Image via The Berkeley Beacon
Last Friday, September 14, an installation ceremony for the 12th president of Emerson College, Lee Pelton, was held in the Cutler Majestic Theater. Though the ceremony included brass-instrument and strings music and a poetry reading, the centerpiece of the event were the many speeches given by academic figures associated with Emerson College and President Pelton, all of which were appropriate, but many of which also tinged with a surprising amount of humor.
The first speech, the invocation, was given by Dr. Charles I Wallace Jr., an associate professor of religious studies at Willamette University, where Pelton was President for 13 years. Interspersed with more solemn prayers were tongue-in-cheek references to Boston’s Puritan ancestors “who came to this shore undocumented” and asking God “What do you have against the Sox?” Another speaker, Aaron M. Michlewitz, State Representative for the Third Suffolk District of Massachusetts, when speaking about how the area around Emerson’s campus had improved under past Presidents of the school, reminisced how he used to have orthodontist appointments in what is now the Little Building and that it was “not a pretty place.” A highlight of the event was a surprise visit by a friend of President Pelton’s, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who could only stay for a few minutes as he was apparently very busy that day and joked he was sorry he was not dressed in the elaborate ceremonial attire all of the other honored guests were wearing.
A major theme of the two biggest speeches, one given by featured speaker Dr. Andrew Delbanco and President Pelton’s inaugural address, was Emerson’s importance as an institution dedicated to teaching the art of communication. Delbanco, the Mendelsohn Family Chair of American Studies and the Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, as well as a longtime friend of President Pelton, began by telling a story about a college news publication from years ago called The Real World, a name he was always amused by since the school seemed to be saying “the rest of the world merited, at best, a brief mention.” However, he said, “Emerson College is an exception,” pointing out that, “There’s never been anything backward-looking…about Emerson College.” President Pelton, during his address, also referenced communication when he said that, even though he has been President of Emerson for over a year, he wanted to wait to have the installation ceremony when he “had something of meaning and purpose” to say, and also talked at length about the changes Emerson has experienced over the years and his plans for future changes.
The ceremony concluded with a benediction by Karen S. Nahary, a Jewish chaplain and advisor to the Emerson student organization Hillel and a singing of the alma mater by musical-theater students.