F. Javier Cevallos inaugurated as FSU’s 16th president

F. Javier Cevallos was officially inaugurated as Framingham State University’s 16th president by the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, on the morning of Friday, May 1.

Cevallos’ swearing in by the governor was preceded by a presentation of the University’s symbols of office by Board of Trustees Chair Joseph Burchill and Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Vaden-Goad.

Cevallos was first adorned with the chain of office, made up of gold plates linked together, engraved with the names of the 16 FSU, presidents along with the university’s seal, illustrating his place in FSU’s rich history.

Next, to symbolize the power and responsibility of his position, Cevallos was handed the University mace – a new artifact made from the wood of an oak tree removed to make way for the expansion of Hemenway Hall. The intricate woodwork of the mace’s head, with concentric rings leading up to an affixed circle bearing the University crest, was crafted by communication arts department Chair Derrick TePaske.

Baker then took to the stage to lead Cevallos through the oath of office. After swearing to serve his university and uphold the constitution of United States, Cevallos made his inaugural address to the community.

“We are first and foremost an academic institution,” he said early in his straightforward speech. “Academic excellence is at the core of what we do. Our fundamental responsibility is to educate the students of the region and the state in an environment that fosters academic and personal growth.”

In order to ensure the FSU environment sustains these core values, Cevallos said, it is critical to recognize changes and trends in the national and global environments.

Cevallos said today’s global economy, centered on the primary commodity of knowledge, “generates both exciting opportunities and bold challenges.

“We need to be responsive to both,” he said.

Specifically, Cevallos named the Internet revolution – the force connecting people around the world and opening the wealth of human knowledge to anyone with a device – as a leading challenge of the changing landscape of education.

He warned that in the age of open information, “It is easy to confuse information and education. … Just providing free access to courses is not the solution. Having information is only a step in the learning process.

“This presents a challenge and a great opportunity for us to focus on our mission,” he said. “It is important that [FSU students] develop the critical thinking and analysis skills required to evaluate and synthesize information into their personal and professional lives.”

Using the analogy of America as the cultural “melting pot,” Cevallos touched on the “awesome challenge” that higher education institutions face regarding diversity and inclusion.

“It is critical that we find and create new ways to provide higher education opportunities and serve as role models to the next generation of students,” he said, “particularly to those members of our population who have been historically underrepresented.”

“If we fail to educate a large percentage of our population, regardless of race or ethnicity, we will fail as a society,” he said. “We have a responsibility to reach out and make higher education part of the future of all children. … The aim of our commitment to diversity is to create a just and caring community for all.”

“We cannot solve all these problems immediately,” he added. “But we can immediately begin working together to solve them.”

“This is not something that one person or one office can accomplish,” Cevallos said. “It is our collective responsibility. And we have an exciting future in front of us.”

The inauguration’s host Susanne Conley, vice president for enrollment and student development, described the event as “beautiful” and “symbolic.”

Conley was the chair of the campus-wide committee charged with planning the inaugural ceremony, which was nearly identical to the group that organized the university’s 175th anniversary celebration.

During the week leading up the ceremony, both Conley and Cevallos said the primary focus would be on this moment in relation to the school’s history.

“It is really important that we celebrate changes in the institution,” Cevallos said. “The inauguration really is not about me as a person so much as it is about the University, and this new stage in our development and our history.”

Conley said, “We have a tradition of change, and those threads that go through our lives – our roots, our foundation – are so important. I think it’s critical for all universities to be in touch with who they really are throughout their histories.”

Some 15 minutes before the ceremony began, the sound of bagpipes ricocheted off of Framingham State’s old brick buildings, faculty, staff, administrators and their honored guests processed across campus, dressed in brightly colored robes – reminiscent of the medieval roots of higher education.

Framingham State’s own history was outlined by Burchill, who was the first speaker at the ceremony. After seniors Molly Buckley and Victoria Dost’s singing of the “National Anthem,” he took to the podium to provide a context for the event, starting with Horace Mann founding of the school in 1839.

“Mann viewed education as a universal right, and society’s great equalizer,” Burchill said. “Today, Framingham State continues to strive to live up to Mann’s vision.”

That vision, Burchill said, “aligns well with the University’s core values today.”

“Today,” Burchill announced, “guided by Horace Mann’s vision and the University’s core values, we install a new president.”

Burchill said “few people have a better understanding than [Cevallos] does of the ability of our public colleges and universities to improve lives” beause of his extensive career in higher education.

The first guest speaker from outside the Framingham community was Chancellor Emeritus David Scott of UMass Amherst, whom Conley described as a former colleague, mentor and dear friend of Cevallos.

Scott described Cevallos and the institution he leads as a “power of two, with magnified strengths beyond even the sum of their formidable separate strengths.”

Scott said that after meeting Cevallos 23 years go, he recognized that he was “destined for greatness.

“He’s OK, if you like talent,” he said humorously, quoting singer Ethel Merman. Like Merman, Scott said, Cevallos is not only talented, but “a showstopper” with his distinct personality.

Scott said he finds it appropriate that Cevallos has found himself at this point as a leader of higher education in Massachusetts – “the cradle of higher education in America,” as he described it – since “the future calls for extraordinary leaders who understand the nature of the university, the region and the world.

“Everything that President Cevallos has done up to this day is ideal preparation for the task ahead – for the many challenges that face higher education,” Scott said.

Today, Scott explained, only a “dismal” five percent of the world’s population has access to a college education. To “design new approaches to education” is the only possible remedy, he said, describing Cevallos as the type of leader prepared to do so.

To demonstrate this, Scott cited Cevallos’ having “tripled diversity” and increased the student enrollment by 20 percent at his previous school, Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.

“President Cevallos is one of these rare presidents who is immersed in every facet of a university,” Scott said. “He is the ideally prepared transformative leader of the future – a leader who is multidimensionally excellent.”

Scott concluded by reminding Cevallos’ new community of its motto.

“Go forth from the quietness of this beautiful place,” he said, “and live to the truth.”

Following Scott was Claire Ramsbottom, ’79, president of the University’s Alumni Association, who said she and the other alumni board members were “excited and thrilled to have spent the past year getting to know” Cevallos, and are looking forward to working with him in the future.

“We look forward to supporting the mission that you bring and all that you hope to achieve for future generations of students and alumni,” she said.

One of the most prominent student leaders at FSU – SGA President Kendall Valente – also praised Cevallos.

“I would like to say on behalf of students that the effects of your work are not unrecognized,” Valente said, who described her admiration of Cevallos for being “approachable and accessible” to any member of the community, at any time.

“With Dr. Cevallos’ eager support, change is happening rapidly,” she said in reference to the many initiatives in diversity and empowerment that he has enthusiastically backed already. “We thank you for that. … We are excited to see what next year will bring.

Addressing Cevallos and the community on behalf of the faculty was psychology professor Robert Donohue, president of the Massachusetts State College Association’s Framingham chapter, who gave his perspective of the “inclusive, mission-focused, student-centered” presidential search committee of which he was a member.

“Throughout the process, we treated each other cordially and with good humor. All our voices were respected, and we had fun,” he said. “The faculty and librarians look forward to working with President Cevallos in our inclusive, mission-focused, student-centered journey. We anticipate that it will be fun.”

At this point, Conley announced that the inaugural planning committee had arranged a surprise for Cevallos in the form of a musical interlude by Boston-area guitarist Jozsef Halajko, a master of classical and Flamenco guitar originally from Hungary.

Halajko performed two acoustic guitar pieces which he selected to represent the moment and honor Cevallos.

The first piece was titled “Asturias” – a region of northern Spain – but also called “Leyenda,” the Spanish word for “legend.” It was composed by Issac Albeniz.

Haunting in tone and technical in its structure, “Asturias” increased in complexity and intensity during its first movement as Halajko’s fingers danced across the six strings, keeping the audience entranced. At its peak, the song dropped into a slow progression, lighter in tone, then rose again to repeat the fervor of the intro.

The second piece was “Latin Heritage,” by Paco Peña. More tightly rhythmic and steady in its arrangement, the Flamenco sound of the song’s core melody seemed to embody the spirit of its namesake – the cultural heritage that began the journey of FSU’s worldly new president.

Guest speaker Keith Motley, gave an enthusiastic address in which he praised “the great President Javier Cevallos.”

“I am honored to be here with you on this special day, because today, we celebrate in ceremony the union of a historical institution and a history-making leader,” he said. “This man knows that we can no longer operate under the illusion that students will come to our institutions and simply adapt to the culture that’s in place. As public institutions with a public mission, we must be more welcoming and inclusive of the rich diversity of students.

“I also know this very thoughtful leader to have a tremendous affection for the connection of the academy and the community – he knows the reciprocity that is required,” Motley added, telling all of Framingham to “get ready” for the positive change to come during Cevallos’ administration.

Motley called Cevallos “a visionary leader” and “a fierce advocate for public higher education,” outlining Cevallos’ path across the Eastern US as he developed his skills in “navigating the complex issues and institutional pressures” than an administrator faces.

“He’s seen it,” he said simply. “He knows how to deal with it.”

Motley offered advice to various groups within the FSU community on how to make the best of their relationship with their new leader.

Motley said to senior administrators, “Be forthright and direct with him. He doesn’t have the time to guess at what you really mean when you talk to him. And in being direct, also shield him – and understand that he’s a human being.”

Motley told FSU faculty and staff to remember that Cevallos’ primary mission is “to meet the needs of students.

“He centers himself in that world,” he said. “I know him. He will work ceaselessly toward that end.”

On that note, Motley addressed the students of FSU, urging them to follow Cevallos’ lead in helping them achieve all they can.

“Your new president has great expectations of you,” he said. “And his expectations are that your achievements will exceed even your wildest dreams. … When he looks at you, he sees himself peering back at him – in other words, when he looks at you, he understands you.

“He’s going to push you,” he added. “He is pushing for considerably more from you than he ever dreamed of for himself. That’s the man I know.”

Motley told all of FSU to “separate the person from the office.

“Understand that there are decisions that the president will have to make that Javier wouldn’t make,” he said. “But as president, he has to make them.

“Even if you disagree, love him anyway,” he added, the audience chuckling. “And know that he is making the best decision to his knowledge – and always in the interest of Framingham State University.”

Finally, with a nod to Chancellor Scott’s assessment of Cevallos, Motley concluded that FSU’s new president is “OK, if you like talent.”

After Cevallos took his oath, Buckley and Dost sang Framingham State’s Alma Mater, and the procession made its way out of the auditorium, followed by the audience, and DPAC was empty once again, inhabited only by the far-off echoes of celebratory voices, and the joyful peel of bells.

The celebration of this historic moment carried throughout the afternoon during Sandbox (where Cevallos was honored with a palatially sized strawberry shortcake – his favorite dessert), and it was clear that the ceremony had a lasting effect on community members.

Senior Craig Boland said he was impressed by the number of important leaders who were drawn to the event from around the state, lending it significance.

Reflecting on his first interactions with the president, Boland said, “He’s a really cool guy. We’re going to be more close-knit with him as president.”

Junior Benni Arias called the ceremony “powerful,” “genuine” and “funny,” and said it was true to Cevallos’ character.

“It really showed FSU’s potential,” he added.

Chelsea Hathaway, a sophomore, said the ceremony was “beautifully done.

“I think it shows the FSU community how involved our president is in our success by wanting us to be here,” she added.

Sophomore Sam McGuire described the tone of the event as “informal and inviting,” and expressed appreciation that “a lot of emphasis during the ceremony was on students.

McGuire added, “The whole ceremony conveyed a sense of his down-to-earth attitude, and that this was a place he really belonged, and will do great things for. I look forward to his leadership here at FSU.”

Dost said that “it was an honor to be included in that kind of an historic event. … The ceremony as a whole was great – I’m glad I could play a small role in making it a success.”

Buckley agreed that it was “an honor to sing at President Cevallos’ inauguration.

“I feel so lucky to have been able to perform for not only the president and his guests, but also for Governor Baker,” she said. “It was also very special to be able to share the stage with Tori. Getting to share this experience with her is something I am sure I will never forget.”

Valente called the ceremony “a great celebration of Dr. Cevallos and also of FSU.

“It was a great chance to bring together a lot of people from both our local and statewide community,” she said. “I think that the ceremony was a great way to officially welcome Dr. Cevallos, and also to celebrate the end of the year and the start of all of the great things that are about to come FSU’s way!”

English professor Elaine Beilin called the event a chance to “come together and celebrate what we all do here” and, through its rituals and symbols, “show who we are.”

Of Cevallos, she said he is “so admiring of students” and “a leader who can set the tone of the environment – one in which we can all thrive.”

English professor Lorretta Holloway, who will be part of Cevallos’ administration in the fall as the interim vice president for enrollment and student development, called the event “a great morning and a great day,” and an “opportunity to celebrate our vision.”

With a wide variety of ideas, a student-centered approach and no hidden agenda, Holloway said, Cevallos represents “a new beginning” for FSU – a fresh chapter in the narrative of an already storied and historic institution.

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