Plymouth State University
Imagine A Way Investiture Address
Investiture Ceremony

Imagine A Way Investiture Address

Chairman Lietz, Chancellor Reno, faculty and staff members, students, trustees, New Hampshire federal and state officials, alumni, neighbors of Plymouth State University, distinguished guests, family, and friends: 

It is an honor for me to accept this charge and commit myself to serving as the 14th president of Plymouth State University.

Thank you for being here today.  It is an honor for me to accept this charge and commit myself to serving as the 14th president of Plymouth State University, knowing that the responsibility to protect and serve this institution is a serious one.  My predecessors over one hundred and thirty-six years, from Silas H. Pearl through Donald P. Wharton, have demonstrated extraordinary leadership and have helped to build a wonderful university; their legacy is one we cherish and upon which we shall build.  

In attendance today are former Plymouth State president William J. Farrell and his wife Carol.  Because of weather today, Rita Hyde and Mary Anne Hyde Saul, widow and daughter of President Harold E. Hyde were unable to attend; they are friends I value.  Together these families represent over half a century of the Plymouth State presidency.   Bill and Carol, please stand and be recognized.  I would also like to recognize my husband, Joseph H. Bourque, and sister-in-law, Eva Duguay.

An investiture is a ceremony with roots in the medieval era; it invites us to remember the past.  Plymouth State University in one sense began with the hope for education that led to the establishment of the Holmes Academy on this site in 1808.  More specifically, Plymouth State was founded as the state Normal School in 1871, dedicated to training the first-rate teachers who would guide New Hampshire’s schools.  Robert Frost joined the faculty in 1911, and in 1946, in the frontispiece of the college’s 75th anniversary program, he wrote of Plymouth Teachers College under President Silver’s administration: “It warms the heart with reassurance to look on anything that persists so successfully in this world of broken pieces.”  The sentiments are quintessential Robert Frost, the contemplative poet of “The Road Not Taken” and “Fire and Ice.”  Soon afterward, Plymouth State began to offer graduate programs in education and in 1963, as a member of the University System of New Hampshire, again expanded its range of liberal arts and professional programs.  That is the history, in the briefest of outlines. 

An investiture also offers the opportunity to bring the university’s constituencies together to celebrate what the university is, thanks to the dedication of many people working together – students and their families, faculty and staff members, administrators, trustees, government officials, alumni, builders and craftspeople, community supporters, and donors.  All have created a Plymouth State -- a university in name since 2003 -- of which New Hampshire can be proud:  a dynamic regional comprehensive university.  

I am privileged to belong to a university whose members live their commitment to students, to knowledge, to society, and to each other.

When I first visited Plymouth State, now over a year ago, I was impressed by the shared dedication to students: asked what they wanted, employees repeatedly responded with what would be good for students.  I was also impressed by the strong sense of community; by the energy with which faculty and students approached learning, scholarship, and creativity; and by the genuine engagement with the community, the Lakes Region and the North Country, the state, and beyond.  I am privileged to belong to a university whose members live their commitment to students, to knowledge, to society, and to each other. 

Plymouth State draws students from New Hampshire, New England, the east coast and states beyond, as well as from international locations, students who are thoughtful, talented, and eager to learn.  Through the PSU Chamber Singers, you have heard their excellence.  Students, thank you.  Members of our athletic teams are serving as ushers today; thank you as well. Students also enjoy clubs and sports and make lasting friendships.  The university has first-rate faculty members -- scientists, poets, artists, mathematicians, historians, political scientists, and many more – who work side-by-side with students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, challenging students and guiding their research and creativity.  These faculty members are involved in cutting-edge research to solve real-world problems, offer impressive artistic and cultural resources, are actively partnering with public schools and area businesses and organizations, and are changing our understanding of the world in which we live.  The operating staff and professional/administrative/technical staff are excellent professionals, dedicated to what one recent graduate calls the PSU “web of support,” whether their role is student affairs, athletics and recreation, financial affairs, the physical plant, information technology, or health services.  Our alumni speak with passion as they tell stories of the people who mentored them.  They stress that at Plymouth State people care.  One wrote recently to express his gratitude: he said, “For all of us who came to Plymouth with so little, please remember to thank them for giving us so much.  It’s the personal touch and relationships that make Plymouth such a special place.”

We also celebrate today our relationship with our neighbors in the towns of Plymouth and Holderness, two wonderful New England towns in a region of New Hampshire where people from other areas vacation and wish that they, too, could live.  Clearly the history, beauty, and vibrancy of the town of Plymouth, in which the university is primarily situated, are significant advantages for those who live and learn at Plymouth State, and the region offers an inspiring landscape that is also a superb natural laboratory for learning.  I am grateful to have been warmly welcomed by members of the local communities.

On campus, we have engaged and will continue to engage in a discussion of dreams, mission, and plans.

As I talk about the future of Plymouth State University, because an investiture is also a time to explore goals, it is a future in which Plymouth and Holderness and our region will be integrally involved.  This week-long series of events is intended to honor partnership.  The Pemi Choral Society performing today is a campus-community collaboration spanning decades, with members from Concord to Maine, most from our local area.  Thank you, too, for participating.  

As president, I have tried this year to listen and learn from those already on campus, and from those across the state, about strengths and opportunities.  On campus, we have engaged and will continue to engage in a discussion of dreams, mission, and plans.  Let me share with you some of our on-going conversations.

Plymouth State will continue and extend its commitment to both access and success.  This will require creativity in a time when costs for everything from health care to utilities are rising, and increased tuition rates make some students and parents believe that a university education is beyond reach.   Like approximately one-third of current Plymouth State students, my husband, Joe, and I are among the first generation in our families to attend college.  We live better lives because others made choices that provided us with opportunities for education.  We were aided by scholarships and student loans.  Ours is a story I hear again and again from Plymouth State alumni: PSU transforms lives.    

The theme of this investiture, Imagine A Way, is related to this point and also to my parents, who would be proud today.  Neither parent attended college, but they recognized its value.  They scrimped and saved to help with tuition.  Each payday, the budget pad had an entry for the dollars they could set aside for my future college education.  And they smiled when I graduated, and kept graduating.  When my mother died, I telephoned her friends in Ohio.  One, Lois, said, “Your mother and I used to sit across the kitchen table, and she would argue that the industrial midwest was fading, that the jobs would go elsewhere and the factories be unable to provide a good living.  Knowledge was going to be key.  But Bob and I couldn’t imagine a way to pay for college for our children, and we didn’t want them to be disappointed, so we never encouraged them.  Your mother said we had to imagine a way.  Your mother was right.”

The Imagine A Way Scholarship Fund created for this investiture will support students who have financial need or are the first in their families to attend college.  Within it, Joe and I are creating two scholarships, one in honor of my parents and one in honor of Joe’s sister and her late husband, allowing us to give back.  Thank you to all of you on campus and from the region who are making this fund a reality and demonstrating to students what we can accomplish together.  To date, the fund has received over $50,000 in gifts and pledges.  On our students’ behalf, thank you.

As we consider the future, there will be other challenges for which we will be required to use our ingenuity and best judgment to “imagine a way.”   My parents could not foretell the future, but they tried to read the signs and did their best to prepare me for the world in which I would live.  That’s what the faculty and staff members at Plymouth State University are doing in developing a strategic plan.

Technology is rapidly shifting and has changed the way we work, making the world in Tom Friedman’s words “flat,” a place where the economic playing field has been leveled, and jobs have been outsourced to university graduates in China or India or Russia.  Those of us who grew up in the early second half of the twentieth century find it astonishing that our medical lab results might be read in Bombay before being forwarded to Boston or Plymouth, or that we can keep in touch with our office while traveling in Tanzania.  Our graduates will need to understand these technologies and feel comfortable with the tools.  But the change is more profound.  Economically, politically, culturally, and scientifically, the world is not what it was even as recently as the year 2000.  If they are to keep pace, the next generation’s professionals will need an education attuned to international issues and multicultural teamwork.

Students in every field should find wonder in the world, in all its variety.

As a result, diversity will be an essential component of educational excellence, as will international education.  Students from dozens of countries currently study at Plymouth State, and our undergraduate and graduate students are engaging in research and creativity, internships, and service from Costa Rica to Sweden to Vietnam.  Working with the U.S. State Department, we offer a Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute each summer, and we encourage multicultural work.  We will be developing new initiatives to increase both the numbers of students who participate in overseas programs and the diversity of the students, faculty, and speakers who come to campus.  Cultural understanding will be critical.  Students in every field should find wonder in the world, in all its variety.      

Our faculty, staff, and students bring research and analysis to bear on significant public issues, a role citizens rightly expect their universities to play.  The environment is one such critical issue, with local, regional, and global consequences, and the solutions will be complex and interdisciplinary, again requiring innovation and imagination.  Plymouth State is a green campus, and questions of climate, the environment, water systems, energy conservation, fuels, and sustainability will be an even more vital part of our future curriculum, research, and campus processes.  The Judd Gregg Meteorology Institute, the Center for the Environment, and the Center for Rural Partnerships are among the many groups actively involved in exciting research and collaborations.  Langdon Woods, a $29 million dollar residence hall that opened this past autumn, was carefully designed as a step toward energy leadership, and its certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership-Energy-Environmental Design (LEED) program will recognize the university’s achievement in energy efficiency and sustainability.  Additional initiatives will be announced soon.  

I imagine a campus where art, history, and the world of ideas are visible wherever one looks.

In the future, we will continue to remodel and improve our campus facilities to ensure that students have first-rate facilities in which to live, learn, and create.  The goal is to support good work, to challenge the mind, and to inspire the spirit in classrooms, public spaces, laboratories, and studios.  I imagine a campus where art, history, and the world of ideas are visible wherever one looks.  Plans are under way for a state-of-the-art complex to integrate academic programs and research in health and wellness with athletics and recreation on one site.  This facility is being designed in consultation with the towns of Plymouth and Holderness, for whom it also will mean economic development.    

The quality of the faculty and staff members who support our students is critically important, and we want to continue to recruit and retain wonderful people, to offer all employees opportunities for professional development.  We want to add awards for outstanding service by operating staff and professional/administrative/technical staff.  We want faculty members to have additional fellowships that provide funds for scholarship and creative activities, and named professorships to honor faculty whose accomplishments are extraordinary.  I am enormously pleased to announce today the establishment of Plymouth State University’s first professorship, the Stevens-Bristow Endowed Professorship, created by Wallace R. Stevens ‘62 and Meredith Bristow Stevens ’62.  The Stevens-Bristow professorship reflects Wally and Meredith’s vision.  It is a term professorship honoring faculty members from any discipline who work in teacher preparation and thus educate the educators.  It supports students by recognizing outstanding faculty members who mentor them.  I would ask Wally and Meredith to please stand and accept our gratitude for their generosity.

Public universities have a special responsibility to their communities, regions, and states; and collaboration and engagement will be key to addressing the issues of the 21st century.

To accomplish these goals, and others, while focusing on affordability, will require that we promote a tradition of philanthropy and extend our margin of excellence.  International travel, for example, is expensive, and some students will need help.  We are fortunate to have loyal alumni, an active Alumni Association, and a President’s Council dedicated to helping Plymouth State move forward, and we will draw on them as we set forth on a comprehensive campaign.  In this, as in all we do, we will be open, honest, and accountable, wise stewards of the resources with which we are entrusted.  

Public universities have a special responsibility to their communities, regions, and states; and collaboration and engagement will be key to addressing the issues of the 21st century.  Plymouth State is one of the state’s universities, a member of the University System of New Hampshire, and we value that role.  As an engaged regional comprehensive university, we will play an increasing part in our wider region’s economic development through the Centers for the Environment and for Rural Partnerships, the Institute for New Hampshire Studies, the Small Business Institute, and the business liaison program, all working in tandem with businesses and organizations.  In our sponsored research, we regularly join forces with federal, state, and local agencies, other institutions of higher education, foundations, and non-profit associations.  In serving New Hampshire, we will continue to collaborate with our colleagues in K-12 education and to enhance graduate educational opportunities, responding to the needs of the state’s professionals.  For example, the College of Graduate Studies recently established a new site in Concord.  We will look to the workforce and educational needs of the state, and especially of the Lakes Region and North Country, considering adult undergraduates as well; at a recent academic excellence ceremony in Berlin, one woman described what it meant to be completing her degree in education there and to be able to share her love of learning.  We will continue to offer vibrant artistic and cultural programming, inviting members of our neighboring towns to share in the joys of art, music, theatre, and dance at the Silver Center and Drerup Gallery, working in partnership with associations such as the New Hampshire Music Festival and the North Country Center for the Arts; and to engage thought so that the Plymouth State campus is a metaphoric public square in which ideas are debated and civil discourse prevails.  

We are fortunate in our relationship with the town of Plymouth, our namesake home, as well.  Campus and town have, quite literally, grown up together, each integral to the other’s success.  Plymouth State, with the motto of Ut Prosim, “that I may serve,” has an ongoing commitment to Plymouth.  Plymouth State faculty and staff members are members of the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Plymouth, and Rotary.  Some academic programs encourage or require community service, and the Community Service Center is dedicated to such opportunities.  I smile when I see photos of our student-athletes reading stories in the elementary school, or when I am told that the students’ “Shreddin’ for Shelter” event has raised $4000 for the Pemi-Valley Habitat for Humanity.  Between sixty and seventy of our students each year volunteer at the Pemi Youth Center, which provides after-school programming for youth; others are engaged in Project Mentor, helping middle-school students graduate from high school and consider college; still others are working with the Senior Center to publish a book called "Stories to Tell My Grandkids."

In turn, our neighbors in the community live their ongoing commitment to the university.  They offer students examples of civic leadership.  They come into our classes as visiting speakers and artists.  They raise money for scholarships and sponsor arts and cultural events.  They host student interns.  When our students work by their side in volunteer settings, mentors take care to ensure that our students succeed, transforming students’ views of themselves and their potential contributions to society, preparing students for lives of civic participation.  We have joint task forces and councils on issues from housing to biodiesel fuel, and we rejoice in activities such as this year’s Educational Theatre Collaborative production of Beauty and the Beast, a cooperative effort of Plymouth State University, the Plymouth Elementary School, and Friends of the Arts, with campus and community performers who are amazing and well deserved the standing ovations they received in Plymouth and Concord.  This week, downtown merchants are featuring Plymouth State students’ work in their windows.  That willingness to celebrate student endeavor is very moving.   

In subsequent years, this investiture address will be replaced with a state of the university address in which I report to you, the campus and our wider communities, about Plymouth State’s progress toward our goals.  And I hope we can continue to honor our community-in-common with joint activities in Plymouth and Holderness.

We have much to do, and the process begins with imagination.  Together, we can 'imagine a way.'

The future holds challenges, and we will meet them.  I will close with a cartoon that some of you may know.  In the first panel, we see a natural disaster.  A school of fish has washed onto shore, and fish are dying.   A little figure is down there working hard, throwing those fish back into the water, giving them life.  On a hillside stands a second figure, saying “You can’t do anything.  The problem’s too large.  Let it go.  It doesn’t matter.”  In the final panel, the little figure at the bottom, as he throws another fish, says, “Mattered to that one.”  With apologies to my scientific colleagues for the anthropomorphism, the cartoon is a metaphor for education and for problem-solving.  Education happens person by person – it “matters to that one” -- and problems are not solved by people who stand apart, but by those who engage, who have the energy and will to make a difference.   I am reminded of the motto of Silas H. Pearl, Plymouth State’s first president: “Better to wear out than rust out.”  We have much to do, and the process begins with imagination.  Together, we can “imagine a way.”  

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of that process.

President Sara Jayne Steen
April 12, 2007


Dr. Sara Jayne SteenMore about Sara Jayne Steen
Visit the Office of the President Web site for a full biography, photos, speeches and more about Sara Jayne Steen.

imagine a way

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This page was last revised: 4/18/2007