26th president makes history as first woman, person of color to be president in LC’s 155 year history
On Oct. 21, President Robin Holmes-Sullivan was officially inaugurated as the president of Lewis & Clark in the Pamplin Sports Center. The ceremony was followed by a reception on the undergraduate campus. This inauguration marks a historic moment in LC’s history, as Holmes-Sullivan is the first woman, person of color and openly queer person to serve as the school’s president.
On Jan. 26th, the Board of Trustees announced that Holmes-Sullivan would be the next president of LC. Holmes-Sullivan officially began her presidency in June after serving as vice president for three years.
The former vice president has already done an immense amount of work for the benefit of the school and its students. She spearheaded the COVID-19 pandemic and worked to make the campus fully remote.
Holmes-Sullivan has already had to deal with difficult circumstances this year following the death of a student on campus as well as the graffiti incident during Indigenous People’s Day. Following both of these significant events, the president sent out multiple statements to deal with the aftermath and encouraged students to seek out the resources they might need.
The inauguration began with students from countries outside of the U.S. holding a flag that represented their heritage. They filed into the building followed by faculty in their academic robes and what was referred to as the platform party. This included Holmes-Sullivan herself as well as the speakers.
The speakers included Board of Trustees Chair Stephanie Fowler, Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life Hillary Martin Human, Cultural Resources Department Manager David Harrelson, Master of Ceremonies and Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Media Studies Kundai Chrindio, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Dean of University of Washington’s College of Education Mia Tuan, President of DePauw University Lori S. White and Asia Wooten ’20.
“Your inauguration, like all inaugurations on this campus, symbolizes progress despite adversity, as John R. Howard wants to propose. That’s the central theme of the Lewis & Clark story: progress despite adversity. The fact that you are out first for us and have so many ways breathes life into that story, the past and promising future that lies ahead.” Chrindio said.
During the COVID -19 pandemic, Holmes-Sullivan was the vice-president during a transformative time in higher education.
“There are no small parts in the drama that’s unfolding all around us. With the climate crisis, political and social and racial reckoning with Robin, we have a steady hand — a proven leader of compassion and understanding strengthened humanity that the times that maybe we have the right leader for the moment. We’re fortunate that she’s taking the helm of Lewis and Clark College” Blumenauer said.
The rest of the speakers were two close colleagues ofHolmes-Sullivan during her time at Portland State University and one was an alumni of LC that has beenHolmes-Sullivan’s mentee since she was a girl. Tuan reflected on her experience ofHolmes-Sullivan being a role model for women of color in the workplace.
“I want you to know that your president is a role model, not just to me, but for many who have stepped into academic leadership. She has broken barrier after barrier and amassed a string of successes throughout her career. But the most important to me, she’s remained the Robin that I know is still open hearted, and an optimistic champion for the power of education to transform lives.” Tuan said.
Another colleague of Holmes-Sullivan is White is very aware of how Robin’s background as a psychologist and a student affairs vice president makes her more than prepared for the challenges of leading a liberal arts college in the 21st century.
“Talking round and round about complicated problems, Robin would listen carefully to what each of us said, make sure everyone had the chance to provide your perspective and then would offer clear, well-articulated profound solutions the rest of us had not yet considered.” White said.
Wooten was the final speaker, Holmes-Sullivan has been a mentor of Wooten since Wooten’s mom approached Holmes-Sullivan and asked her to be Wooten’s mentor.
“After providing me with an incredible amount of advice on how to navigate the academic and professional world as a minority, I felt so empowered about sharing my academic and life goals with Dr. Holmes.” Wooten said. “I also enjoyed how seamlessly we were able to transition into talking about everyday aspects of life, like our hair. She was just the mentor I needed when I found it was nearly impossible to find someone who looked like me and someone I could truly identify with … As I walked past her office every day on the way to class, I felt so relieved to have someone who I consider family right here on campus with me, someone who was willing to take the time to catch up with me at any point in time and look out for me.”
The ceremony consisted of powerful musical performances by student-run groups. The main event of the inauguration was the bestowing of a medallion representing the presidency. This was followed by a speech by Holmes-Sullivan who began with thanking every person individually for speaking, and how grateful she was to the people that helped her get to this moment.
The new president explained what it meant for her to be a Black female athlete growing up, and recognized the important people in her life that got her to where she is today. She also discussed her future plans in addition to the immense work she has already performed for the school.
Holmes-Sullivan had a recurring theme within her powerful speech of being able to find and use one’s voice to advocate for themselves. She discussed how she wishes to amplify students’ voices and help them locate the voice they may not know they have.
“You’re about to hear some different voices, stories from people right here at Lewis and Clark, who set the tone for the kind of institution we can be with, the kind of community for the kind of country we must become.” Holmes-Sullivan said.
Holmes-Sullivan closed out her speech with a focus on LC and the people and the community that this institution has. She placed emphasis on the importance of higher education and creating diversity through dialogues and community discussion.
“We will fully educate our students creating a sense of belonging that is the antidote to disconnection and divisiveness, teaching them how to foster differences without shutting down or becoming locked in rigid thinking.” Holmes-Sullivan said. “In the coming months, years, you will be reading and hearing more about the excellence that exists at Lewis and Clark. It is among my top priorities that we sustain and grow our local, regional and national reputation across all three campuses.”
Following the beautiful ceremony, a reception was held on the Academic Quadrangle Lawn featuring live music, several food options and drink options, including alcohol for those 21+. There was an ambiance that invited people to mingle and discuss the future with Holmes-Sullivan as the president.
“I really liked the inauguration, I thought that the speeches were all really heartwarming and exciting and I liked that I got to learn more about Robin.” Cicely Bergsma ’24 said.
During the reception, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies, Freddy Vilches and his band Matices Latin Ensemble played a unique blend of traditional and contemporary music combining a variety of elements from Brazilian Bossa Nova, Cuban, and Latin music. Holmes-Suvillan talked about Vilches in her speech and his work in composing music that centers around indigenous voices and instruments. She mentioned that he has traveled throughout North and South America to restore these languages, melodies and rhythms dismissed and historically marginalized, to the musical canon.
After the music ended, the reception included a heartfelt speech by Holmes-Sullivan’s wife Kathy and her sons and her daughter-in-law.
“I can’t wait to see and be part of what she, together with the Lewis & Clark community, accomplishes during her presidency here.” Kathy Holmes-Sullivan said.
At the reception, several people had a lot to say about the inauguration and their excitement regarding Holmes-Sullivan’s presidency.
“I loved seeing Robin’s friends talk about her experiences working with her, and I was able to get to know her more through that lens. It makes me really excited for the future of the school” said Maggie Martin ’25.
Dr. Lisa Collins, who is the head of the graduate school of education and counseling, thought that it was really great that Holmes-Sullivan centered her family, and personal relationships in her inauguration.
“I really enjoyed hearing personal stories about Robin, I feel like I got to know her better and I was very moved by her mentorship story and I am really excited for her to be our president,” said Kate Milne ’24.
As seen, many enjoyed how personal Holmes-Sullivan’s speech felt as well as the ceremony as a whole. The excitement for Holmes-Sullivan’s presidency is evident as we enter this new chapter with her at the forefront.
“It really felt personal to her, she had a lot of personal stories about her inspiration and the people that influenced her,” said Amy Miller ’80 on the BoT. “We (BoT) are just so excited to have her be the new president.