After serving as the president-elect for approximately four months, Troy VanAken was officially inaugurated as the 14th president of EC at a ceremony in the Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel on Saturday, Oct. 22.
“I humbly accept the charge of being the College’s greatest advocate and strongest supporter,” said VanAken in his inaugural address.
“I believe in Elmhurst College and I am committed to its success ... I am humbled, truly humbled, to be given the privilege of leading Elmhurst College and I thank you for the confidence you’ve shown in me,” he added.
The theme of the highly attended ceremony — which occurred at no cost to EC, according to VanAken’s inaugural address — was “Imagining Elmhurst,” a campaign started by VanAken urging campus constituents to explore possibilities dedicated to improving the EC experience.
In his inaugural address, VanAken shared his vision for the future of EC, which includes “becoming a global campus” and “expanding and innovating academic programs rooted in the liberal arts tradition.”
The inauguration ceremony incorporated many EC traditions, like the ceremonial ringing of the hash bell by Chaplain Scott Matheney, the presentation of EC’s five core values by various campus representatives and performances by the EC Concert Choir.
One of the two songs performed by the Choir was specially requested by VanAken to be played that day.
During the ceremony, VanAken explained that the choice was due to a personal connection with the song involving the memory of his late mother.
“I wish that my mother could be here today,” he said. “She died from [breast] cancer in 2002 and I miss her dearly to this day.”
“The song the choir beautifully sung, ‘I Can Only Imagine’, was one of her favorites and it symbolizes to me the influence she’s had on my life,” he added.
In addition to his late mother, VanAken also expressed gratitude towards his wife, children and extended family for their support in his new position, crediting them for being his “source of inspiration” and motivation for the job.
VanAken celebrated his inauguration with family, friends, trustees, alumni, faculty and select students at an invite-only reception held in a transformed Main Café shortly after the ceremony.
With a few hours left until the inaugural ball — the final event of his inauguration — VanAken reflected on the student-centered festivities of the week.
“All week, the play, the concerts, even being able to be a part of the sports competitions — that was my style,” he said in an interview with The Leader. “[I am] honored just because students were involved and that was sort of my dream, to have students be involved.”
“I know it’s a presidential event but all of these people are having fun and enjoying themselves and talking about Elmhurst ... That is what this is about,” he added.
Two of those in attendance at the ceremony and reception were former EC president Bryant Cureton and VanAken’s predecessor former interim president Larry Braskamp, both of whom shared advice for the new president.
Cureton, the 12th president of EC, said the job requires a certain “entrepreneurial spirit” and suggested staying continually aware of surroundings and resources.
“You sort of have to look for where the opportunities are,” he said. “You are sort of like a quarterback and you have the ball and you have to watch that line and see where the running room is and where the resources are at any given moment to make the play work.”
Cureton added that he has “a lot of faith” in VanAken and his abilities to lead EC.
“I think it’s going to be a good series of years ahead,” he said. “I think the struggles are not going to go away but ... there is no reason this cannot be a promising time. The new president does come with experience, which is great. I think there is a lot of reason for optimism.”
Former interim president Braskamp agrees that there is room for optimism.
“He’s a very energetic and outgoing person, which is very positive for the campus in my opinion,” he said. “He is [also] a very student-centered president, so I would say just keep it up because that’s very important.”
Braskamp, who served as interim president for approximately 20 months before VanAken was chosen to be the new president, said the position requires a high level of transparency and honesty.
“You have to be yourself be- cause it’s a very fast-paced life and you cannot fake it,” he said. “It might work for a while, but [ultimately] ... it just doesn’t work.”
The inaugural events concluded with the inaugural ball held that night in a transformed Founders’ Lounge.