By Brooke Schultz
Students, according to President Kurt Landgraf, are at the center of Washington College. As a way to honor that, his inauguration as 29th president was held over Fall Family Weekend.
“We hold the future of America in our hands — the students we are educating here are the future, and that is a more serious task that we realize,” he said in his address on Saturday, Sept. 23 in Martha Washington Square.
The ceremony featured remarks from alumni; current students, faculty, and staff; and friends of the College. The event honored Landgraf, who took office in July. It followed a barbecue and bonfire on the lawn of Dorchester Hall and was punctuated with fireworks to end the evening.
“In all of Chestertown’s history there are five dates that are important — I’ll talk about three of them,” said Mayor of Chestertown Chris Cerino during the ceremony. “The first is 1706, the year when the Maryland General Assembly established six ports of entry on the Chesapeake Bay, and our very own Chestertown was founded. Another is 1782, the year this College was founded after the American Revolution. Lastly, today, in 2017, as Kurt Landgraf is inaugurated as president of the College.”
Landgraf comes to WC after a career as senior executive with DuPont and a 13-year tenure as president and CEO of Educational Testing Service, a provider in measurement programs for K-12 and higher education communities.
In his opening remarks, Chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors Larry Culp said that Landgraf not only recognizes the value of a liberal arts education, but also the importance of that “student-centric approach.”
“In Kurt Landgraf we have found someone of determination, optimism, and good humor, who comes with a clear understanding of the business of higher education and its competitive environment,” he said.
Landgraf said his own liberal arts education at Wagner College changed his life and taught him that a strong foundation in liberal arts teaches students to “understand the intrinistic human value of people and understand how all people are connected.”
He discussed the concept of “moral courage” — something a student once said that intially drew him to WC — making difficult decisions, and his own personal experiences with both.
“When I worked at DuPont, we had business in South Africa,” he said. “After Apartheid began, I pulled DuPont out of South Africa. I owe this decision to what I learned from my liberal arts education — above all, we have a moral compass to do what is right, not what is convenient.”
And WC, he said, is an example of what liberal arts education can be.
“There is a sense of history, philosophy, international affairs, the ability to communicate effectively, and the ability to learn the difference between right and wrong,” Landgraf said.
Echoing this and pulling from the letters that William Smith, the first president of WC, wrote to George Washington in July of 1782, Dr. James Allen Hall, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, said, “We are best when taken down to our elements. Nothing stays itself for too long — what are you made of? How is history born, and how do we shoulder it together?”
Dr. Hall, who was the 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, recited a poem he had written for the occasion titled, “A Monument for this Morning,” which can be found in its entirety on page three, before Landgraf was sworn in.
“A college too is a living momument,” he read, “where every day we ask to be transformed, made more human, less afraid to meet the unknowable, to say the unsayable.”
In conclusion to his address, Landgraf said, “I love this place. I will give my heart and soul, and do everything I can to ensure this place will be sustainable for generations to come. I will say it again — I love this place.”