ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca College celebrated the inauguration of La Jerne Terry Cornish as its 10th president on Saturday, Oct. 1, with festivities including the Ithaca College Chorus, a dance troupe and even an a Capella flash mob.

In attendance were former Ithaca College presidents Peggy Ryan Williams and Tom Rochon, who departed from the college in 2008 and stepped down in September 2017, respectively. Former President Shirley M. Collado, who stepped down in July 2021 for a position at CollegeTrack, was not in attendance.

Cornish, who has held the interim president position since August 2021, began her tenure at the college as the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, after previously serving as associate provost at Goucher College in Baltimore.

Celebrations began with a processional of the Ithaca College Jazz Ensemble, the Ithaca College Brass Choir and an African Drumming and Dance Ensemble, faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members followed by performances from the Ithaca College Chorus and Choir, Concert Band and Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers.

Cornell University President Martha Pollack welcomed Cornish into the circle of college presidents in Tompkins County, sharing her favorite piece of leadership advice with a laugh: “In the sage words of Hopper, the grasshopper from A Bug’s Life, […] the first rule of leadership: Everything is your fault.”

Students from the Park School of Communications presented Cornish with a video made in her hometown with supportive messages from friends and family before Cornish’s brother and son both made speeches in support of the presidential role (though these were interrupted by an a Capella flash mob).

In her inaguration address, Cornish thanked her colleagues from Goucher College and Ithaca College as well as the campus community. “As the 10th president of this institution, I am committed to building on the work of my predecessors by continuing to create an accessible, transformative educational experience. Doing so will require that we stay true to the values that have sustained this institution for 130 years.”

Those values, laid out in the Ithaca Forever strategic plan, include academic excellence, respect and accountability, trust, innovation and sustainability.

“We have the opportunity to create an exceptional future and we cannot let it pass us by. Inscribed on the Ithaca College seal are the words ‘commitment to excellence.’ Let us commit this day as going forward as one community, one family, one Ithaca, together,” Cornish said in her closing address.

Cornish did not address the controversy that surrounded her predecessor’s departure, which came last summer after the college had to make certain severe financial decisions that included cutting some faculty and staff positions, or intentionally leaving others unfilled to save money.

Ending the day’s installation ceremony of the 10th president of the college, Board of Trustees Chair David Lissy expressed the board’s enthusiasm and confidence in Cornish’s ability to lead the institution, officially naming her the 10th president of Ithaca College.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...