Anne Harris and unknown person

The Inauguration of President Anne Harris

Beneath promising, blue skies on Saturday, May 7, 2022, Anne F. Harris was formally installed as the 14th president in Grinnell College’s 175-year history. The day was rich in the pageantry and tradition befitting such an occasion. It also was filled with joy, laughter, and endearing moments, such as the readings each of her three children contributed to the ceremony.

faculty processing into commencementDe facto, most inaugurations happen at the start of a college president’s tenure. Pandemic restrictions and delays led to this inauguration happening after President Harris had “already been doing the job for one year, 10 months, and 7 days,” as noted by Board of Trustees Chair Michael Kahn ’74.

The delay didn’t lessen the spirit of celebration; it may have made it sweeter. The day seemed more like a gathering of friends, who spoke not just to aspirations for the future but also to lived experience. Among ceremony highlights was a reading of the Mary Oliver poem, "Wild Geese," given by President Harris' daughter.

President Harris’ address, with her moving pledge to foster, maintain, and steward Grinnell’s mission and make it all that it can be, brought the crowd to their feet. After that, it was time to just enjoy the company of family, friends, mentors, partners, guests, and the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the Grinnell College community.

The photos and speech excerpts (condensed and lightly edited) following give a taste of the day. Go online to experience the full feast for yourself — watch the video, read transcripts, and download the program.

A modern college presidency is as challenging and complex as it is rewarding. And Anne brings humility, intelligence, integrity, courage, and fortitude in tackling even the most difficult challenges. Anne is also profoundly guided by principles of social justice, equity, and inclusiveness. As is true of many Grinnellians, Anne acts on the things she believes in.
Michael Kahn ’74, chair of the Board of Trustees

Anne Harris and Michael Kahn in academic regaliaAn inauguration gathers us to look to our future together.

We do so within a shared past — all of us. But these past two years give us occasion to ask: What does it mean to look to the future within a shared past?

It is never too late for a community to look to its future and affirm what it believes in; it is never too late for a person or a country to begin again. Indeed, beginning again is one of the deep-seated practices of this college, one of the rhythms of knowledge. What will we bring into our future this time?

I have three commitments to share with you in response to that question; these are three hopes girded by resolve, three deeply-held beliefs, three wellsprings for what we can do together.

My first commitment: that the future of a shared past calls on us to both see and safeguard imagination. To recognize it and nurture it, within ourselves and others. To install those structures and places and times and policies and habits that foster imagination. That let us see what is possible in our work: in our ability to trust and to create trust, so as to build enduring foundations and vibrant knowledge for the more just and equitable society to which Grinnell College harkens.

The leadership she exhibits has a humanity to it — something that is rare, unexpected, and appreciated. Anne leads with empathy and compassion, with care and love for what we do and what we stand for.
Lester Alemán ’07, alumni council president

A second commitment, a second belief: that the future of a shared past calls on us to acknowledge that a shared past is not the same past. That, in the complexity and intersectionality of experiences and identities, events are chronicled one way and remembered another; that the same event can be experienced in distinctly different ways; that pasts are multiple.

And so we must make room — we must hold space — in our curriculum, in our programming, in our networks, in our communications, in our narratives, and in our own telling of the past (and future!) of the College, for the very differing experiences, memories, languages, and identities that have enlivened this institution — that have given it meaning, and purpose, and direction.

As Anne would put it, “critique is care.” President Harris turns crisis into rich conversation — not just about the best path forward but the best path forward, together, and resulting in a strengthened community.
Vida Praitis, chair of the faculty, professor of Biology

Anne Harris and Angela VoosAnd so to my third commitment: that the future of a shared past calls on us to steward our dwelling places. The knowledge we discern, the actions we take, the times we speak up, the initiatives we undertake, the resources we budget, the deliberations we engage, the futures we dream — all shape those of our peers, our colleagues, our friends, our visitors, and our many interlocutors. We are like to a democracy, simultaneously inhabitants and stewards of this College: as we live and work here, we shape the shared experiences and thus the future of this College and the society it shapes.

And so we can talk of and act on what we usher in together — at the College and in society — on the other side of a threshold on which we stand. Inspired by John Dewey and his claim that “democracy must be reborn with each generation and [that] education is its midwife,” I think of the threshold across which education ushers in democracy and of our stewardship of this dwelling-place, this College, as it engages in that crucial and perpetual emergence. Dearest Grinnellians, I stand before you today, on the threshold of this future of a shared past, with these three commitments: to foster imagination, to maintain the multiplicity of experiences, and to steward our dwelling places.

Commencement audience on beautiful sunny dayI pledge to do my utmost in our continued cocreation of this College to build and claim with you all that we hold in trust: the vitality of this College, of our mission, and of each other. On this inauguration day, in this moment that has gathered us to look to our future together, I affirm to you that it is the honor of my life and will be the dedication of my energies to serve and steward this institution in all that it makes possible and all that it can be. Join me — and let us perpetually inaugurate Grinnell College in all we do.

Anne’s qualities of leadership and her extraordinary ability to motivate, inspire, and move all those with whom she openly and joyfully engaged have made her such an outstanding leader.
— George Moose ’66, Trustee

And so to my third commitment: that the future of a shared past calls on us to steward our dwelling places. The knowledge we discern, the actions we take, the times we speak up, the initiatives we undertake, the resources we budget, the deliberations we engage, the futures we dream — all shape those of our peers, our colleagues, our friends, our visitors, and our many interlocutors. We are like to a democracy, simultaneously inhabitants and stewards of this College: as we live and work here, we shape the shared experiences and thus the future of this College and the society it shapes.

Anne Harris and her family on inauguration dayAnd so we can talk of and act on what we usher in together — at the College and in society — on the other side of a threshold on which we stand. Inspired by John Dewey and his claim that “democracy must be reborn with each generation and [that] education is its midwife,” I think of the threshold across which education ushers in democracy and of our stewardship of this dwelling-place, this College, as it engages in that crucial and perpetual emergence. Dearest Grinnellians, I stand before you today, on the threshold of this future of a shared past, with these three commitments: to foster imagination, to maintain the multiplicity of experiences, and to steward our dwelling places.

Her ability to be personable with strangers with such openness creates almost a magnetism, as you can see people gravitate to her immediately. Anne is concurrently down to earth while dreaming big for what’s next.
— Julie Gosselink, trustee and president of the Claude W. And Dolly Ahrens Foundation

I pledge to do my utmost in our continued cocreation of this College to build and claim with you all that we hold in trust: the vitality of this College, of our mission, and of each other. On this inauguration day, in this moment that has gathered us to look to our future together, I affirm to you that it is the honor of my life and will be the dedication of my energies to serve and steward this institution in all that it makes possible and all that it can be. Join me — and let us perpetually inaugurate Grinnell College in all we do.

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