A new wind at our backs
Friday, September 19, 2008
The rituals were regal. The musical performances were majestic.
There were tears. There was laughter. But, above all, there were calls for a renewed commitment to community.
The Sept. 19 inauguration of Earl H. Potter III as president of St. Cloud State University celebrated the presence in St. Cloud of a new force, a new "wind at our backs," who is inspiring campus and community to a higher level of service and new era of progress.
An estimated 850 people in Halenbeck Hall gymnasium saw Potter invested as the 22nd president of St. Cloud State. Joseph Edelheit first raised the banner of community in his invocation.
"We are joined together as teachers, learners, university staff, citizens -- all of whom affirm, by their presence, that St. Cloud State University has one creed: unconditional inclusivity," said Edelheit, director of religious studies and professor of philosophy. "I am humbled to be asked to invoke this gathering, our symphony of differences."
Carrying the community theme forward was keynote speaker Constantine "Deno" Curris, who described how public education has played a leading role in building communities throughout the history of the Republic.
"We are here to support the common weal. We believe in access and affordability. We open the portals of opportunity, not only for individuals, but for all American classes and for immigrant groups," said Curris, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, a 1989 graduate, detailed the university's $370 million annual economic impact on the region, drew laughter with a story about his unsuccessful mayoral candidacy as a student, and praised city-campus cooperation.
"The community connection is so important," Kleis said. "We're at a crossroads in this area and Earl has been a wonderful partner in this community, in this city."
Among the more high-profile partnerships Potter has pursued is the 5th Avenue Live project, which promises to transform the Southside-University thoroughfare into the city's premier boulevard. Anchoring the south end will be the renovated National Hockey Center, now expected to cost $29.1 million. On the north end will be a renovated and expanded Civic Center. Potter acknowledged Dan and Mabel Coborn, of the Coborn's, Inc. grocery chain, for their role in the project. The commercial center of the project is proposed for the former site of a Coborn's grocery at Fifth Avenue and Ramsey Place.
Potter's take on community -- his chief focus since coming to campus fourteen months ago -- was transcendent.
"We are not the ivory tower or a separate town," Potter said. "We are a university community that educates students by example, to engage in an active life as part of this community."
Potter, who shared in the ceremony with his wife, Christine, and four children, concluded his remarks with a simple, yet heartfelt, benediction.
"I love this place and I'm proud to be leading St. Cloud State University. Thank you all for coming. May a hopeful vision lead you forward and may the wind be always at your back."