Inaugural Traditions

The inauguration of Janet Morgan Riggs ’77 on September 12 as Gettysburg College’s 14th president is a milestone in the life of the College that is celebrated with traditions rooted in medieval times. The word “inauguration,” which dates back to the mid-16th century, is defined as a rite of passage marking a “formal or ceremonial induction to an office or dignity.” Collegiate presidential inaugurations in the United States originated with the nation’s nine colonial colleges in the 17th century, which established the custom of formally acknowledging a change in leadership at a school’s highest level, within a context of continuity and tradition.

Inaugurations like commencements are marked by processions of scholars in academic regalia; commencement, however, is an annual rite of passage for new graduates; an inauguration marks a rite of passage for an entire college.

The term “inauguration” is used today to describe all the events that celebrate the induction of a new president. The installation ceremony is the heart of the inauguration, marking the official handing over of the reigns of power. Over more than 175 years, inaugural style at Gettysburg has run the gamut from austere to elaborate.

Gettysburg’s first president Rev. Charles Krauth, professor of intellectual and moral science, was inaugurated on October 30, 1834 in the “German” church, now called St. James Lutheran Church on York St. The history books offer little detail about the inaugural ceremony other than noting that President Krauth “delivered an appropriate speech.”

Henry Baugher succeeded Krauth as president in 1850 and served until his death in 1868. There is no mention of Baugher’s inauguration, but he was the first president to live in the newly built president’s house, which is now the Norris-Wachob Alumni House. He was said to have boarded 18 wounded soldiers in his home during the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. He also offered the benediction on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the National Soldiers’ Cemetery after President Lincoln delivered  his Gettysburg Address.

Milton Valentine ’50, the first alumnus to be named president, was inaugurated on December 21, 1868 in the Christ Church on Chambersburg Road. His successor alumnus Harvey McKnight was barely 40 years old when chosen by the board. His undergraduate years had been interrupted by three separate enlistments in the Union cause. The depression of 1893-1897 motivated the trustees to ask the faculty to lighten McKnight’s teaching load so he might spend more time raising money for the College.

Samuel G. Hefelbower ’91 at 32 years old was Gettysburg’s youngest president. He rejected a formal inauguration but made his mark by strengthening the College’s entrance requirements, broadening the curriculum, and hiring faculty with doctoral degrees.

The inauguration of William Granville in October 1910 was “unlike any ceremony the College had ever witnessed.” It was held in a tent designed to seat 2,000 people. More than 600 individuals participated in the College’s first formal inaugural procession, which included representatives from more than 40 colleges. President Granville secured a Phi Beta Kappa chapter on campus and during his tenure, two students, Spurgeon Keeney ’14 and Ordean Rockey ’16 were named Rhodes scholars.

The 7th president of the College, Henry Hanson, served for 29 years, the longest tenure of any Gettysburg president. Hanson was the dominant figure on the Gettysburg campus, leading the College through a depression and world war. His inauguration on October 19, 1923 mirrored that of his predecessor. It too was held in a large tent, and the whole campus was illuminated for hundreds of invited guests. Hanson was known for his warm, congenial style and his optimistic spirit. According to Professor Milton Valentine, “the ten years of Dr. Hanson’s administration were marked by singular harmony of all the elements that make up the college constituency.”

Distinguished European historian Walter Langsam’s inauguration on October 25, 1952 coincided with Alumni Weekend and took place on Memorial Field. His inaugural speech was the shortest on record at Gettysburg as was his tenure of three years.

Before becoming president of Gettysburg College, Willard S. Paul served in the Army in both world wars. He retired as a lieutenant general in 1948 and was recommended to the College as a presidential prospect by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. At age 62, Paul, known as the General, was the oldest of all Gettysburg’s presidents and the first who was not a Lutheran. His inauguration was, according to the Alumni Bulletin, “a colorful and impressive ceremony in Christ Chapel with about 400 guests in attendance.”

C. Arnold Hanson was installed as Gettysburg College’s 10th president early in 1962. Hanson served the college with modesty and forbearance during the turbulent 60s. In his inaugural address, he paid tribute to Samuel Simon Schmucker, noting that few institutions could claim “a purpose as simply phrased or as delicately posed between ambition and honesty” as Schmucker’s goal: to exert a salutary influence upon liberal education.

Charles Glassick, the first president selected by a search committee, took the reigns of the College on April 15, 1977 in the College Union Ballroom. President Emeritus C. Arnold Hanson presented Dr. Glassick with a golden presidential medallion and chain created for the occasion and used in each inauguration since his. During his 12-year tenure, Glassick raised the college's academic profile, built a new library, and earned recognition as one of the nation's 100 best college presidents.

Gordon Haaland’s inaugural weekend in September 1990 began with the formation of a human chain around campus, formed by alumni, faculty, students, and other community members, highlighting the inaugural theme of community. The College’s enrollment grew by 20 percent during Haaland’s tenure as did its resources with the successful completion of a $100 million capital campaign.

Katherine Haley Will who took office October 2004 was the first woman to serve as the College’s president. Her investiture took place on the Beachem Portico on the north side of Pennsylvania Hall with delegates from more than 150 higher educational institutions and organizations in attendance. Developments during her tenure included a move to a five-course teaching load to allow faculty to spend more individual time with students, development of a comprehensive student career program, and the creation of an expanded Eisenhower Institute of Public Policy at Gettysburg College.

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