Catawba College Inaugurates Its 20th President
February 18, 2003
Dr. Robert E. Knott was inaugurated as Catawba College's 20th President Feb. 18 in Omwake-Dearborn Chapel on campus. His investiture took place before a large gathering of delegates from various educational institutions, trustees, family, friends, community guests, faculty, staff and students.
After Knott was invested with the signs of office by Tom Smith, Chairman of the Catawba College Board of Trustees, he called the day "a celebration for this college community." To the trustees, he pledged that he and wife Brenda would "live up to the responsibility you have place upon us." Then, in typical Knott fashion, he turned the occasion into an opportunity to thank those gathered for the contributions they had made and continue to make to the institution.
Saying the college community "is an intertwining of the stories of individuals who make it up, past and present," Knott recognized with appreciation key groups in the audience. He lauded former presidents and first ladies of the college, including Fred and Bonnie Corriher, the late Steve Wurster and his wife Jean, Jacquie Leonard and her late husband Theodore, as well as Mary Dearborn and her late husband Donald.
Knott thanked friends gathered for the impact they had made on his life, including former professors and a college roommate. He noted the contributions of the faculty, staff and students of the college. He also spoke poignantly about the impact that members of his family had made on his life, recognizing his mother who taught him his "love of literature and poetry," and his father who admonished him "to listen to what a person says, but look much more closely at what he does." He named his children, their spouses and grandchildren and his mother-in-law. He reserved special words of thanks to his wife, Brenda, whom he joked was the reason for his hiring at Catawba.
In his inaugural address, Knott alluded to the outline of a strategic plan which the Catawba College Board of Trustees had approved at their meeting earlier in the day. He called their vote of confidence in the plan "an act of faith." Despite uncertain economic times and global unrest, he noted that there was something in "the history and current reality (of the college) that give substance to this trustees' act."
"Our academic challenge is to step up to another level, but not one we haven't met before. We must build a strong and challenging academic environment which is merged with a caring and nurturing community," Knott said. "We must renew the college's commitment to focus on character."
Knott paraphrased a chapter from Dr. Frances Dedmond's history of the college, "A College of Our Own," saying that the phrase "Our past is prologue to our future" aptly describes the course Catawba is poised to plot with the trustees approval of the strategic plan. "Catawba College has been committed to an educational quest to understand our highest human good and therein to bring meaning and purpose to our lives," he said. "Our challenge is to bring this concept to new life for new generations of students.
"May it be said of us that we honor our traditions and serve a greater common good – that we are dedicated to the quest for the highest human good in each of us. Let us be found worthy of the education that has come to be known as Catawba College."
Delegates from more than three dozen different educational institutions, including Harvard Divinity School, Rhodes University, Queens College and East Carolina University, paid tribute to Knott by participating in the academic processional. Also processing were members of the Catawba College faculty, the board of trustees, the class of 2003 and special guests including Catawba's nineteenth president, J. Fred Corriher, Jr.'60.
Bringing greetings during the ceremony on behalf of the Catawba College community were Student Government President, Michelle Kowalsky '03, and Chair of the Faculty Senate, Dr. Carl Girelli. Dr. A. Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, also brought greetings on behalf of the 36 private colleges and universities in the state which area members of her organization. Catawba's Writer-in-Residence and Professor of English Dr. Janice Fuller honored Knott by reading an inaugural poem she had written for the occasion, "Reading the Omens on Inaugural Day."