

Nino Parker ’07 >

[as each group processes in]

  • The Trustees of Grinnell College
  • Delegates from Colleges, Universities, and Associations, marching in order of Institution founding, the oldest being Harvard University, represented by Qiaomei Tang, Assistant Professor of Chinese
  • The Faculty and Staff of Grinnell College
  • The Platform Party

George Moose ’66 >

My name is George Moose, class of 1966, and a member of the Grinnell College Board of Trustees.

I have the great pleasure of welcoming you here today to join in a joyful celebration, the inauguration of Anne F. Harris as the 14th President of Grinnell College.

I recall very clearly my first conversation with Anne. It was almost exactly three years ago, at the May 2019 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

We bonded immediately over our shared experience of having lived in Switzerland, and of speaking French.

We also discovered a shared interest in European art and architecture, most notably Gothic cathedrals and stained-glass, those windows that infuse their otherwise gray interiors with light and color. I was impressed by her ability to read those windows and what those windows revealed about the communities that designed and constructed them.

Our relationship deepened when I became chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, which gave me an even greater appreciation for Anne’s understanding of and commitment to the College’s mission and its role in the nurturing and development of a vibrant and informed democracy of educated and engaged citizens.

It was there, too, that I came to appreciate her qualities of leadership, and her extraordinary ability to motivate, inspire, and move all those with whom she openly and joyfully engaged. These are the qualities that over the past two years have made her such an outstanding leader, as she has stewarded the College, and all associated with it, through one of the most challenging times in its 175-year history.

And now, Grinnell family and friends, it is my privilege to welcome to the podium Trustee Keith Jantzen, class of 1980.

Keith Jantzen ‘80 >

Dear Grinnell students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends:

Grinnell College, like every academic institution, operates on rhythms, or cadences, each of which has significance and meaning for the students, faculty, and staff of the College. There is:

  • the beginning of a new academic year every fall
  • the first day of classes; and of course
  • the last day of finals
  • the first game or meet or match of the season
  • and core to the life of the College there is commencement, every May, which marks a new beginning, for a new cadre of graduating seniors

Today we gather for another event central to the College’s mission and its future — the inauguration of its president.

Let us just pause for a moment to consider something about today — in the past 175 years, we have only come together 13 times before to do this. The interval between these events has been as brief as 3 years, and as long as 25 years — the latter being the term of President Main who served early in the last century. On average we do this less than once a decade.

This is an extraordinary occasion, for many reasons. First, because it is so rare, it is truly momentous. And it is special because it affords us a unique opportunity to gather — both in-person and virtually —

  • to reflect on the history of the College — where we have come from, and where we want to go together;
  • to acknowledge and embrace Anne’s presidency and her leadership of the College into that shared future; something which I personally am extremely excited about
  • and lastly, this event allows us to re-affirm our faith in and commitment to Grinnell, to this place which holds a special place in our hearts

I want to thank everyone for being here today, for coming together as a community to formally recognize, and to celebrate Anne Harris as president of Grinnell College.

College Marshal >

I present Iris Mackenzie.

Iris Mackenzie >

This is “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Honorary Marshal >

From the Students, Eva Hill ’22

Eva Hill ’22 >

I was surprised and honored to be invited to speak today, and even more so when I learned I would be the only student speaking. I’ve had the opportunity to work with President Harris this year in my role as co-editor of the Scarlet and Black. My co-editor and I have met with her regularly each semester to discuss upcoming campus events and issues important to the College community, and during that time I’ve developed a real appreciation for the complex role of the College president. This year and the last have been unusual ones to navigate for anyone, I think, but I almost can’t imagine the level of organizational skill and consideration it takes to manage all the administrative aspects of a school during this period.

The paper’s relationship with the College is necessarily one that can involve tension over what information we are and aren’t willing to exchange, and President Harris has made a continual point of allowing us to do our jobs while she does hers, with an enthusiasm that I see in many aspects of how she governs the College. This was the second year, ever, of regular meetings being scheduled between the editors in chief of the newspaper and the College president, and throughout the constantly changing campus environment, I’ve immensely appreciated the opportunity to hear what President Harris and other college officials have been working on. I’m looking forward to seeing where she leads Grinnell in the next few years with great excitement and anticipation.

Honorary Marshal >

From the Faculty, Chair of the Faculty, Professor of Biology, Vida Praitis

Vida Praitis >

The concept of ‘intelligence’ isn’t far-fetched for a Grinnellian. Each of you here, or watching from home, knows well the experience of dynamic exchange and thought-provoking discussion.

But there’s another type of intellect I believe to be far more rare, and one I have seen exhibited, time and time again, by Grinnell College’s fourteenth president — and this is the attribute of Social Intelligence.

Social Intelligence relies on someone’s ability to understand and manage interpersonal relationships, and when you come into contact with so many people, who care so much about so many different things — relationship management is not an easy task.

As chair of the faculty, I know how much Grinnell faculty value conversation and collaboration. They have opinions on governance, on the success of our students, and in decision-making. The credo of ‘individually mentored’ is something we truly live, and when you care so much about something, you also feel an anxiety about your care being ignored. As Anne would put it, “critique is care.” President Harris turns crisis into rich conversation — not just about the best path forward, but the best path forward, together. There’s a magic in how she deals with challenge — things I worry would become painful, turn civil; the issues I fear could tear us apart result in a strengthened community. Anne brings different units of our faculty together so we might talk through problems as a collective — and these discussions have had a far deeper impact than we anticipated.

I watch her work diligently and consistently, and my respect for her just deepens. In essence, the Anne Harris’s of the world don’t run away from the hard things, but instead move towards them with attention and with care. A quality that takes the concept of academic intelligence, and elevates it to a whole new level.

Honorary Marshal >

From the Alumni, Alumni Council President, Lester Áleman ‘07

Lester Alemán ’07 >

Grinnell has always been on the right side of history. After all, we are a school founded by abolitionists. We have a history of advocacy, of community, and have always been authentic in our approach to acceptance and understanding. This is a legacy and heritage we must hold onto so we can continue to fight to remain on the right side of history today, and tomorrow. And as I’ve gotten to know President Harris, I believe she is the person who can help us continue this legacy.

As an alum, I often talk about my Grinnell experience as that which honed my critical thinking skills — after all, that’s central to the liberal arts experience. In practice, this means you learn to speak up — even if your opinion is of the minority. You learn to have the vision and the willingness to combat any fear of sticking out, so that you can advocate for what is right — no matter how difficult it might be. When we consider the world in which we live today, it has never been more crucial for a place like Grinnell to do this work. To give voices to those who are silenced, or to give strength to opinions that may seem unpopular. And to do this, the College must go beyond simple existence. In fact, Anne’s presidency is quite possibly the most important presidency in our history — her leadership will remind folks to never underestimate the power of the prairie.

In a country where demographics are shifting so quickly, Grinnell must be led by someone who recognizes diversity, equity, and inclusion as a crucial part of change. Amongst this very concept is a battle we find ourselves in — an unintentional one, but one in which we must prevail. Anne’s strategic plan has set a course for this school’s success, and as alumni, we need to stand with her, for we can only win this battle if we’re in it, side by side, together.

When I attended Grinnell as a student, part of my mission was to help the institution become more welcoming — and I’m finding that President Harris is doing the same. She approaches every conversation with so much care — she gives hugs. That in and of itself — the embracing of others no matter what — is a key symbol of the kind of person she is. The leadership she exhibits has a humanity to it; something that is rare, unexpected, and appreciated.

Anne- it has been an honor to watch you lead with empathy and compassion; with care and love for what we do and what we stand for. We have full trust that you will keep our conscience pointed on the right side of history.

Grinnell is a place where many of us are afforded the opportunity to get to know others — not just by names and titles, but by who we are as humans – and as a 4th generation Grinnellian — I’ve gotten to know a lot of humans in this town.

Honorary Marshal >

From the Staff, Director of Outreach Programs and Events, Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith >

So maybe that’s why I feel like its ‘people’ who have defined my time at Grinnell; from working in the office of community partnerships, planning, and research, to planning campus and community events, to serving on Staff Council. In almost all of these roles, I act as an advocate — someone who wants to advance an agenda for the betterment of another.

Sometimes, this position is difficult. At times, I’ve found myself faced with a culture of ‘no,’ or people who won’t give me the time of day. But with Anne, things are different. One of the things I picked up quickly about Anne was that she is a really good listener. She has the ability to make you feel like you’re the only person on her mind, and when someone has a concern, she doesn’t just make that person feel heard, she makes them feel like their issue or concern has been addressed. In the time Anne has been at Grinnell, I’ve approached her with many staff concerns. From a request for more remote work days, to wanting hot chocolate back in the staff lounge. Some of these requests may seem trivial, but at the end of the day, no request is too small to be heard. And Anne believes that, too.

Anne’s stance on listening, and on Civic Trust, is something that is going to make so many of our lives easier; in fact, it already has. Building relationships, human to human, is how productivity happens more efficiently. We can take care of each other more effectively because we know each other more completely — and through joint participation, solve problems together. I know Anne not just as a President, but as a parent — her son swims on the swim team I also happen to coach — and I can say with complete confidence that her Presidency will continue to be one of partnership, compassion, and care, because as a human, she is simply incredible.

College Marshal >

From the Community, Trustee and President of the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation , Julie Gosselink

Julie Gosselink >

In towns like Grinnell, it’s important to do things together. I live and breathe this daily, approaching individuals and key organizations to talk about community needs and impact. There’s a desire to collaborate and find out what others are thinking. And while our politics and views can be different, we agree that in all of our work, you must leave it better than you found it. This has been somewhat of a verbal agreement amongst us — the small town verbal handshake — and when it comes to this shared objective, Anne fits right in.

Since Anne arrived at Grinnell, her humility, grace, and kindness, not to mention how extremely smart she is, has made me even more excited to see what topics or challenges she will tackle next. Her ability to be personable with strangers with such openness creates almost a magnetism, as you can see people gravitate to her immediately. Anne is concurrently down to earth while dreaming big for what’s next. And this opinion is more widely shared than she might know. While only a handful of us are speaking today, Anne has made an impression that goes far beyond this platform. Anne, in addition to those of us who know you, there’s an entire segment of people who know “of” you – and are equally impressed by who you are and the value you bring to our community. We are so honored that you have brought your positivity and light to the college and to the town.

When my grandfather started the Ahrens family foundation, he pushed us to internalize the drive for constant improvement – to leave it better than you found it - and Anne has done just that. I am so excited about the future for this community, for Grinnell College, and how we will continue to work towards a brighter path, together.

George Moose >

I present Roman McKenzie.

Roman Mackenzie >

[Two Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book, author unknown (late 10th century), trans. Craig Williamson in A Feast of Creatures (2011)]

Riddle 64

I stretch beyond the bounds of middle-earth
Shrink down smaller than a hand-worm,
Grow brighter than the moon, and run
Swifter than the sun. I cradle oceans,
Lakes, paths, green plains in my arms.
I dive down under Hell’s way and rise up
Over Heaven’s home, arced over angels.
I form-fill all earth and ancient worlds,
Fields and sea-streams. Say who I am.

Riddle 65

In the hall of the High King I heard
That a voiceless creature spoke charmed
Words, chanted praise, prayer-song
Wise and wonderful it seemed to me
It speaks without mouth, moves without feet
Saying “I am now teacher of people,
Preacher to many on middle-earth –
I will live as long as folk walk the land.”
Wound with silver and plated gold,
I have seen it open where people sit
Drinking together. Now a wise person
Should know what this creature is called.

George Moose >

I Present the Grinnell Singers

[Choral music by the Grinnell Singers, “Hold Fast to Dreams” by Langston Hughes]

George Moose >

I Present Oliver McKenzie

Oliver Mckenzie >

Excerpts from Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space

Memory and imagination remain associated, each one working for their mutual deepening. In the order of values, they both constitute a community of memory and image. Thus, the house is not experienced from day to day only, on the thread of a narrative, or in the telling of our story. Through dreams, the various dwelling-places in our lives co-penetrate and retain the treasures of former days. … By recalling memories, we add to the store of our dreams. …

[B]y approaching the house images with care not to break up the solidarity of memory and imagination, we may hope to make others feel all the psychological elasticity of an image that moves us at an unimaginable depth. Through poems, perhaps more than through recollections, we touch the ultimate poetic depth of the space of the house.

This being the case, if I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace…. Therefore, the places in which we have experienced daydreaming reconstitute themselves in a new daydream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as daydreams that these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all time.

Honorary Marshal >

To initiate the investiture of the 14th President, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Michael Kahn ’74

Michael Kahn >

In just a few short minutes, it will be my very great pleasure to formally install Anne Harris as Grinnell’s 14th president. And Anne, what is a few minutes more considering you have already been doing the job for one year, 10 months and 7 days?!

With most presidential inaugurations, there is certainly a sense of great promise and hope for the future. Speaking on behalf of the Board of Trustees, I can tell you that we have much more than high hopes today. We also have an unshakable conviction that there are great things to come, for we have already seen Anne make an incredible impact during these first two years of her presidency.

Anne has excelled on every front! As someone who has partnered closely with Anne, I can tell you that not only is she an exceptional president, she is also an exceptional person. Anne is someone who is acutely attuned to and seeks to understand the aspirations, challenges and lived experience of others. She has an irrepressible positive energy and finds and shares moments of true joy every day, regardless of the many daunting challenges that come her way.

One of the things we enjoy most about Anne is that even though she is very serious about her work, Anne never takes herself too seriously and is open to fun ways to build community. To that end, on April 1st this year, the College tweeted a video of Anne on campus, announcing with a very straight face, that Grinnell would soon be launching a “synergistic initiative” on squirrels. I have to admit that as I watched the video, I found myself thinking, “Really!? A squirrel initiative?!” Then I saw “Scarlet the Squirrel” sneak up behind her with an “April Fool’s” sign and Anne went on to let us know it was just an April Fools’ joke.

Though Anne is surely one of the nicest and kindest people I have ever met, we know that’s not enough to be a great College president. A modern college presidency is as challenging and complex as it is rewarding. And Anne brings humility, intelligence, integrity, courage and fortitude in tackling even the most difficult challenges. She always seeks to do the right thing, even when this means taking heat from others, an essential characteristic of a strong leader.

Anne is also profoundly guided by principles of social justice, equity and inclusiveness. As is true of many Grinnellians, Anne acts on the things she believes in. Last year, even as college finances had been hit hard by lost room and board revenue, Anne made the decision to end student loans as part of our financial aid packages, replacing them with increased grants from the College. She didn’t only do this because many of our highest need students were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. She also did this because she knows that student debt is a driver of socioeconomic inequality and she wants all of our future students to be able to graduate debt-free. Grinnell is now one of only twelve higher-ed institutions that is both no-loan and need-blind! Thank you, President Harris, for taking this bold step and setting an example that we hope many others will follow!

To our students, our faculty, our staff, our alumni, know that Anne is always on your side.

We are deeply grateful for all she has already done for this college we love, and we look forward with joyous anticipation to the many ways she will bring Grinnellians together and make this college stronger in the years ahead.

Anne, we are so inspired by you and grateful for your gifted leadership, and with you at the helm, I have never felt more positive or excited about the future of this great College!

Anne, please stand.

Anne F. Harris, the Board of Trustees calls you to be the 14th President of Grinnell College. In accepting this call, you join a distinguished list of educators who, as president of this institution, have shaped its history, its character, and its quality. The board places in your hands a College with over a century and three-quarters of honorable heritage, a center of learning noted for excellence of its faculty, its talented student body, and for its alumni, who bring a special example of learning and service to communities throughout the world. In the light of this rich tradition of educational achievement and vital humanism, I charge you, on behalf of the board and those whom you will serve at the College:

  • To assert and uphold the primacy of disciplined thought, informed speech, and responsible action on the part of all who work and learn at this institution;
  • to demonstrate by example the essential relationship between knowledge and appreciation, between understanding and enjoyment, and between service and satisfaction;
  • to advance at all times the necessity of equity and justice among all who teach and learn or in any other way serve this College;
  • to give decisive support to the faculty’s mission of furthering the growth of students in knowledge and discernment;
  • and to provide in some significant measure for enlargement of the human spirit as a result of all genuine education.

And now, by the authority vested in me as chair of the board of trustees, it is my privilege and pleasure to confer upon you, Anne F. Harris, the presidency of Grinnell College, and with it, all of the rights and responsibilities that pertain to that office.

[Trish Fitzgibbons Anderson ’80 picks up medal and brings to President Harris]

In token of your induction, I present to you this medallion, which is symbolic of the trust placed in you as the 14th president of this institution.

[Kahm, Moose, and Anderson place the medal over President Harris’ head.]

Anne F. Harris >

Thank you, Michael, I gladly accept the emblem of this office and with it, its responsibilities. I do now solemnly express to you and to the other members of the board of trustees and to all members of the Grinnell Community my resolve to serve the College faithfully and to the best of my abilities

It is such a joy to be in your fine, glorious company; to hold up dear family, cherished friends, beloved mentors, new partners, honored guests, and the esteemed faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Grinnell College community in this time we have together. Thank you so very much for the powerful words that have been spoken this morning. Taking a cue from our new banners, I can affirm that “Presidents don’t inaugurate themselves, Grinnellians do.” 

And so yes, here. we. are – assembled for an inauguration: an event that gathers us to look to our future together.

We do so within a shared past – all of us, most immediately a shared pandemic past that does not usually frame an inauguration: two years of decisions and incertitude, of striving and stopping, of so much love, and so much loss. One could justifiably ask: what could an inauguration mean after so long? Whence any sense of a new beginning? But these past two years give us occasion to ask: What does it mean to look to the future within a shared past?

I ask you that question because I would argue that it is never too late to inaugurate, [laughter ] especially within a shared past – it is never too late for a community to look to its future and affirm what it believes in; it is never too late for a person or a country to begin again. Indeed, beginning again is one of the deep-seated practices of this college, one of the rhythms of knowledge: think of the first word of the poem, the first brushstroke on the canvas, the first data point on the graph, the first step onto the stage, the first formation of the hypothesis, the first survey of the field. Again. For the fifth time, the fiftieth time, the five hundredth time or, today, for this college, this community, this us: the fourteenth time. What will we bring into our future this time?

I have three commitments to share with you in response to that question; these are three hopes girded by resolve, three deeply-held beliefs, three wellsprings for what we can do together. My words will be intermingled with those of thinkers who have long shaped my thoughts and actions, and now deepen my ability to speak to my abiding love for and pledged stewardship of this marvel of a College; this Grinnell and all Grinnellians.

Let’s begin with this word “inauguration:” it calls us into our own future from a distant past. In ancient Rome, the augur was the religious official who read signs from the world here and now to predict the future yet to come. Of the many signs availing themselves to interpretation, the flights of birds were favored for foretelling the future. Perhaps it was the act of looking up at birds, the possibility of patterns, or the freedom of flight that made the Roman augur look up and wonder – and makes us marvel still.

The wild geese that fly through the poem by Mary Oliver read by Iris inaugurate a world that is, in the poet’s words, “harsh and exciting – / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.” The geese signal over and over again as they call out over the prairie, and over us, that “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination.”

And so, my first commitment, a first resolute hope: that the future of a shared past calls on us to both see and safeguard imagination. To recognize it and nurture it, within ourselves and others. To install those structures and places and times and policies and habits that foster imagination. That let us see what is possible in our work: in our ability to trust and to create trust, so as to build enduring foundations and vibrant knowledge for the more just and equitable society to which Grinnell College harkens.

This safeguarding of imagination is no small charge. In the beautiful performance of Joel Thompson’s powerful composition, “Hold Fast to Dreams,” shared with us by the Grinnell Singers, you heard intermingled lines from two poems by Langston Hughes that set the stakes high for dreams and imagination. Asking “What happens to a dream deferred?” in the poem “Harlem” pushes us as constituents and caretakers both of this College, this community, and this society to address the exclusion, discrimination, racism, and bigotry that defer dreams, that prevent imagination from taking full flight to joy and realization. Again: this safeguarding of imagination is no small charge: “For if dreams die,” Hughes writes in the poem “Dreams,” “Life is a broken-winged bird.” But this charge is one that we must take up, it is one that I promise you to which I will give my whole heart and effort so that Grinnell College offers itself to imagination, so that ideas and joy take flight.

When Roman read riddles from the 10th century, he engaged us in the play – and work – of imagination. Of the 91 riddles in the Old English Exeter manuscript from which he read in translation, not a one is provided an answer. The meanings of the riddles have thus been arrived at through centuries of imagining, debating, and (mostly) agreeing. Riddle 64, for example, in its “stretch beyond the bounds of middle earth” and “Shrink[ing] down smaller than a hand-worm” has generally been agreed to signify nature, or creation. But “the past,” too, I would posit, very much “form-fill[s] all earth and ancient worlds,” and “cradle[s] oceans, / Lakes, paths and green plains in [its] arms.” In this imagining of the riddle, the past is multiple and diverse: it is immense and specific, far-ranging to the future and close to home in the present, both impossible to fully comprehend and not to be forgotten.

And so, a second commitment, a second belief: that the future of a shared past calls on us to acknowledge that a shared past is not the same past. That, in the complexity and intersectionality of experiences and identities, events are chronicled one way and remembered another; that the same event can be experienced in distinctly different ways; that pasts are multiple. This acknowledgement is important on multiple scales. It is important in the breadth of the United States, whose contradictory foundation in principles of democracy and practices of slavery must be studied not in isolation or even in sequence, but rather within the complexity and context of Black intellectual traditions and social movements, of multi-ethnic and multicultural migrations and immigrations, and the perpetual reconfigurations of this country. This acknowledgment is important in the specificity of Grinnell College, whose foundation in 1846 on the ancestral lands of the Sioux and Ioway nations following encroachment by white settlers and government land concessions in 1845 also intersects with the purchase of land by the Meskwaki nation in nearby Tama, following migration from their Algonquian origins and the displacement of the Fox Wars.

And so we must make room – we must hold space – in our curriculum, in our programming, in our networks, in our communications, in our narratives, and in our own telling of the past (and future!) of the College, for the very differing experiences, memories, languages, and identities that have enlivened this institution – that have given it meaning, and purpose, and direction. And herein lies the answer to the second riddle that Roman read: the “voiceless creature sp[eaking] charmed words,” the “teacher of people” who “will live as long as folk walk the land” has been agreed to be a book, a gathering of knowledge. The last image the poet gives us is of having “seen it open where people sit drinking together.” The openness of the book, the open-endedness of it, is what I prize here. For it underscores that the understanding required for a differentiated past is never done: that the books we write (the knowledge we bring forth) will be rewritten or deepened – by us or by others, and I pledge to you to be humble to that realization, and to see hope in that humility.

To that hope, I cannot help but return briefly to what is for me a foundational allegory: the Tower of Babel, which I have long prized for its open-ended and unfinished quality, for its enduring state of perpetual becoming that I see as so akin to that of a college, and a democracy – always in formation. In her own parable of the Tower of Babel, which she shared in her 1993 Nobel Prize address, Toni Morrison created a new interpretation for the long-accepted failure of the tower’s construction due to multiplicities of languages suddenly descending upon human beings. She saw, instead, in that unfinished architecture, an opportunity and a hope in striving to understand different languages and experiences (and pasts): “Had they [taken the time to understand one another]” she writes, “the heaven they imagined might have been found at their feet. Complicated, demanding, yes, but a view of heaven as life; not heaven as post-life.”

If Toni Morrison opens up the possibility of a heaven in unfinished architecture, Gaston Bachelard invites us to think of the haven of dwelling-places. Taking “the poetics of space” as his philosophical inquiry, Bachelard plumbs the allegorical, emotional, psychological, and sociological depths of the house and all its components, from cellar to attic and everything in between: the house as shelter, as memory, as knowledge, as self, as society – and, I would add, as college. In the early pages of the book from which Oliver read, Bachelard posits that the house “shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

Bachelard seeks a deeper meaning of the house as a dwelling-place – as a place where daydreaming and imagination and memory are all intertwined and perpetual. He continues, “it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as daydreams that these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all time.” Placing Bachelard’s complex layering of place and time within the framework of our College prompts me to see that we carry the future of Grinnell in our shared experiences of it.

And so to my third commitment to you today, to that well-spring for what we can build together: that the future of a shared past calls on us to steward our dwelling-places. The knowledge we discern, the actions we take, the times we speak up, the initiatives we undertake, the resources we budget, the deliberations we engage, the futures we dream — all shape those of our peers, our colleagues, our friends, our visitors, and our many interlocutors. We are like to a democracy, simultaneously inhabitants and stewards of this College: as we live and work here, we shape the shared experiences and thus the future of this College and the society it shapes.

This point becomes more vivid, if we look to an aspect of the house on which Bachelard actually does not spend a great deal of time: the threshold – an architectural feature and moment in time appropriate to an inauguration (as we step into this next chapter of the College’s history together) and instructive to a society (and thus a college) as articulated in Arundhati Roy’s April 2020 essay, “The Pandemic is a Portal.” In its memorable words, she asks us what we will carry across the threshold between the pre-pandemic world and the post-pandemic world – this deep threshold on which we all still stand. “We can choose to walk through it,” she writes, “dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

And so we can talk of and act on what we usher in together – at the College, and in society – on the other side of a threshold on which we stand. Inspired, as many of you know I have been for years, by John Dewey and his claim that “democracy must be reborn with each generation, and [that] education is its midwife,” I think of the threshold across which education ushers in democracy, and of our stewardship of this dwelling-place, this College, as it engages in that crucial and perpetual emergence. In speaking of the birth of a new world in No Name in the Street from 1972, James Baldwin foretold “[t]his birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives. No matter, so long as we accept that our responsibility is to the newborn: acceptance of responsibility contains the key.” Acceptance of responsibility is at the heart of stewardship, and I pledge to you that within this clumsiness I bring a resolve to learn and try again so that we can stand again (and again) on thresholds and be ready to imagine the new world we can create together.

Dearest Grinnellians. I stand before you today, on the threshold of this future of a shared past, with these three commitments: to foster imagination, to maintain the multiplicity of experiences, and to steward our dwelling places. I pledge to do my utmost in our continued co-creation of this College to build and claim with you all that we hold in trust: the vitality of this College, of our mission, and of each other. On this inauguration day, in this moment that has gathered us to look to our future together, I affirm to you that it is the honor of my life and will be the dedication of my energies to serve and steward this institution in all that it makes possible and all that it can be. Join me – and let us perpetually inaugurate Grinnell College in all we do.

Thank you.

My thanks to everyone, here in person and on the livestream, for being a part of this momentous occasion. It is, indeed, a proud day to be a Grinnellian!

Trish Fitzgibbons Anderson ’80 >

It feels fitting that I have the honor of closing out today’s celebration. As the co-chair of the search committee, I had the pleasure of inviting Anne to interview for the presidency of Grinnell College at the very beginning, and now, I’m able to put a perfect bookend on her long journey to a formal installation. Congratulations Anne!

I now invite everyone to join in fellowship and celebration.

For those of you on campus, please join us in Kington Plaza. For those of you tuning in online, we encourage you to pause and celebrate the wonderful 14th President of Grinnell College: Anne F. Harris


We use cookies to enable essential services and functionality on our site, enhance your user experience, provide better service through personalized content, collect data on how visitors interact with our site, and enable advertising services.

To accept the use of cookies and continue on to the site, click "I Agree." For more information about our use of cookies and how to opt out, please refer to our website privacy policy.