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A Historic Day for Swarthmore

The Inauguration of Rebecca Chopp

By Carol Brévart-Demm
Photographs by Jim Graham and Eleftherios Kostans


Inauguration of Rebecca Chopp


On May 8, a blustery spring day, the College inaugurated its 14th president. With 13 having gone before since 1865, this new president might have seemed to be just one among many. But this time, strong winds of change were blowing—literally, judging from the way the trees in the amphitheater were swaying in time to the wind’s celebratory song. On this day, after two Edwards, two Williams, and one each of Charles, Joseph, Frank, John, Courtney, Robert, Dorrie, David, and Alfred, Swarthmore College added the name Rebecca to its list of College presidents.

Yes—as chair of the Board Barbara Mather said in her welcome speech—Swarthmore’s 14th president, Rebecca Chopp, “happens to be a woman.”

DURING THE INAUGURAL CELEBRATION with the theme “Hope in an Age of Clamor: Leadership, Liberal Arts, and the Common Good,” hundreds of visitors and members of the campus community were treated to two days of cultural and intellectual events. The evening before the installation ceremony, crowds flocked to the Lang Performing Arts Center’s Pearson-Hall Theatre to watch “A Celebration of Community.”


Inauguration of Rebecca Chopp

Introduced by Board member Bennett Lorber ’64, the carefully constructed program included poetry readings by Professor of English Literature Nathalie Anderson, W.D. Ehrhart ’73, Daisy Fried ’89, Kinei Braithwaite ’08, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips ’96. Mark Loria ’08 performed three piano pieces, including one of his own compositions. Assistant Professor of Dance Pallabi Chakravorty choreographed and performed a poem/song by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Stephanie Duncan ’08 and Nick Forrest ’08 of Philadelphia’s Earth Speed Productions presented a theater piece that included musical performances by Anna Ghublikian ’08, created with Annie Fredrickson ’07 and Tiana Pyer-Pereira ’07. And Jumatatu Poe ’04 performed a curiously hilarious mime called “Flight Attendants” with dance partner Michele Tantoco.

The evening was planned and coordinated by Sharon Friedler, Stephen Lang Professor of the Performing Arts, director of the Dance Program, and faculty adviser for foreign study, in honor of President Chopp, who, sitting front and center with her husband Fred Thibodeau, joined the rest of the audience in enthusiastic applause.


Procession to the presidential inauguration of Rebecca Chopp

AFTER AN OVERCAST DAWN with a threat of rain in the forecast, inauguration day brightened by lunchtime. Fluffy white clouds, driven by a stiff wind, scudded across an azure sky. Under a splendid tent near Sharples Dining Hall, on tables decorated with festive red and green flower arrangements, guests enjoyed a delicious lunch of local fare.

The afternoon began with two panel discussions, featuring distinguished alumni, on the theme “Leadership, Liberal Arts, and the Common Good.”

At 4 p.m., faculty members and invited delegates from other colleges began to assemble in Parrish Hall Commons—converted to a “robing room” for the occasion. Long clothes racks placed around the room were laden with academic robes and brightly colored hoods. Swarthmore faculty members, each paired with a representative from another academic institution, could be heard murmuring “I can’t find my delegate,” or “Has anyone seen my robe?” or “Should I do hat or no hat?” Others chatted excitedly, and hugs were exchanged between colleagues from various institutions. Robes were donned. Friends helped each other arrange caps and hoods.

Downstairs, on Parrish Walk, Academic Marshal Don Shimamoto, a professor of mathematics, stood at the head of the fast-forming procession of faculty members from the College and visitors from around the country. Behind him, President Chopp, alongside Chair of the Board Barbara Mather ’65, beamed. It was a convivial crowd that threaded its way into the Scott Amphitheater, swaying to Associate Professor of Music John Alston’s arrangement of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”


President Rebecca Chopp and Vice President for College and Community Relations and Executive Assistant to the President Maurice Eldridge

When all were seated, Mather announced a moment of silence. Then, Vice President for College and Community Relations Maurice Eldridge read William Wordsworth’s poem “The World is Too Much With Us”—“Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; / Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”— recalling man’s centuries-long disrespect for nature and his fellow men and reminding listeners of the theme of this inauguration.

In a welcome speech, Mather reminded the audience of the inspirational women who helped initiate the College’s founding, then went on to say: “The inauguration of any president is a momentous occasion, but the inauguration of Rebecca Chopp is a long-awaited and very welcome affirmation of the vision of those founders and each of our foundational cornerstones.”

A series of greetings followed from representatives of the faculty, student body, staff, and alumni. David Cohen ’77, chair of the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, and Jane McAuliffe, president of Bryn Mawr College, offered longer remarks. Speculating on the reaction of Lucretia Mott to the inauguration of a woman president, Cohen surmised that she would be pleased, adding as an aside, “By the way, Barbara, what took us so long?” McAuliffe, a good friend of Chopp since their early days as professors at Emory University, concluded her speech with “Welcome to the neighborhood.”


Inauguration of Rebecca Chopp

Throughout the ceremony, the sun flirted with passing clouds and cast dancing rays into the amphitheater. Towering tulip poplars provided steady background accompaniment, whispering and swaying, dipping and bowing, played by a rushing wind that occasionally found its way into the loud speakers to add its own drum roll to the solemnity of the moment. And when President Chopp stood to speak, the sun, as if on cue, emerged from behind a cloud and filled the amphitheater with a radiance that seemed perfectly appropriate to the moment.

In her address “Hope in an Age of Clamor,” Chopp focused on the College’s responsibility to educate its community members and, through them, the rest of the world to heal and preserve humanity’s relationship to Nature and to itself.

“As I formally assume the presidency of Swarthmore, I believe that we must, as has been tradition throughout our history, continue to educate in a way that a setting-aright remains possible. We have to ask ourselves: How must the world be set anew? How must the world be set aright?


President Rebecca Chopp and her husband Fred Thibodeaux.

“We must educate to set anew and set aright our relationship to the earth, to our climate, to the web of all existence. Under this canopy of trees, can there be any doubt that we must do all we can to sustain the beauty of this good earth; together, in this collection, can there be any question that we must care for one another and, equally important, for those who live without our resources? ….

“We must educate to set aright civic discourse. In recent months, we have witnessed just how uncivil that discourse can become in both national and local arenas; how demeaning and cruel words can be, whether uttered in Congress, cyberspace, town halls, or on playgrounds …. We must educate people to listen to others whose views differ from their own, to deliberate and collaborate, to embrace complexity, and to seek consensus ….” Chopp said.



Dance performance during inauguration weekend.


Arts performance during inauguration weekend.


Arts performance during inauguration weekend.


President Rebecca Chopp receives a hug from a friend following her inauguration as Swarthmore College's 14th president.


President Rebecca Chopp and President of the Board of Manager Barbara Mathers lead the procession out of the amphitheater after the inauguration.

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