Welcomed with open arms, Xavier University inaugurated its sixth president, Dr. C. Reynold Verret on Feb. 26 2016. The university marked the event with a university chorus, jazz band, and dignitaries from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to the Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Paul G. Altidor. An audience of roughly 1,000 guests that included alumni, city business leaders, university supporters, students and faculty who were dressed in regalia watched as Verret entered the university’s Convocation Center dressed in the regalia of his Ph.D. institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After over an hour of well wishes, greeting and an official handing over of the guard, Verret flipped open a black and gold decorated umbrella, and flanked by a second line band, danced his way out of the Convocation Center, this time wearing the gold, with black trim, of Xavier’s presidential regalia.
The event was one to surround the new president with support as he steps into the shoes of the longest serving college president in U.S. history. Coming off the record setting tenure of now president emeritus Dr. Norman C. Francis, the inauguration of Dr. Verret was the first time the ceremony was held in 47 years. Francis himself joined Verret and other dignitaries on the podium as students and staff welcomed Verret in several languages. The ceremony, as Landrieu said in his remarks, demonstrated to Verret that the wider community was rooting for his success.
“We can’t have a great city without a great university,” Landrieu said. “We can’t have a great university without great leadership, and no great leadership comes without a great community. In other words, we’re all in this together,” he said.
Verret came to Xavier during the summer of 2015 after a nationwide search for Francis’ replacement. Verret was the chief academic officer at Savannah State University in Georgia before arriving at Xavier, along with having 20 years of administrative and teaching positions as prior experience. His time at institutions such as Tulane University and Morehouse University’s School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as his career as a biochemist, gave Xavier the confidence they needed when picking a new university president.
But speakers at his inauguration said it was his humility and faith that also made him a perfect fit for Xavier, whose mission statement is to create a more just and humane society. When Verret was young, he emigrated from Haiti to Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 8, a major change in his life where he developed his love for science. With his strong faith and love for science, speakers at the event described Verret as a unique man. Verret told the audience that “Faith hasn’t contained my life, it’s sustained it.”
Verret also told the crowd that he believed the future of the university was bright. For many at the university, this was the first inaugural event they had witnessed. He urged those in attendance to continue the university’s journey with him, saying “Our tomorrow is only ours to grasp.”
His accomplishment in becoming Xavier’s new president, he told the audience, was truly divine, and he was grateful for the legacy that came before him. He praised Francis as being the ultimate Xavier graduate, and the ultimate servant leader. “Xavier was founded as a gift to the future,” Verret said. “And our calling is to take this gift into the future, and give it out to the world once again,” he said.
Historically black universities across the country, as well as universities in Louisiana wished the new president well in his bid to keep the reputation of the university strong. “Xavier, you have chosen an honorable and capable leader,” said Tina Holland, the president of Our Lady of the Lake College in Baton Rouge. “As our state faces certain challenges, we as leaders in Louisiana higher education will need to follow the example Dr. Verret has shown, of what it means to be truly human,” Holland said.