Section: News

Julie Kornfeld formally installed as Kenyon’s 20th president

Julie Kornfeld formally installed as Kenyon’s 20th president

Kornfeld was formally inaugurated on Saturday. | COURTESY OF JAMES DECAMP

On Saturday, President Julie Kornfeld was formally installed as Kenyon’s 20th president and second female president. Over the weekend of her inauguration, which took place on the Toan Track in the Lowry Center, Kenyon College celebrated several events, most notably the historic illumination of Old Kenyon (Old K) and an all-campus dance party on Saturday evening. 

The events of the inauguration weekend were spearheaded by the Inauguration Planning Committee, which met for the first time in September 2023. The Committee focused on three main events across inauguration weekend: the illumination of Old Kenyon, the official Installation Ceremony and the all-campus dance party. According to Director of Campus Events and Vice Chair of the Inauguration Planning Committee Howard Grier, these three events — referred to as the “Big 3” — were “unquestioned musts.” 

Friday evening: 

The historic illumination of Old Kenyon, a tradition that occurs only when a new president is inaugurated, took place on Friday at 10 p.m. Though the illumination originally took the form of candles in each window of Old K, the College opted for a more fire-safe style by contracting a company that projected a light show onto the front of Old K. 

Thirty minutes before the illumination, an a cappella cabaret kicked off the event, featuring all 10 of Kenyon’s a cappella groups. In closing, all the groups came together to sing “Philander Chase” — with students in the crowd singing along to the lyrics. The enthusiasm in the crowd rose as people cheered and counted along with the countdown to the official illumination. 

The illumination showcased a video of Kenyon created specifically for the Bicentennial with archival narration from Paul Newman ’49. Afterward, the faces of each former president, from Philander Chase to Sean Decatur, were projected onto the sides of the building, with Kornfeld appearing last. As each president’s face was shown, the bell in the steeple of Old K rang, another historic Kenyon tradition. 

“It was great to see the community come together, and see our presidents, learn more about the history of the College through that, [and] seeing the faces to the names of the buildings like Caples [Hall],” Derek Dean ’25 said in an interview with the Collegian

At the conclusion of the illumination, letters were projected onto each window in Old K, welcoming Kornfeld and her husband Fred Silverman to the College. 

The one downside of the event, according to both Grier and Klesner, were the heavy winds on the night of the illumination of Old K. “As is typical of spring in Ohio, the weather was both unpredictable and erratic,” Grier said. “The heavy wind during the acappella cabaret was disappointing, but I was very pleased with how everything went on the whole.” 

Saturday morning: 

Though the weather was poor on Friday evening, the sun was shining on Saturday morning when the formal installation ceremony was held. Students, faculty and staff alike flocked down to the Toan Track in the Lowry Center, along with delegates from Columbia University — where Kornfeld previously served as vice provost for academic programs and vice dean for education at the Mailman School of Public Health — and several other colleges. The ceremony began with the academic procession, including students who were recognized at Honors Day, members of the Board of Trustees and senior faculty members. As the procession began, Kenyon’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE) played “The Earle of Oxford’s March.” 

Chair of the Board Aileen C. Hefferren ’88 H’12 welcomed the attendees before introducing Wafaa El-Sadr, who gave the address to Kornfeld. El-Sadr, the founder and director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Program and professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, has worked closely with Kornfeld over their shared time at Columbia. Throughout her speech, El-Sadr reflected on her past professional relationship with Kornfeld, highlighting the qualities that have equipped Kornfeld to serve as Kenyon’s president. 

“Julie approaches everything like a beautiful dance,” El-Sadr said, after mentioning that she read an interview in which Kornfeld described her hidden talent as dancing. “Like a good dancer, Julie brings together skill and training, combined with intelligence and sensitivity. Above all, Julie brings an infectious spirit to everything she does and everyone she touches — her students, her colleagues, her staff, her friends and family, to everything.” 

Following El-Sadr’s address, a series of speakers gave greetings from Kenyon and the surrounding communities to Kornfeld. Matthew Starr, the mayor of Mount Vernon, spoke about his past experiences and the privilege of working with prior presidents, and the value of the connection between Mount Vernon and Kenyon College. Following Starr, member of the Board Densil R. Porteous II ’02 and co-Chair of the Kenyon Parents Council Nicole R. Selden P’25 welcomed Kornfeld as well. The greetings finished with three student speakers — Khue Tran ’25, Jaden Stewart ’25 and Marissa Sun ’25 — and an address from Associate Professor of English Pashmina Murthy. 

“The talks and welcome talks were very, very much on target,” Joseph Klesner, chair of the Inauguration Planning Committee, professor of Political Science and International Studies and Director for the Center of the Study of American Democracy said in an interview with the Collegian. “The student welcome talks, I think, were especially appreciated by President Kornfeld, but also by the larger audience.” 

Provost Jeff Bowman and President Emerita S. Georgia Nugent H’13 presented Kornfeld with the Presidential Medallion, while Professor of Physics Paula Turner presented Kornfeld with the College Mace. Afterward, Kornfeld gave her inaugural address, which focused on the value of a liberal arts education in today’s society and on the importance of showing up as part of a community. 

“To all of you here — I’ve seen the transformative power of a liberal arts education up close with my three children, and I am deeply honored to champion this education as Kenyon’s 20th president,” Kornfeld said. “Stepping into a presidency is an awesome responsibility at any time, but it feels especially daunting at this moment.” 

She discussed various factors contributing to the difficulty of liberal arts education, such as the pandemic, increasing interference with curricula from state legislatures and tense political relations on campuses. Kornfeld emphasized that the work as a college president remains even more important in the face of these difficulties. 

“We must rise to the occasion that these times demand of us. There is no better corrective to this dangerous insularity than our liberal arts education,” Kornfeld said. “In fact, a Kenyon liberal arts education.” 

The root of this corrective action, Kornfeld said, lies in cultivating a community in which people show up for each other. “This moment demands that we show up for one another, and it demands that Kenyon show up for the world,” she said. “It can be hard to believe in the positive right now, but here today with all of you, my co-collaborators, I am filled with clear-eyed optimism. I see the promise of our future, the dedication we all hold to building it together.” 

For several attendees, Kornfeld’s address was the highlight of the ceremony. “The whole concept about how important it is for us all to show up, show up for each other, was a really important piece,” Klesner said. “I was looking to hear some kind of a message like that, and she gave one.” 

“I was impressed — particularly with her stance about being open to changing your mindset about long-held beliefs if evidence supporting the contrary presents itself,” Tara Cerny ’24 wrote in a message to the Collegian. “As a fellow scientist, I find this viewpoint very encouraging.” 

After Kornfeld’s address, the Kenyon College Chamber Singers performed “The Thrill.” Their performance was followed by Director of Hillel and co-Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Marc Bragin, who gave the benediction and blessed Kornfeld in both Hebrew and English. The recessional, alongside a performance from SWE, formally closed the ceremony. 

Saturday evening: 

Later that evening, the final event of the inauguration weekend — the all-campus dance party — was held in Peirce Dining Hall. With purple decorations on both Old Side and New Side, half the dining hall transformed into a dance floor while the other half had free food and drinks for attendees 21 and older. Students and faculty alike celebrated the weekend’s events, chatted with Kornfeld and had the opportunity to witness her skill on the dance floor. 

According to Klesner, the event was very well attended, with crowds lasting all the way until the event closed. Grier also praised the turnout at the event, highlighting how it brought Kenyon’s past, present and future together. “We intermingled students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community at most of the events,” he said. “I think it all blended beautifully.” 

As the inauguration weekend coincided with Kenyon’s bicentennial, several events also played into Bicentennial Spirit Week, which focused on alumni donations and various bicentennial-related events across campus. The week also featured the launch of David Lynn’s book on the bicentennial, titled Place and Purpose: Kenyon at 200

Apart from the bicentennial-related celebrations, the week leading up to the formal installation ceremony also had events, ranging from a Q&A session with President Emerita S. Georgia Nugent to a Day of Service with volunteer opportunities across Gambier. In total, over 30 events — from lectures to service projects — were held across the week. 

Both Grier and Klesner emphasized the importance of community, and applauded students who attended anywhere from one to all of the events. “President Kornfeld felt strongly that all of the inauguration events were for and about the campus, not her,” Grier said. “It was great to see how much of the campus turned out for things.” 

Klesner agreed. “It really gave the sense that we’re a community coming together to celebrate this leadership transition, and people were doing it with a real positive sense and a welcoming sense, both of which are important to the situation.”


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