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Inauguration... Wofford Style

For Wofford College President Nayef Samhat, the journey to his inauguration as the college’s 11th president has been an unexpected one.

In a moving inaugural address, punctuated by strategic rays of sunlight on the misty morning event on the lawn of Main Building, Samhat shared his story before telling stories of Wofford’s past and eventually giving the challenge to the entire Wofford community to help write the story of the college’s future.

“One does not enter into the academy necessarily to become an administrator or provost or president, but because one loves the act and duty to learn and to educate, one loves to engage students in intellectual explorations, and to participate in the extraordinary transformation of young lives that define the experience we teachers – all of us engaged in this enterprise whether in the classroom, the residence hall, the fields or courts of play, the stages or the studios – the experience we teachers all feel and in which we find a deep and abiding personal and professional fulfillment. …

“My sisters, Diane and Sharon, and I, are first- generation college graduates, raised by a mother and father who grew up in the Depression-era in Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Canada, and had little opportunity to attend college. But to be sure, in their lives and words, they have modeled all of those qualities that define a good life; true wisdom, love, family, understanding and the fulfillment derived from a dedicated work ethic and compassion and empathy for others. Whatever good I have become, I owe to them.”

In front of a crowd of students, faculty, staff, alumni, delegates from other institutions, and members of the Spartanburg community who just wanted to be a part of the celebration, Samhat also thanked his wife and daughters as well as his mentors and the people who have welcomed him into the Wofford community.

“My wife, Prema, and daughters, Alia, Jehani and Leila, have given me a peace of heart and soul, a reason to be and to do, and have given worth to my life. Simply by their being, they make me a better person – and like the smart women they are, they are sure to let me know when they think otherwise!

“I stand here because of the support and mentorship of wonderful colleagues in my career. …In the course of life, one’s path crosses in most unexpected ways with others, individuals whose honest advice, encouragement and support can have the most profound impact on your imagination of life’s possibilities. These people, in particular, did precisely that – believing in me and offering me the opportunity to imagine a career and professional path that has led me and my family to this day, on this ground and this stage. To all of them I am forever grateful. And so we officially join the Wofford family. We know that institutions stand not as buildings but as stories, stories of the people who have shaped a history and informed a future, and I am proud and humbled to share in the extraordinary and transformative stories of so many before me.”

The stories of Wofford that Samhat shared during his inaugural address included tales of Dr. John Harrington, Dr. John Q. Hill, Dr. Gus Papadopoulos ’54, Roger Milliken, Dr. Michelle Phillips Hudspeth ’95, Dr. Doug Wood ’90 and Dr. Paige West ’91.

“…that is what the stories of Wofford College are all about. …They are about making a difference in the lives of young people so that they may, too, make a difference in the world around them – whether through commerce, law, medicine, teaching, social work, public service or parenting and friendship. And in so doing, all of us, the Wofford family here today present and those to follow, will remain true to the trust handed down by the generations of this great family that preceded us.”

Samhat also referenced an essay, “Civilization’s Starter Kit,” from the New York Times by astrophysicist Lewis Dartnell as he challenged others to join Wofford in developing the successful graduates of the future.

“And let us be clear on a crucial point and principle. For us, as educators and places of higher learning, whether public or private, large or small, no matter the type of institution, to fulfill our responsibility to nurture this starter kit we must commit to the preservation and defense of the principle of academic, intellectual and creative freedom in all that we do and practice. The classroom, the campus ground, and the individual, are the preserves of liberty and human progress if, and only if, the fetters of those who fear inquiry, debate and change are cast aside. We at Wofford, with institutions in our state and nation, will lead in word and deed in the defense of this most high principle. And to this end, I therefore assert that our kind of education, a liberal arts education, is the highest form of preparation for the breadth and depth of learning, the intimacy of pedagogy, and the formation of character and community, all contribute to the capacity to embrace challenge and change without fear or hesitation. …

“As we create a vision for Wofford in the coming times, how might we as a community of learners fulfill a responsibility to educate young women and men who, themselves, are responsible for supporting our civilization? What, in other words, will we contribute to their ‘Starter Kit?’ Because the world and its change is constituted by an infinite volume of particular acts – of kindness and cruelty, of creation and destruction, of exchange and theft, we are all responsible for nurturing this kit for students today and into the future.”

In his formal acceptance of the presidency of Wofford College, Samhat said: “I accept the charge of leading this great institution, founded on the principle of John Wesley to ‘take care of the rising generation;’ the vision of its first president, William Wightman, to promote ‘broad and liberal views;’ and in the spirit offered by Benjamin Wofford and that resonates and resounds to this day and beyond: Intaminatis fulget honoribus – shining with untarnished honor.”

By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington '89