Joanne Berger-Sweeney Inaugurated as Trinity's 22nd President

College Community Celebrates the Wisdom, Wit, and Vision of Its New Leader

Hartford, CT, October 27, 2014 – If the music, dancing, and speeches at Joanne Berger-Sweeney’s Inauguration as 22nd president of Trinity College Sunday are any indication, her presidency will be filled with intelligence, introspection, and humor—a kind of leadership that is both witty and wise.

Brilliance, personality, a willingness to listen, and a determination to find consensus—these and many more attributes were used to describe the neuroscientist who is Trinity’s new president. “I am genuinely excited by the depth of her vision,” Governor Dannel P. Malloy said in his greeting.

Representatives from alumni, students, faculty, parents, and staff lauded Berger-Sweeney for her commitment to scholarship and to diversity, for her genuine emotional warmth, and for what Lawrence S. Bacow, the president emeritus of Tufts University, in his speech called her “hard head and soft heart.”

Four present or former college presidents poked a bit of fun at the duties of college presidencies: “A college president is someone who lives in a big house and begs for money,” quipped Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College. The president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, and president emerita of Wellesley College, Diana Chapman Walsh, offered bits of advice, including, from McCartney, “Go to every pajama party you’re invited to.”

Berger-Sweeney’s Inauguration was distinguished not only by its humor—just about every speech drew laughter from the audience—but its embrace of diversity. The Processional included Trinity College’s Samba Ensemble, delighting audience members and prompting Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra to say, “I had a difficult time walking down this aisle with samba playing; should I be regal or swaying my hips?” More than 100 delegates representing colleges and universities from across the country, as well as Trinity students bearing international flags, were part of the enormous academic procession.

A majestic poem, “Those Whom We Admire,” written and read by the prominent poet, journalist, and literary critic James Fenton, was created in honor of the Inauguration. A soaring piece of music also was composed specifically for the occasion by John McDonald, professor of music at Tufts. “Something Bold to Start With,” McDonald said, “was designed to stir and intrigue.”

Berger-Sweeney’s ascendance into the President’s Office marks a number of firsts for Trinity: first woman, first African American, first mother, and first neuroscientist. From her beginnings as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Wellesley College in 1991, to her rise to Allene Lummis Russell Professor in Neuroscience, then associate dean and director of Wellesley’s Neuroscience Program, to dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts, she has marked her journey with a spirit that speaks to her willingness to try the untried, a courage that is quiet but determined. She is involved and part of the ongoing conversation wherever it may be, as evidenced by a comment from Joshua J. Frank ’16, president of Trinity’s Student Government Association, who noted that many students “follow her on Twitter.”

In her inaugural address, Berger-Sweeney referred to that attribute, saying, “Some people say that I am bold and engaged. I guess that I would respond that I’m not sure that I know how to be anything else.”

Berger-Sweeney shared her parents’ story, of their determination to further their educations after meeting at Clark College in Atlanta, her father graduating second in his class from Howard University Law School and her mother earning a master’s degree in sociology from Atlanta University. She spoke of them seizing opportunities, to move to California, build social networks, and become immersed in their church, community, and careers.

“My journey,” Berger-Sweeney said in her address, “is a reflection of my parents’ story and their pioneering spirits.” She compared her evolution to Trinity’s: “Similarly, Trinity College, as an institution, has a history of going boldly, being engaged, and navigating a complex learning environment.”

The core of the new president’s message, to go boldly and be engaged, will clearly be the focus of her presidency. And wit will play a key role. The faculty has gamely joined in. Said Kevin J. McMahon, secretary of the faculty and John R. Reitemeyer Professor of Political Science, “While we know roosters and hens cannot fly very high, we Trinity Bantams intend to soar.”

View archived webcasts of the October 26 Inauguration ceremony and the four academic symposia, “From Brownell to Berger-Sweeney: Bridging Trinity’s Traditions and the Future of a Liberal Arts Education,” that took place Thursday, October 23, and Saturday, October 25. A preliminary selection of photos has been posted, with additional photos available on Flickr.