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Features

April 29, 2013

A great day of celebration

Hawkins takes historic spot as Union College’s first female president

KNOX COUNTY — By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer

There were rays of light over Union College Friday afternoon.

From the natural beams of the sun shining on Barbourville, to the glow inside Robsion Arena, the energy was bright and brilliant during the inauguration of the college’s 19th President, Dr. Marcia Hawkins.

A Texas native with strong roots in Appalachia, Hawkins became president on July 1, 2012, and is the first female president in Union’s history.

Using the inauguration’s theme of  “Luceat lux nostra” — Latin for “Let our light shine” —   those who organized the event said the theme represented the start of a new day for the college.

From the feel of things, the atmosphere was electric.

“The light shining is certainly bright on campus, and with her inauguration, the wattage was ramped up,” according to one speaker at the podium.

Beginning with the academic procession to the strains of Handel’s “See the Conquering Hero Comes,” a long line of school children, representatives of Kentucky’s United Methodist Institutions, international students at Union College, alumni and institutional delegates, and current Union staff, faculty and board members walked inside the arena.

Once they were seated, greetings of hope, commitment and celebration flowed from the many speakers at the podium.

“We commit ourselves to pray for you, to work for you, and we’re delighted to welcome Dr. Hawkins into our line of work,” said the Rev. Dr. G. Lindsey Davis, the Resident Bishop of the Kentucky Annual Conference and the Red Bird Missionary Conference.

Barbourville and Knox County’s highest ranked officials played on the inaugural theme in their welcoming remarks to Union’s new president.

Mayor David Thompson said, “I, the City of Barbourville, and the people of Barbourville look forward to working with you as the college continues to keep the light shining.”

“As president, you have hit the ground running with projects that will bring the light to Union College and Knox County,” added County Judge-Executive J.M. Hall.

From Frankfort came Colman Elridge III, Executive Assistant to Gov. Steve Beshear. He brought a message to her from the Governor, and an honor known to all Kentuckians.

“Dr. Hawkins would tell us that today is not a celebration for her. It is a celebration of this college and this community. That beacon light of opportunity calls people to places like Barbourville, because of the education they provide. Welcome to Kentucky, Dr. Hawkins,” said Elridge, who then presented her with an honorary Kentucky Colonel certificate.

Several Union College students, past and present, also welcomed Hawkins during their time at the podium.

“My sister, my father and I all attended Union College. Today, that light shines a little brighter because Dr. Hawkins is the first female president of Union College. And with that, it projects an image of progress,” said President of the Kentucky Senate Robert Stivers, whose district includes Barbourville and Knox County.

“We pledge our enthusiastic support to the mission of higher education and to this wonderful place. Congratulations, Dr. Hawkins,” said Lynn Smith, a 2010 Union College graduate and currently the college’s Coordinator of Personnel Services.

It was Richie Mathes, the President of the college’s Student Government Association, who brought the house down when he greeted Hawkins on behalf of current Union College students.

“I was at a college ceremony once, and I remember seeing someone wearing a pair of bright orange tennis shoes. I looked to my right and it was Dr. Hawkins wearing those shoes. We’re ready for your bright ideas, your bright shoes and your bright charm. Welcome to Union, Dr. Hawkins,” said Mathes, who is on track to be a member of Union College’s Class of 2014.

“We are delighted to pledge our support to Dr. Hawkins as she leads Union College in establishing and achieving its strategic priorities,” said Paul F. Isaacs, Chairman of the Board of Union College’s Board of Trustees and a member of UC’s Class of 1966.

A song was played next, and for the next few moments the audience reflected on the event as Dr. Gay Gandy conducted the Union College Singers and Regional Chorus in the anthem, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

When the anthem ended, Isaacs referred to the historic occasion of her presidency by telling the crowd, “I looked around and I could see people saying, ‘I’m glad they finally got it right.’ … She was the overwhelming choice as president. Union has a proud leader on this great moment in history.”

Then, with the help of former Union president Edward D. de Rosset, Isaacs presented the Union Mace and the Presidential Medallion to Hawkins, officially installing her as the college’s president.

After the ceremony, she was warmly received by the audience.

Moments later, Hawkins spoke of the past, the present and future of Union — and the “Four Pillars” providing a focus for now and beyond.

“Today, more than ever before, we value the liberal arts as the core of the Union College experience. … We’ve called liberal arts our core curriculum. What if we call them our fundamentals of leadership? That might work. We will not back away from these life lessons. … Our future will be built on what has gone before. We will foster a campus that reflects our cultures, and we’ll continue to build our college on our ‘Four Pillars.’ The Liberal Arts, Methodism, Service and Appalachia,” she pointed out.

Hawkins ended her address with a quote from John Wesley, an 18th century Anglican evangelist and the founder of the Wesleyan Tradition.

“The best of all is, God is with us.”

After saying those words, she was given a standing ovation.

One more inaugural event was held Friday night. Those invited got to dress up, kick up their heels and do some steppin’ out during a formal, black-tie event called “The Bulldog Ball,” held at Barbourville City School’s Old Gymnasium.

Hawkins said the event was actually a spring dance for the students, but the students decided to turn it into an inaugural dance to honor her on the occasion.  

She added she was very honored and touched by the offer.

For Union College’s 19th President, the Bulldog Ball was a fitting end to a long and illuminating day.

After the inauguration, she greeted faculty, family and friends at an outdoor reception held just a few feet away from the arena.

And for a couple of minutes, her face lit up, as she reflected on the shining moments of the past hours — and the bright times that lay ahead for the college.

“It started with a chapel serve, and it was just inspirational. I left there feeling I was recharged. And the inauguration was a fanstatic event. It’s been quite a day. The reality is just as good as the dream at Union,” said Hawkins.

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