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President Pledges 'Heart and Soul' to Education

Inauguration of 5th President Signals the Launch of a New Era for the University

Feb. 1, 2013

Editor's Note: In addition to this overview, the inauguration coverage includes a selection of social media responses before, during and after the event, and a selection of responses to the ceremony itself from attending guests. 

Pledging her "heart and soul" to service before about 700 witnesses, Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García was inaugurated during a Feb. 1 affair full of historical significance.

"Presidential inaugurations are a time of promise, a time to look forward and a time to acknowledge this president, this University and all that they mean to this diverse and vibrant community," said Lou Monville, vice chair of the CSU Board of Trustees.

García delivered her inaugural address center stage in Meng Concert Hall, inside the Clayes Performing Arts Center as two former CSUF presidents — L. Donald Shields and Milton A. Gordon — watched from balcony box seats flanking the stage.

"With this privilege comes also a challenge — not only for me but for the entire university community — because now is the time for Cal State Fullerton to extend its greatness to become a model comprehensive university of the nation," García said. "This is not just something we say, but something we can do. And we know it will happen, if we are brave enough to name what we care about, coherent and intentional in our goals, measuring, demonstrating and proclaiming what we have accomplished and taking the risks that transformation always requires."

Her 30-minute speech was met with a standing ovation from the crowd, rallied to their feet by her insistence that ensuring student success, closing the achievement gap and producing educated leaders were not only the "right thing to do," but an "economic and civic necessity" for the region and the nation.

"This inauguration marks not only the appointment of a new president," García said."It marks a new chapter in the solid history of this fabulous institution. ... a time to underscore and highlight the many strengths of our university.

"When we educate our populace, we are lifting the country to uphold our national security, ensure economic stability, provide the needed leadership and workforce and deliver to our communities an educated citizenry ready to participate in a just, democratic society."

García’s inauguration, only the fourth of its kind in the university’s 55-year existence, featured a procession of faculty members, administrators, alumni, students, CSU trustees and officials, as well as other dignitaries resplendent in traditional academic regalia — gowns, hoods, caps and medallions. John Bock, professor of anthropology and the 2012 recipient of CSUF’s Outstanding Professor Award, led the platform party, carrying the mace.

"Dr. García has a deep reservoir of optimism and enthusiasm, and a determination to succeed. Not for her, but for you," CSU Chancellor Timothy White said. "And that’s a key piece to being a leader."

At Garcia's request, inauguration planners omitted the guest-speaker slot, in favor of three brief addresses by students and alumni. The featured speakers included Manuel Nieto, an Edison Scholar and mechanical engineering major; two-time graduate Ashley Cheri, who earned a bachelor’s degree in health science in 2008 and a master’s degree in education in 2012, and now is a program manager for the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance; and alumnus Tam Nguyen, president of Advance Beauty College, who earned an MBA in 2005.

A father of four boys who has struggled to continue his quest to earn a college degree for more than a decade, Nieto credited García with giving him perspective on his journey. "Even before she was officially president, Dr. Mildred García had already taken an interest in me," he said. "She convinced me that it is never too late to fulfill a dream."

Nguyen credited Cal State Fullerton and his family for his business success and pledged to help the university "fulfill its mission of accessibility and affordability to the students who will always thirst for knowledge and experience."

Cheri said she was inspired by García and "thrilled to see the success she will bring to this campus."

As a witness to all of Cal State Fullerton’s presidential inaugurations, Lawrence B. de Graaf, emeritus professor of history and a founding faculty member hired by the first president, William B. Langsdorf, proclaimed it "a beautifully run inaugural."

"I enjoyed the efficiency of it — it flowed very nicely," he added. "I was particularly impressed with our students. The president had a very smart idea of involving students as she did. Students played a much more substantive role this time around than they did in prior years. It gave all of us a feeling of family in what can otherwise be a very ceremonial occasion. Everybody is commenting about the enthusiasm that President García brings. Certainly, she has demonstrated to all of us that she means to be a passionate leader."

Also watching the proceedings — from on high, in second-floor boxes and seats — were James D. Young, emeritus professor and founding chair of the Theatre and Dance Department; Dan Black, Class of '67 physics grad and entrepreneur, and the namesake of Dan Black Hall; and longtime member of the former University Advisory Board, Bill McGarvey, one of only two recipients of the CSUF President’s Medallion, which is presented for exceptional support to the university. 

In his greeting on behalf of the student body, Dwayne Mason Jr., president of CSUF‘s Associated Students Inc., said: "President García truly cares about each and every student and is working hard to ensure that the quality and value of our educational experience not only meets, but exceeds the highest standard."

Speaking for the faculty in his address, Jack Bedell, emeritus professor of sociology and chair of the Academic Senate, suggested inaugurations of university presidents are "like commencement exercises for students: "a time of new beginnings, a time of boundless opportunities, lots of well wishes, lots of congratulatory cards, some of them even goofy, appreciation for mentors and, most of all, hope. This day gives us a chance to honor our past and to look with excitement to our future." 

Twenty-seven of her family members attended the inauguration and heard García, a first-generation college student born in Brooklyn, whose family had immigrated with five of her six siblings from Puerto Rico, credit her parents for instilling in her a love of education.

"My parents had a dream for their children," she said. "They came to New York from la isla del encanto Puerto Rico, seeking a better life for their children. They toiled in the factories of New York City for us, and it is to them that I pay tribute for instilling in me the love of education, love of family, selflessness and love of humanity, regardless of race, sex, class, religion and sexual orientation. Yes, they were parents who were ahead of their times, and we as brothers and sisters are so much the better because of them. While they are no longer here with us, I know they are here in spirit."

García earned a bachelor’s degree in business education from Bernard M. Baruch College, City University of New York; an M.A. in business education/higher education from New York University; an M.A. in higher education administration from Teachers College, Columbia University and an Ed.D., also from Teachers College, Columbia University.

In 2011, President Obama appointed García to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence of Hispanic Americans. She and the other commission members advise the president and the education secretary on matters pertaining to the educational attainment of Hispanic students.

In addition to her 10 years as a university president and chief executive, first at Berkeley College and then at Cal State Dominquez Hills before joining Cal State Fullerton, García earlier held administrative and academic positions at Arizona State University; Montclair State University; Pennsylvania State University; Teachers College, Columbia University; and the Hostos and LaGuardia community colleges of the City University of New York.

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