CLAREMONT Calif. — October 20, 2023 — Strom C. Thacker was inaugurated as Pitzer College’s seventh president Friday in a ceremony that highlighted his Claremont roots and his vision of Pitzer as a steadfast model for other institutions of higher education.
Students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, college and university delegates, and other guests gathered on the Stephen L. Glass Commencement Plaza on a sultry afternoon to celebrate Thacker, who previously served as a professor and dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs at Union College in New York.
Though it’s been 35 years since he was an undergraduate at Pomona College, Thacker told the audience that his return to Claremont to take the helm at Pitzer still feels like a very special homecoming.
“In planning these remarks, I did not initially give them a formal title, so you won’t see one in the program,” he said. “I might have titled them something along the lines of ‘It’s Great to Come Home.’ ”
His formative years in Claremont were critical, he added, noting how “I have come to realize that my path to this place, this day, this moment, began right here in Claremont. It was here that I discovered myself.”
Dean of Faculty Allen Omoto served as emcee and welcomed attendees. He was joined on the platform by a panoply of speakers representing the Pitzer community, The Claremont Colleges, and the surrounding community. The ceremony also included a vocal performance by Pomona College student Aaron Wu ’25, who sang “Moon River.”
Delegates of 12 liberal arts colleges, including Dickinson College, Washington and Lee University, Franklin & Marshall College, University of the Pacific, and Loyola Marymount University, were on hand for Thacker’s investiture by Pitzer Board of Trustees Chair Donald P. Gould, who draped Thacker with the presidential medal.
“Dr. Thacker’s selection as Pitzer President,” Gould said, “marks the first time in the College’s history that Pitzer has been led by a graduate of a member institution of The Claremont Colleges.”
Especially poignant were remarks given by those who worked closely with Thacker at other institutions and have watched him grow as a scholar and higher education leader. These included Sarah Taha, an alum of Union College who worked with Thacker on various initiatives and committees as a student and member of Union’s alumni community.
“No matter how busy or how many responsibilities Strom had, he always made the time to listen to the students, be present in the moment, and extend a hand to all,” she said.
Another Union College voice was that of Stephen Ainlay, the college’s president emeritus who had worked closely with Thacker.
“We all celebrate this very special day with you,” he told the audience. “The selection of a president is important. You have chosen wisely and you have chosen well. I know this community will thrive in the years ahead.”
“He’s a Sagehen through and through,” said Pomona College Professor Emerita Elizabeth H. Crighton, who knew Thacker as an undergraduate and became an important friend and mentor. “When I heard he was a finalist for Pitzer president, I was frankly thrilled. What a perfect fit. His heart belongs to liberal arts colleges, especially The Claremont Colleges.”
Other speakers included Scripps College President Amy Marcus-Newhall, Claremont City Council Member Jennifer Stark ’98, and student, staff, and faculty representatives of Pitzer College.
“We welcome him not just as our new president but as one of our own: a new, tenured member of the Pitzer faculty,” said Professor Nigel Boyle, who chairs Pitzer’s Faculty Executive Committee. “As a fellow political scientist, I can attest that Pitzer has added a very distinguished scholar of International Relations, and of Latin American political economy in particular.”
For Pitzer College Student Senate President Sanya Dhama ’25, Thacker has already made a positive impression.
“I am optimistic for our future here under President Thacker’s leadership,” Dhama said. “From day one he has fulfilled his promise to work with all of us.”
She noted that he has already attended a meeting of the Student Senate and is making “an extra effort to understand us and uplift our voices.”
During his inaugural address, Thacker praised Pitzer for staying true to its core identity over the last 60 years.
Though much has changed since his undergraduate years in the 1980s, Thacker said “the essence of who and what we are remains the same. Pitzer, in particular, has remained true to its roots, to its mission and its core values, even as they have developed over time and as the specific words used to convey them have evolved. Pitzer remains fresh and innovative while staying true to its core identity. No mean feat.”
Thacker acknowledged a large group of students who stood in silent protest during the ceremony, many with signs urging the College to exercise its voice and powers regarding the war in Israel and Gaza. Thacker thanked them for sharing their messages and concerns and noted that Pitzer is a community that supports public dialogue and the discussion of “uncomfortable ideas in the service of education, knowledge, and mutual understanding.”
The ceremony opened and closed with Rev. Joel Daniels, Protestant chaplain of The Claremont Colleges. Daniels read prayers written by Rabbi Danny Lutz and Muslim Interfaith Chaplain Hadi Qazwini, who were both unable to attend. The ceremony was followed by a special ribbon-cutting ceremony organized by Pitzer’s Student Senate to celebrate the reopening of the fountain on Pellissier Mall and a community reception on The Mounds and celebratory dinner.
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