Madame Chair, members of the Board of Trustees, beloved Family, honored Friends and Guests, and, most especially, dear members of the Beacon Community:
It is my utmost privilege to affirm by accepting the symbol of office, my devotion to serve and safeguard the Beacon community as the College’s Third President.
Strong shoulders bore me to this special place and to this indelible moment. I have traveled far upon these shoulders. I rely upon them today, as I have throughout my life, for their enduring influence, stability, and direction. These shoulders have lifted and guided me in good times and in bad and in matters large and small. These are the shoulders of the “shepherds” of my life and my work.
All present on this occasion have found similar shoulders upon which to climb for guidance, strength, and perspective. These are the enduring touchstones of our lives. These are the special places reserved for us by our parents, our families, our teachers and spiritual leaders, our dear friends and respected colleagues.
For those upon whose “shoulder” we have relied, no sacrifice has been too great; no teaching moment lost. With every act of encouragement, kindness, and support, they revealed to us a certain truth that becomes more apparent with each passing day and each human interaction: “Things that matter are rarely held in the hand, but are always in the heart.”
The truth is that communities, much like individuals, are borne on broad shoulders as well. No organization can hope to prosper and grow without such secure human moorings. For me, this is one of the most striking elements of the storyline of Beacon College.
Our institution was founded at the close of the 1980s, at a time of enormous flux and uncertainty in the higher education community. Beacon has endured and thrived as a specialized undergraduate community over the course of a quarter century of massive change and transformation in the arena of higher education and society in general. We have prevailed and grown as a liberal arts institution because our focus and purpose has remained unaltered and at the core of all that we do. Beacon College educates, serves, and nurtures the undergraduate and life ambitions of students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and related learning differences. We have never deviated from this mission and that has made all the difference for our students and graduates.
The outcomes of our singular mission and vision are both measurable and extraordinary. At a time when 21% of all students with learning disabilities nationwide graduate with a bachelor’s degree over a six-year period, 76% of Beacon’s students achieve this life milestone over a four-year period. Equally striking are our rates of student retention (82%) and post-graduate employment/advanced study (81%).
What a legacy this community has fashioned over a short quarter of a century. What extraordinary shoulders bore and defined this fledgling institution. Our students today, and those who shall follow them, are the beneficiaries of the creative vision, the quiet tenacity, the timely investments, and the manifold sacrifices of founding parents, trustees, faculty, staff, administrators, preceding graduates, and friends.
The Silver Anniversary that we begin to commemorate and celebrate with this very ceremony is testimony that vision and perseverance are powerful forces.
There are pioneering spirits among us today whose talents, energy, and faith in a cause greater than themselves assured that the milestone of a quarter-century would be realized. These “pioneering spirits” are deserving of our recognition and expression of gratitude.
At the risk of their embarrassment and my later admonishment, I wish to introduce them and ask them to stand as a group, so that all gathered here can acknowledge their service and pioneering role in the founding and shaping of Beacon College. Therefore, I wish to call upon President-emeritus Deborah Brodbeck, Former President Marsha Glines, Board Chair Eileen Marinakis, Trustee Dr. Vincent Ziccolella, and former Board Chairs Sam Battaglia and Richard Williams to stand and be celebrated. Thank you all.
If you are graced, as I am, as Beacon’s new President, with an institution of extraordinary mission and purpose, with a legacy of student outcomes equal to our ambitions, and in possession of a core culture that refuses to be “self-satisfied,” how might one proceed in his or her presidency? Boldly!
Beacon’s legacy, its students and our families are deserving of our every effort to improve upon our current enviable station and to keep pace with, and, if we are careful, anticipate the social, educational, and economic forces that will shape and propel the lives and work of our students.
Two weeks ago, at the Winter Meeting of the Board of Trustees, I presented a vision of the future of Beacon College as I see it unfold over the course of the next decade. In so doing, I have endeavored to harness the ambitions, needs, and desires that have been conveyed to me throughout my candidacy and early presidency. Students, faculty, staff, and Trustees are both cognizant of and inspired by what has been accomplished at Beacon over the course of just 25 years. They are also well attuned to the needs of the College as we advance our programs and distinctive mission.
The Beacon College that has been envisioned and that will prosper over the next decade is worthy of its legacy, its extraordinary promise, and our singular mission. By design, the College’s enrollment over the next ten years will expand from our current standing of 185 students to the range of 400 to 450 undergraduates. As in all developments envisioned for the next decade, this growth will be incremental and timed in accordance with paralleling investments in faculty and staff, necessary facilities, and technology.
Our campus in downtown Leesburg will take on a new and expanded form with our campus gateway on Main Street assuming a decidedly “academic” look. Our plans for student growth and a far-reaching reputation for excellence in pursuing our chosen course in higher education demand the development of a campus that incorporates and offers: 1) new College residences strategically located for student convenience and accessibility, 2) the creation of a Student Center that addresses the needs expressed by our students for a centralized space for socializing, fitness and recreation, entertainment, and club activities, 3) the renovation of the recently leased, iconic Leesburg railway station to serve both the College’s academic and public outreach ambitions, and 4) the creation of at least 20,000 square feet of new academic space including classrooms, labs, seminar rooms, and faculty offices.
These are not extravagant promises or lofty ambitions. Each of these promises will be fulfilled over the course of the next ten years; some within the span of three to five years.
Careful enrollment growth and the creation of new facilities are tangible expressions of institutional success. The Board of Trustees and the entire Beacon community recognize, however, that the first impressions of striking facilities and a beautified campus are inadequate to our ambitions for the College. To be meaningful and relevant, our new and revitalized facilities must house academic programs and services worthy of students and the ambitions that are their own.
You see, it is the Beacon community’s intention to be recognized on behalf of our students as the foremost institution of the arts, the sciences, business, and technology exclusively devoted to the undergraduate education of students with learning disabilities and ADHD. This ambition demands that the College think carefully and collectively about the human and technological resources that will be demanded, as well as an attentiveness to the balance and focus of the academic programs that we will offer. All of this we must do because the preparation of our students for living “a life abundant” requires it.
I have found that abundant lives, those rich in experience and dreams fulfilled, are usually enjoyed by those who also live “daring” lives. The sort of daring of which I speak is not the stuff of television reality shows or endurance competitions. The daring of which I speak is an inner calling. It is profound and life transforming.
It is the character of a life lived abundantly by a person like the author Eudora Welty. Ms. Welty was a national treasure who lived almost her entire life in Jackson, Mississippi. She wrote her entire adult life, sacrificing much to become a novelist and author short stories that captured the daily life and ethos of her native South. She won the Pulitzer Prize for a magnificent book called The Optimist’s Daughter. Later in her life she wrote One Writer’s Beginning, which chronicled her development as an author and a person of significant accomplishment.
One Writer’s Beginning is one of the most influential books guiding my life. In a very real sense, Eudora Welty in this book offered me strong shoulders upon which to climb for guidance and perspective. She ends her book, One Writer’s Beginning, with an indelible message. She wrote, “You see, I have lived a sheltered life, but a sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring comes from within.”
In a very real sense, this is what we must be about at Beacon College. We are called to guide and empower our students to live daring lives. To test and push beyond boundaries, to dream great dreams, to take their manifold talents, their skills, their ambitions, to do good in the world and to live a life abundant. All of this can be realized in the lives of our students only if they dare to do so.
From where I stand, the living of a daring life by our students is our most enduring gift. It is, in truth, both our College’s legacy and our future. So, to all gathered here, and especially our students, I wish you all daring lives.
I am grateful for the honor to serve as the College’s third President.
Dr. George J. Hagerty, February 21, 2014