By Kate Barcellos
CASTLETON — The winds of change could be felt throughout the Castleton University campus last Thursday evening as hundreds gathered in the Casella Theater to celebrate President Karen Scolforo’s convocation.
Professors, dressed in their academic colors, filed in as bagpipes heralded students from their dorms to circle around Scolforo in a protective huddle, shielding her from prying eyes as she ceremonially donned deep-emerald Castleton robes.
Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System, took the podium and reminisced about a time just one year ago when Castleton was searching for a new president.
They sought someone who found success and inspiration through the victories of their students, with an adaptive mind and a progressive spirit.
“The new president will be comfortable leading through change, embracing shared governance and partnering with outside educational, private sector and governing entities,” Spaulding read from the position’s advertisement released by the University. “Sounds like Dr. Scolforo to me.”
Spaulding said Scolforo seemed naturally fit for the shoes left by former president David Wolk, for whom Spartan Stadium was named on Saturday.
“She ‘got’ Castleton,” Spaulding said. “She got that Castleton was an essential part of the fabric of this community, and this state. She got that Castleton’s claims of strong community, high-quality academics, athletics and extracurriculars, and impact on the lives of students were real.”
In lieu of a banner flown high from Castleton, Scolforo donned a gold medallion inscribed with the Castleton University seal. The seal hung from a chain that Church Hindes, chairman of the VSCS board, said represented every member of the university, as it linked together to hold aloft the values, ethics and mission of Castleton as an institution of higher learning.
“Today, Karen is supported by the shoulders of dozens of prior leaders who have served Castleton over the past 231 years,” Hindes said. “As mariners wish each other, may you have fair winds and following seas throughout your command.”
Like many universities, Castleton has had to evolve with the times, and faculty assembly president Andre Flèche brought forth a particularly hard, forced evolution that happened in 1924, when Castleton’s Seminary building burned to the ground, and the then-president Caroline Woodruff had to summon the courage to reinvigorate her staff to carry on, inspired by one ancient quote she found purely by accident in the Old Testament.
“‘And the glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former,’” Flèche read. “Each president and every member of the faculty and staff has been charged with carrying out Woodruff’s vision of constant improvement. Today, Dr. Scolforo officially takes up that charge.”
Scolforo took the stage with a wide and warm “thank you” to the students, staff and faculty who brought her to Castleton, and to one in particular who she met earlier that day.
“Today, I was walking down the corridor, and there was a student studying the campus map,” she began. “I asked him what he was looking for. The man looked up, surprised, and said, ‘Actually, I’m looking for you.’”
The new student, “Snow,” traveled from Tibet to study at Castleton, and had brought the new president a gift from his country: a white scarf, which he wrapped around the president’s neck.
‘It’s my culture to arrive at a place like this, that I seek out the representation of the host of the university,’ Scolforo remembered him saying. ‘White for the pure of heart, and the gift is to wish you good luck.’”
The gift came with a card, on which was written an exuberant “I choose Castleton! And Castleton chooses me!”
Scolforo maintained throughout her presentation that Castleton has teams, forces and places to grow, tools to use and a bright future filled with the promise of a multicultural student body bound for success and prepared for the changing socioeconomic dynamic.
“Times are changing, and higher education is the chance to advance,” she said. “We can do what needs to be done to prepare our workforce for global positions.”