The inauguration began and ended with a formal procession in full academic regalia featuring more than 200 students, faculty, administrators, staff members and special guests. More than 70 delegates from colleges and universities across the country also marched in the procession, which was led by bagpiper Alexander C. Kramer of Lawrenceburg, Ind., class of 2008.
William Steinbrink, chair of the Wittenberg Board of Directors and a 1964 alumnus, presided over the ceremony, which featured musical performances by the acclaimed Wittenberg Choir and the IMANI Gospel Choir. William Adams, president of Colby College in Waterville, Maine, under whom Erickson served as one of only 34 nationally selected American Council on Education Fellows in 1997, was one of several dignitaries from across campus, the Springfield community and the national academic landscape to bring greetings. The Rev. Dr. James R. Stuck, bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, brought greetings on behalf of the church, to which Wittenberg has been affiliated and closely tied throughout its 161-year history.
As part of the formal installation ceremony, Erickson was presented with the university charter and other historically significant symbols. Greg Farrington, president of Lehigh University, where Erickson served in numerous capacities for 20 years, most recently as vice president for administrative and government affairs, introduced Erickson, who then addressed the capacity crowd in the chapel.
Erickson made it clear that this event was a Wittenberg celebration and not a personal coronation.
“I am truly passionate about what we do here, and although the invitations and press releases surrounding this inauguration have my name emblazoned on them, this day is NOT about Mark Erickson,” he said. “It is about Wittenberg, about celebrating who we are today, who we will become, the challenges and opportunities we face, and the people and the programs that make us distinctively Wittenberg.”
Erickson is eager to build upon these positive first impressions.
“I know that Wittenberg is a great place that aspires to become even better, and that excites me,” he said. “In fact, it’s one of the major reasons I came here. I am not a maintainer: Life is too short and that simply would not get me up in the morning.
“While we can celebrate our accomplishments and our strengths, we must also look to our challenges, our opportunities and our future.”
The ceremony was followed by a reception in Hollenbeck Hall, featuring a Chinese dragon dance coordinated by Shih Ming Li Chang, associate professor of theatre and dance, in collaboration with Wittenberg’s internationally recognized East Asian Studies program. Eleven Wittenberg students representing a range of classes and disciplines assisted with the performance.
It was fitting that the Chinese dragon dance took place, dovetailing nicely with one of Erickson’s favorite themes. Since arriving on July 1, Erickson has consistently challenged the students, faculty, alumni and administration of Wittenberg to “bring the world to Wittenberg and Wittenberg to the world.
“Global citizenship and diversity are core values in my own life, and in my mind, must continue to be educational imperatives for us as a collective community and hallmarks of a Wittenberg education,” said Erickson, who also touched upon themes of community service, partnerships with the local government and the need to enhance the university’s physical structures. “Part of what drew me to Wittenberg is the fact that these core values are central to this university and deeply embedded in our history.”
The inauguration day activities put an exclamation point on a busy week of celebratory activities that led up the event itself, all of which were intended to reflect Wittenberg’s long-standing commitment to global education, student-faculty collaboration and community service.
They included a special guest lecture by award-winning scholar and noted author Rajan Menon, the Monroe J. Rathbone Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., a Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, and the student-sponsored Pizza with the President reception on Sept. 19, at which time a diversity pledge was made. Students also coordinated a community service project to assist the women of Interfaith Hospitality Network and Rainbow Tables II, both in Springfield.
In addition, Wittenberg students worked with Springfield Mayor Warren R. Copeland, professor of religion, to declare Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005, as Mark H. Erickson Day. A special decree was presented to Erickson during a student-sponsored ice cream social hour in the student center on Friday.
- Ryan Maurer
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