By Eric Geller and Sam Colt
On Feb. 9, 1964, a young band from across the pond appeared on live American television for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show. Fans went crazy, and Beatlemania was born. Four years later, Sean Decatur was born ﾗ and would go on to become a well-regarded chemist, college administrator and die-hard Beatles fan.
Now it’s time for Sean Decatur’s Ed Sullivan moment. As he is installed as Kenyon’s president, institutions of higher education ﾗ and expensive private colleges in particular ﾗ are facing unprecedented challenges. For many still reeling from the Great Recession, a $56,810 education just isn’t worth it. Competition from other small schools, big state institutions and now the Internet is getting tighter every day. And there’s this little matter of increasing skepticism of the value of a liberal arts education.
Sean Decatur will be at the center of all this in due time, but this weekend is a celebration of his achievements and the College’s. Inside this section, you will find a guide to some of this weekend’s events and a Q&A with the man himself.
You will also find a story on the Inauguration Gala, which will feature student DJs, finger food, an open bar and, of course, a Beatles cover band.
Illumination of Old Kenyon
At 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26, the historic Old Kenyon bell will ring 19 times and the north-facing windows of the College’s first permanent building will come to life with a message for Kenyon’s new president: Welcome Sean and Family.
It’s a tradition that dates back to 1833, when students put candles in their windows to welcome the College’s second president, Charles Pettit McIlvaine. A similar array of lights in Old Kenyon’s dorm room windows will greet Sean M. Decatur, Kenyon’s 19th president, in the climax of Decatur’s inauguration weekend.
Although the tradition is almost two centuries old, this year’s illumination ceremony will be a cutting-edge and modern as the president himself, said Director of Alumni and Parent Programs Scott Baker, who chairs the Presidential Inauguration Committee’s hospitality subcommittee and is overseeing the lighting project.
“When the committee got together, we thought it would be appropriate, given that Sean is very much a modern scientist president, that the tradition be updated a little bit,” Baker said.
Saturday’s ceremony will feature 80 LED lights that change colors and can be controlled remotely. Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Laurie Finke, who chairs the Presidential Inauguration Committee, said “they can turn all the lights on at once from one switch” using the new lighting system.
The installation process for the LEDs requires only that a light gel be placed on the dorm room window and that a light pack be placed in the room. Baker said he was sending out a schedule this week to inform affected students when the Maintenance Department would arrive to install the equipment.
“We have two ﾅ ﾑdark hours’ on Friday night, where we’ll be testing and setting the cues and everything,” Baker said. “For those students who are in those rooms, we’ll just go in there to hang the gel on the window. It’s literally, like, you just place [the light pack] on the floor and tilt it up and you’re done.”
After the Friday night “dress rehearsal,” the light packs will be removed from the rooms so they can charge overnight. They will be reinstalled in students’ rooms on Saturday.
The College is renting the LEDS from Vincent Lighting Systems in Cleveland. To support the event, the company offered what Baker described as “a hefty discount” on the rental cost. Baker would not provide an exact figure for the cost of the illumination ceremony, but he did say it amounted to 10 percent of the total inauguration budget.
Lights on the exterior of Old Kenyon will complement the lights in the windows. Baker said he was intent on streamlining the logistics of the illumination, both for cost and safety reasons, especially after he heard Maintenance workers had previously run wires into dorm rooms through the windows.
Baker said he was “grateful to the students in Old Kenyon who have been super-supportive and came out to cut [window] gels with us,” and he expressed excitement about the “very unusual thing that we’re doing.”
Finke echoed Baker’s excitement about the illumination, saying, “It should be pretty spectacular.”
Like a first-year at matriculation, President Sean Decatur will officially become part of the Kenyon community after this weekend’s Installation Ceremony, the centerpiece of his inaugural weekend.
The ceremony will take place on Saturday at noon at the Kenyon Athletic Center’s Toan Track, and aspires to celebrate and honor the College’s new president in under an hour, according to Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Laurie Finke, who serves as chair of the inauguration committee and as the Senior Faculty Marshall, whose responsibilities include lining up faculty for ceremonial events.
“I think we’ve done [the ceremony] in a way that’s interesting,” Finke said. “There’s going to be a lot of pomp and circumstance. The thing I’m most excited about is that we gave student organizations the opportunity to march in a kind of Olympics opening ceremony at the beginning so that we could have a strong student involvement in the installation.”
The installation ceremony will also feature the introduction of a ceremonial mace that will be used at future events akin to the inauguration such as commencement.
“The mace is sort of a symbol of presidential authority,” Finke said. “Usually the mace marches in a procession so we’ll use it in all of our processions like graduation and convocation.”
Designed by Jack Esslinger, husband of Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger, the wooden mace features an owl on its end and engravings of landmark College buildings such as Old Kenyon and Rosse Hall.
The installation will include two speeches: one by Eugene M. Tobin, program officer for the Liberal Arts College Program at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, entitled “The College is Called Liberal” and another by President Decatur.
But the speeches will be brief, according to Finke. “We told them 15 minutes, maybe even less,” she said.
Considering the sheer number of moving parts involved in organizing and executing a presidential inauguration, Finke is just one of a number of College administrators dedicated to ensuring Decatur’s smooth transition into Ransom Hall. Another key player is Pamela Faust, executive assistant to the president and provost. Her position is often called the ceremony officer at other colleges.
“All the things with funny outfits I take care of,” Faust said. “So I pay attention both to tradition and protocol, but then also trying to make sure that all of our ceremonies remain relevant and it’s not just ﾑThis looks pretty. Why are we here?'”
New banners and flags are one way the College has tried to freshen up a ceremony that has not been held since former President Nugent’s inauguration in 2003.
“All of our procession banners have gotten old. The flag years ago had been stolen. So we have a new flag. Those sorts of things come out of what we call the repair and replace [budget],” Faust said. “Without going overboard we want to put our best foot forward and things like the banners and the flag bearer robes will be things we use for the next 30 to 40 years.”
An All Campus Party
For many students, the most appealing event of the President Decatur’s inaugural weekend is the gala, an all campus celebration to be held in Peirce Hall on Saturday evening.
The guest of honor had just one request: Revolution Pie.
“The only thing he asked for was a Beatles cover band,” said Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Laurie Finke. “So he us gave the name of [Revolution Pie] and I talked to their lead member because one of the things we wanted to do was to have the Ballroom Dance Club do some numbers during [their performance].”
The College has designed the event to attract students, according to Finke.
“We’re going to have really good food,” she said. “Things like sliders and quesadillas and all kinds of stuff. There’ll be beer wine and soft drinks and they’re making some fancy non-alcoholic drinks. So it should be a good party.”
The schedule of events for the inaugural weekend posted on Kenyon’s website reads “wear your jeans,” suggesting the event may not be as formal as its name suggests.
“This is a kind of let-down-your-hair party rather than a formal party,” Finke said. “The idea is, okay we’re done now we can celebrate being done.”
Olivia Sabik ’14, who has worked with Pamela Faust on organizing the weekend’s events, is enthusiastic about students attending the gala.
“The gala on Saturday night is going to be really cool and there’s going to be really good food and if you’re 21 you can bring your ID and there’s going to be alcohol,” she said. “So they really tried to make it as exciting and interesting and as inclusive as possible for the students.”
Matthew Eley ’15, an assistant to Decatur and a Collegian opinions contributor, also encourages students to attend the gala.
“I know that there are some parties that intend to be going on Saturday night, but really, you need to go to the inauguration, you need to go to the gala afterwards, because you’re going to have the great chance to meet the trustees, delegates from other colleges and witness a lot of Kenyon traditions,” he said.
Though some will undoubtedly attend the gala to witness a grand event in the College’s history, many students of age will be drawn to Peirce by the free alcohol that will be served.
“I wanted students to feel included,” Finke said. “I didn’t want students to feel like we were having a kids table or something. I feel bad about the students who aren’t of age, but we have to enforce the law.”