More than 16 months after he officially took office, Christopher F. Roellke, Ph.D., has been inaugurated as the 10th president of Stetson University.
A presidential inauguration, delayed all those months by the COVID-19 pandemic, was finally held Nov. 6 in the Edmunds Center on campus.
A few hundred people gathered for his inauguration, and many more watched via livestream. An outpouring of faculty, students, alumni, family, friends, colleagues and others offered their congratulations and well-wishes onstage and on video recordings sent in from around the country and as far away as Brussels, Belgium.
The Stetson School of Music’s Concert Choir and Symphonic Band provided beautiful music. Roellke’s wife, Kim, and daughters Emma, Julia and Liv offered loving words and shared funny stories about him. Other family members were in attendance, including his soon-to-be-91-year-old mother, Elizabeth.
Master of ceremonies Yvonne Chang, MBA ’09 and a member of Stetson’s board of trustees, performed the investiture ceremony, officially installing Roellke as president and bestowing on him the official symbols and authority of the position. These included a copy of the university charter and a new Presidential Chain of Office bearing the names of the presidents in the school’s 138-year history.
President Emerita Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., announced her retirement in February 2019. The board of trustees announced the following October that Roellke, then dean of the college emeritus and professor of education at Vassar College, would become Stetson’s 10th president.
But in a matter of months, the world was engulfed in a global pandemic.
By mid-February 2020, Stetson leaders were consumed with emergency meetings and planning for the challenges of COVID-19, recalled Libby.
“Dr. Roellke could have stayed away, relaxed and revitalized himself for the job he would inherit on July 1. But instead, he threw himself 100 percent into Stetson’s planning, bringing his experience and intelligence to our work,” Libby said. “That’s when I knew his commitment to our university was all-in.”
In his inaugural address, Roellke acknowledged the challenging times facing the university, higher education, and the world. But he predicted Stetson would come out not just OK, but “more than OK.”
“With our collective efforts, we will make our form of extraordinary education accessible to really smart, really engaging young people,” he said. “We will broaden and deepen Stetson’s personalized, experiential and intellectually vibrant education for our students coming to us from a wide range of social, ethnic, geographic and economic backgrounds.
“… Let me be clear. Today is not about me. It is not about any individual,” he said. “Today is about Stetson University. Today is about teaching and learning. Today is about celebrating Hatter Nation.”