History was made once again on Friday, Oct. 12, as the University of New Hampshire formally installed James W. Dean, Jr., formerly a tar heel of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as Wildcat Country’s 20th president, in a ceremony that united each of the university’s colleges, as well as present and past UNH students and graduates, and served as the solemn passing of the torch. 

As the Thompson Hall bells rang 20 symbolic times at 1 pm, the Memorial Union Granite State Room audience of nearly 100 strong watched as a procession of UNH trustees, alumni, student representatives and faculty marshals from each of UNH’s colleges and schools led by Chief Faculty Marshall Dr. Nancy Kinner, the UNH Director of Coastal Response Research Center, made its way down the central aisle. Each of the institutions entered and were seated in the order in which they were established. 

In speaking of the gravitas of the occasion and others, Kinner reflected that while “every day is a great day to be a wildcat…some days are more special than others,” citing events such as UNH’s annual commencement ceremony or its yearly Wildcat Pack rally at Wildcat Stadium that most recently welcomed nearly 3,000 incoming first-year students.   

“Today’s installation ceremony is a much more rare event; it’s only occurred 19 other times before in the 125 years since Charles Murkland became the first president in 1893,” Kinner said as she called it a “super great day.” 

Following a singing of the national anthem from Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Reginald Wilburn, Reverend Larry Brickner-Wood of the Waysmeet Center delivered words of “inspiration” toward Dean and his audience, urging the “people of the rainbow” and “citizens of the world” to “rise and shine” and welcome its newest president. 

“From the suburbs of Maryland, the fields of Pennsylvania and the sweet piedmont of North Carolina, you join us in our community of fierce independence, resiliency, brilliance and beauty,” Brickner-Wood told Dean. “You have found your way to us as teacher and administrator; leader and mentor; partner, parent and grandparent; and person of heart, body, mind and spirit. We welcome you with open eyes, open minds and open hearts; we are ready for the challenges ahead.” 

Brickner-Wood also made strides to “welcome” Dean from the “hallowed space of Thompson Hall,” the “corners and clusters of Dimond Library” and centers of academia, arts and science from across campus both “new and slightly less new.” 

Student Body President Ethan McClanahan served as the day’s student body representative as he stated his anticipation in working with the new president on pressing issues ranging from rising tuition and strained collegiate funding to the promotion of student inclusivity, among other matters. 

“As students, we are excited to see the university grow underneath President Dean’s leadership,” McClanahan said. “Your dedication to academics and higher education is evident, and….as a community of Wildcats, it is paramount that we continue to work together to spread values such as diversity, academic freedom, community involvement and civic duty.” 

Other guest speakers included Faculty Senate Chair R. Scott Smith, who looked back on the meaning and evolution of “inauguration,” and Alumni Association President Patrick Closson, who used his speech to welcome Dean to UNH on behalf of the over 130 alumni present at the ceremony. 

After a musical interlude featuring Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” John W. Small, Chair of the UNSH Board of Trustees, was tasked with leading the official robing ceremony, in which Dean traded in the robes of his alma mater, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon, to the blue and white robes of UNH, complete with medals presented by Interim Provost Wayne Jones, Jr. 

“We are confident that, under your leadership, the University of New Hampshire will continue to pursue the highest tradition of teaching, research and service,” Small said to Dean, who also received Small’s “warmest congratulations.” 

In his inaugural address, the newly installed president expressed gratitude for his chance to serve as UNH’s next president, and used his speech to stress the importance of both education as a weapon of freedom against oppression and the imperative nature of freedom itself. 

“…true freedom depends on education,” Dean said. “Our freedoms are largely created by education and on the knowledge and understanding that education produces. And by ‘education,’ I mean all education, not just at the university level….education and freedom are so tightly intertwined that it is impossible to imagine true freedom without education.” 

The new president also stressed the linked ideals of “ignorance” and the “oppression” of others as the greatest threats to “true freedom” and, consequently, to lifelong quality education, as shown in places like North Korea. 

“When tyrants dream of denying a people their freedom, they can be counted on to withhold, or to pervert, their education, because education is a challenge to tyranny,” he said.  “This is why slaveholders tried so hard to keep the enslaved people they thought they owned from learning to read or write.  Even after emancipation, formerly enslaved people struggled to be truly free, because they had been denied the basic human right to education.” 

In spite of such oppressors, per Dean, education possesses the power to free people to “worship God in his or her own way,” as well as liberate them from “want” and “fear;” in his closing call to action, the new president, underlined by the ringing bells of Thompson Hall, urged the audience to preserve “true freedom” and the importance of education, stating that because of quality education from institutions like UNH, future generations can benefit from the United States’ “wonderful chaotic democracy.” 

“Freedom will ring from Keene, Conway and Concord, from Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Plaistow, from Northwood, Nashua, and North Stratford, as we rededicate ourselves to promoting the liberating effects of education for all people and to continue to push back the darkness of ignorance,” Dean said, “so that we…and all our fellow citizens…can truly live free!” 

Patrons after the fact expressed similar positive sentiments, as well as confidence in UNH’s future under Dean. 

“Well, first impression [was] wonderful, I think he’s going to do a great job,” Sam Paul, a resident of Granby, Connecticut and member of the UNH Class of 1960, said. “I knew Mark Huddleston really well, and he did a superb job over his decade of work, and I think my feeling is that…Dean is going to do a great job also, I really do.” 

“…I was honored to have been chosen to be representative of my college at this great ceremony,” said Meghana Tadepalli, a senior biological sciences major and representative of UNH Manchester at the ceremony. “It was nice to see a new president and see what he has to offer; I enjoyed it.” 

Dean himself called the inauguration and the warm welcome he has so far received “intoxicating” and told The New Hampshire that it is “hard to imagine a better day.”

Featured images courtesy of Erika Mantz.

Follow Benjamin on Facebook here.

Benjamin Strawbridge is a News Editor and Official Senate Correspondent for The New Hampshire student newspaper based at the University of New Hampshire, where he reports on the university's Student Senate and other breaking news; he joined TNH in Sept. 2017 as a contributor.
Strawbridge currently attends UNH as a English/Journalism major and part of the UNH Class of 2020.