Message of “truth” highlights inaugural address

“The truth shall set us free,” was the message from Dr. Ajay Nair on Oct. 13, as hundreds of students, staff, faculty, alumni, trustees, families, friends, and community members ushered in a new era at Arcadia University with his inauguration as 22nd president.

President Nair addressed the challenges facing liberal arts education, calling for universities to encourage students to work harder; to meet the educational needs of all students, not just a select few; and to redefine higher education in America.

“In the role of president, I am privileged to serve my community by working to transform the higher education landscape through truth, justice, and liberation,” said President Nair. “We need leaders that are committed to justice; leaders that can problem solve and think critically; leaders that are thoughtful and imaginative in their approach; and leaders that seek the truth. We are about to embark on a journey that will pave the way for others and change the landscape of higher education and the world around us.”

The University community, along with representatives from more than 50 institutions of higher education and governing bodies across the nation, came together to celebrate a new chapter in Arcadia’s 165-year history—one that President Nair envisions as a model for other institutions hoping to merge justice and education.

Esteemed Speakers and Participants

To begin the ceremony, representatives led by the Hamilton Celtic Pipes and Drums processed along the Walk of Pride and onto Haber Green. Dr. Doreen Loury, assistant professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, welcomed guests and delegates, while reminding President Nair, “We got your back!”

Attendees heard from a wide range of University community members, including Reverend Rebecca Crate ’09, pastor at Springfield Presbyterian Church, who offered an invocation; Lorna Stern, vice president and executive director of The College of Global Studies (TCGS), who introduced several of the event’s dignitaries; Dr. Alan Jansen, resident director of TCGS in South Africa, who echoed the words of Nelson Mandela while speaking on behalf of the University’s international community; Alexandra Heilbron ’20, president of Student Government Organization, and Elijah Wilson ’19, president of the Class of 2019; Kerry Ann Costello Leraris ’92, ’94MEd, president of the Arcadia University Alumni Association; Aashika Suseendran ’15, a Psychology graduate who performed “Imagine” during the ceremony; Dr. Ana Maria García, associate professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice and president of Faculty Senate, who read excerpts from “The Tragic Plight” by Kumaran Asan, Dr. Nair’s favorite poet; and Bre Donnelly ’04, ’18M, assistant dean of Students and chair of Staff Council. Board Chair Alison (Aaron) Madsen, Esq. ’85, Vice Chair Dr. Joycellen Young Auritt ’71, and Trustee Dr. James Wagner, a mentor of Dr. Nair and president emeritus of Emory University, spoke on behalf of the Trustees.

Also speaking at the ceremony were government and higher education officials from around the region and country, including Pennsylvania State Senator Art Haywood (D-4) , Philadelphia Councilmember At-Large Helen Gym, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, and Dr. Thomas Parham , president of California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Madsen led the transferral of office with President Emerita Dr. Bette E. Landman ’04H (president, 1985-2004) and former president Dr. Jerry Greiner (president, 2004-2011), who presented to Dr. Nair the University’s Chain of Office and Charter, respectively.

The speaker who received perhaps the most enthusiastic applause was Rani Nair, daughter of President Nair and his wife, Paayal Nair. Rani shared a loving tribute to her father, detailing humorous moments President Nair has used as lessons for her and her brother, Krishna, and emphasizing what it means to minority children to have a role model like him. Prior to her remarks, an original rap song by Krishna, “Utopia,” played, which described President Nair’s journey to becoming president of Arcadia.

The weeklong Inauguration celebration began on Oct. 8 and included LGBTQ allies training; a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States; and a presidential panel led by Dr. Nair, Dr. Parham, and Dr. Karen Stout, president of the nonprofit Achieving the Dream, Inc. and former president of Montgomery County Community College.