The Inauguration of Dr. Christopher B. Howard as 24th President of the College

 

Howard smiling
The 24th President of Hampden-Sydney College, Dr. Christopher B. Howard

“THE INSTITUTION WE CELEBRATE today has excelled for nearly two and a half centuries at creating men of honor, service, and character,” said Dr. Christopher B. Howard on November 11, 2010, at his inauguration as the 24th President of Hampden-Sydney College.

“These core components of the Hampden-­Sydney Man have not changed since James Madison, Patrick Henry, and the other members of our early Board of Trustees brought into being this place we call home, or affectionately, ‘The Hill’.”

To the assembly of nearly 1000 well wishers, President Howard reiterated that which makes graduates of this historic College unique among the masses: “The Hampden-Sydney Man is an individual of sound moral character, a man who does not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do. A ­Hampden-Sydney Man also writes well, speaks well, and comports himself as a gentleman at all times and in all places, although there have been a few occasional reported lapses on Saturday nights at Fraternity Circle. A Hampden-Sydney man commands respect by who he is and what he does as a good citizen.”

Delegates from more than 100 colleges, universities, and learned societies gathered with the trustees, faculty, staff, students, and members of the community to celebrate the investiture of Dr. Howard. This historic occasion in the long life of the College marks the dawn of an administration focused on preparing for distant decades of educational instruction, while meeting the needs of and caring for the current cadre of young men who now call Hampden-Sydney College their home.

Among the dignitaries were four of Hampden-Sydney College’s recent presidents: Josiah Bunting III, Samuel Vaughan Wilson, Walter M. Bortz III, and J. Scott Colley, who served as interim president during the 1991-92 academic year.

Alex Werth
Dr. Alexander Werth represented the faculty.
Representatives from the College and the community welcomed Dr. Howard as he embarks on this important role. Cohen Howard, Dr. Howard’s older son, presented greetings on behalf of the President’s family. Trustee Donnan C. Wintermute spoke on behalf of the Board of Trustees. Dr. Alexander J. Werth represented the faculty, and Dean of Admissions Anita H. Garland represented the staff. Thomas M. Crowder ’78, president of the Alumni Association, presented greetings from the alumni. The students of Hampden-Sydney College were duly represented by Student Body President Kenneth R. Simon ’11. Finally, Lacy Ward, Jr., the director of the R. R. Moton Museum, represented the Farmville–Prince Edward County community.

“The inauguration of President Howard was a watershed day in the history of Hampden-Sydney,” said Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees John W. “Jack” Drescher, who led the inauguration ceremony. “When the Board of Trustees unanimously decided in 2009 to name him the 24th President of the College, so began a mission to elevate the institution to a higher level of recognition and visibility. We believed then and are confident now that we have the right man for the job. One has only to be with him a short time to fully recognize the extent of his intellect and passion. There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Howard will exceed the Board’s expectations. We are proud to have him lead us.”

Ken Burns, an award-winning documentary film director and producer, delivered the inaugural address. He befriended Dr. Howard while promoting The War, a seven-episode documentary about World War II for which Mr. Burns was a co-producer.

Calling Hampden-Sydney “a college of such important history, such striking ambition, and such noble purpose,” Mr. Burns noted how appropriate it is that Dr. Howard’s presidency comes in a part of the country that is the cradle of the American independence movement.

Ken Burns
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns gave the inaugural address.
“We are not that far from Monticello, that wonderful sanctuary that gave Thomas Jefferson the opportunity to author our national creed and that transcendent second sentence of the Declaration of Independence that says for all time that all men are created equal. For Thomas Jefferson, as we know, that meant all white men of property, free of debt. But the vagueness of his words, those words, has allowed us to learn and to grow, to live out the true meaning of that creed that he promised. It permits Christopher Howard, the great-great-grandson of a slave, to be counted as a man today, indeed to ascend to this great office today. We rejoice at our ability to change, to be corrigible, to realize that the pursuit of happiness does not mean pursuit of objects in a marketplace of things but—as Thomas Jefferson himself insisted and intended—a lifelong pursuit of learning, just the kind of learning made possible here at Hampden-Sydney.”

Following the formal investiture, Dr. Howard conferred upon Mr. Burns an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
In his Presidential Address, Dr. Howard thanked all the represented groups for attending this special event, but he singled out the students for their crucial role at the College and for being exceptional people. “Thank you for being Hampden-Sydney Men, for standing a little straighter, for being accountable for yourselves and for your brothers, and for embracing the sense of brotherhood that makes Hampden-Sydney such a special place. I have looked to you to tutor me in the ways of the Hampden-Sydney Man…and you have been patient and kind as you welcomed me into this community.”

Dr. Howard’s remarks touched on the past, the present, and the future of the College. He noted that today’s Hampden-Sydney Man may look different from how he appeared 200 years ago, but they are remarkably similar. “He may wear a baseball cap and jeans, and he no longer has to don a beanie during his freshman year. The Hampden-Sydney Man may be from one of the many foreign countries represented in our student body. He may even hail from a state north of the Mason-Dixon line! Whatever our differences, however, the essence of the Hampden-Sydney man remains unchanged. For the Hampden-Sydney man, there is a right. There is a wrong, and he knows the difference. More importantly, he has the strength of character, as my friend Dr. Charlie Bryan often says, to choose the harder right.”

Our place in the future is inevitable, but understanding how we will remain “a vibrant, viable, relevant, and sustainable liberal arts institution” requires answering certain questions. “What should our physical plant include? What is the optimum enrollment? What, in keeping with the ancient liberal arts as preparation for the professions of those days long ago, constitutes the liberal arts as preparation for positions of leadership in the world today? If we double our endowment, how much better will we be able to provide scholarships and quality programming both inside and outside the traditional classroom, as well as provide best-in-class resources to our capable faculty and staff? If we are to succeed in this critical venture, we must draw on the best thinking of all who know and love this special place. I challenge all of us to consider what is the best resource or idea that we can share to ensure that Hampden-Sydney remains a national treasure.”

Though the future is inherently uncertain, Dr. Howard assured the Hampden-Sydney College community that our past will be a trustworthy companion. “We embark together on the next phase of the Hampden-Sydney journey. The echoes that guide us include the voices of Samuel Stanhope Smith, Nathaniel Venable, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Jonathan Cushing, and more recent Hampden-Sydney lights such as Snapper Massey, Dean Wilson, John Brinkley, Josiah Bunting, General Sam Wilson, and Walter Bortz. Tradition, honor, service, and character will continue as hallmarks of the Hampden-Sydney Man. He will still sport a Blue Blazer. He will continue to greet those he meets on the sidewalk.”

Assuring the assembly that the College’s best 235 years are ahead of us, Dr. Howard closed his remarks saying, “As long as we never forget that we are a national treasure. As long as we never forget that we always must build on our regional foundation. And that we never forget this world of the twenty-first century mandates that the Hampden-Sydney Man engages a global outlook. Here at this college, we are responding to that mandate. We have, must, and shall innovate. We have, must, and shall re-imagine. We have, must, and shall transform. And finally, we have, must, and shall build a better world, one Hampden-Sydney man at a time.”