The October 28 inauguration of Amherst’s 20th president, Michael A. Elliott ’92, featured fall colors, an edible tour of the U.S., and an address that explored the obligations and opportunities that come with love—whether of a person, a college or a country. Here’s what every alum should know about the day.
Three past presidents were there.
About 1,600 students, faculty, staff, alumni, guests and local community members gathered in front of the War Memorial on the Main Quad for the ceremony installing Elliott as president. Three of his predecessors—presidents Tom Gerety (1994–2003), Anthony W. Marx (2003–2011) and Biddy Martin (2011–2022)—sat side by side in regalia on the inauguration stage, as did three former chairs of the board: Chuck Longsworth ’51, Jide Zeitlin ’85 and Cullen Murphy ’74. President Peter Pouncey (1984–1994) was unable to attend but sent his good wishes.
Elliott talked about what it really means to love a place.
One obligation alumni have to Amherst is to reconcile memories, nostalgia and love with how the College was shaped by the past, Elliott said. That can involve facing difficult truths, such as Amherst’s own role in perpetuating institutional racism. This is where a liberal arts education—specifically, its quest for truth via rigorous evaluation of evidence and origins in ethical reasoning—comes in. “One of the great misunderstandings of our time,” Elliott said, “is the mistaken belief that this kind of scrutiny, this effort to examine critically what we have inherited from our forebears, is incompatible with love of place, whether that place is a nation or that place is a college.”
Elliott spoke directly to students.
He concluded his address by addressing the students who’d gathered on the Quad. “This place is yours now,” he said. “You must believe in your fellow students and be willing to risk friendship and fellowship with them. But most of all, you must have a belief in your own potential to learn, to grow, to make mistakes, to take chances, to be vulnerable and, ultimately, to contribute to the common good.”
Speakers came from across the community.
Board chair Andrew Nussbaum ’85 presided. The Rev. Phillip Jackson ’85, the 19th rector of Trinity Church Wall Street, gave the invocation. Several others spoke: Lisa Brooks, the Henry S. Poler ’59 Presidential Teaching Professor of English and American Studies; Katherine Chia ’88, president of the Society of the Alumni; Sirus Wheaton ’23, the student government president; Dale Hendricks, director of admission and financial aid systems and strategies; Gregory Call, the Peter R. Pouncey Professor of Mathematics; and Carla Freeman, a colleague of Elliott’s from Emory University, where he was previously dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She presented him with a mammoth lapel pin (as shown in this photo).
The Quad looked spectacular.
The setting sun cast a warm glow over the proceedings, which ended in a spirited reception outside at dusk. It featured a casual menu representing Elliott’s journey from Tucson, Ariz., where he grew up; to Atlanta, where he spent his career up until now, at Emory; to New England. (Yes, there was chicken and waffles and peach cobbler.)
Photograph by Maria Stenzel