University’s 19th president sees education as vital to democracy

Professor of Kinesiology Paul Alvarez presents President Pardis Mahdavi with the University of La Verne mace during her inauguration Oct. 13th in the Athletics Pavilion. As a symbol of authority, the mace has been employed in ceremonial processions as a bestowing of leadership. / photo by Amanda Torres
Professor of Kinesiology Paul Alvarez presents President Pardis Mahdavi with the University of La Verne mace during her inauguration Oct. 13th in the Athletics Pavilion. As a symbol of authority, the mace has been employed in ceremonial processions as a bestowing of leadership. / photo by Amanda Torres

Sheridan Lambrook
Staff Writer

In a momentous event filled with hope and anticipation, the University of La Verne inaugurated its 19th President Pardis Mahdavi on Oct. 13.

Pardis Mahdavi acknowledges the crowd after being sworn in as the University of La Verne’s 19th president by Lisa Rogan, assistant presiding judge for the San Bernardino Justice Center and La Verne alumna. The crowd erupted into applause after Mahdavi finished her oath. / photo by Amanda Torres
Pardis Mahdavi acknowledges the crowd after being sworn in as the University of La Verne’s 19th president by Lisa Rogan, assistant presiding judge for the San Bernardino Justice Center and La Verne alumna. The crowd erupted into applause after Mahdavi finished her oath. / photo by Amanda Torres

The Athletic Pavilion was illuminated with orange and green lights, as the stage was pathed in orange flowers. 

Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni and distinguished guests gathered for the momentous event, which was marked by a sense of unity and excitement.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Anthony Revier opened the ceremony by highlighting the qualities the University sought in a president and found in Mahdavi, whose values and purpose match the University’s. 

“Your leadership promises a bright future for our University going forward,” Revier told Mahdavi.

Mahdavi expressed her gratitude and enthusiasm for the opportunity to lead the University, and her understanding of the challenges that lie ahead. 

Her inaugural address was titled “The Bridge Called.”

“This is the bridge that called,” she said and explained that she sees the University as a bridge from higher education to the real world. She talked about her “hyphenated” Iranian-American life also as a bridge. She never felt that she belonged on one side of the hyphen, until she began to see it as a bridge.

President Pardis Mahdavi delivers her inauguration speech Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. She discussed her life and career path by using the metaphor of bridges. / photo by Amanda Torres
President Pardis Mahdavi delivers her inauguration speech Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. She discussed her life and career path by using the metaphor of bridges. / photo by Amanda Torres

“A bridge is a place of its own…I could employ the quiet power of the space between. I – like many of you – am a bridge”

She did not always see things this way. Mahdavi took the audience on her journey, not just of her education but life. She talked about the islands of her life and the places she lived.  

She lived in Minnesota as a young child and said she called it “Soda Pop Island.” She described the experience of having people look uncomfortable with her name, and she felt she had to apologize for her name. It was the 1980s, during the era of the Iran-Contra affair, and she and her family experienced racism in the Midwest.

They moved to California when she was 6, and on the way, she remembers what her dad told her:

“People can take everything away from you” he told her, “(But) one thing no one can ever take from you is your education,” Mahdavi recalled in her talk. 

She discovered new values: lifelong learning, for one.

When she attended Occidental College, she experienced people from different places, who looked different and who spoke many different languages, she began to consider the notion of bridging the space in between.

President Pardis Mahdavi expresses gratitude for sage tender Jose Bear Gallegos before her inauguration Oct. 13 outside the Abraham Campus Center. / photo by Amanda Torres
President Pardis Mahdavi expresses gratitude for sage tender Jose Bear Gallegos before her inauguration Oct. 13 outside the Abraham Campus Center. / photo by Amanda Torres

Her major in diplomacy seemed like a bridge, she said. Then she moved to New York to attend graduate school at Columbia.

“I wanted to make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange,” Mahdavi said. She earned her Ph.D. in anthropology at Columbia.

“Being an in-betweener is strength,”  she said she learned.  “I was finally able to take strength from being on the bridge and turn that into becoming a bridge.”

Before coming to La Verne, she held faculty and administrative positions at Pomona College, the University of Montana, Arizona State, and the University of Denver. 

Mahdavi said she believes that the sharp decline in the number of young people starting college today is a crisis – and a threat to democracy. 

So when La Verne “called,” she said she saw this presidency as a bridge that could help this generation – the future. 

Her speech was powerful and also fun, with snippets of songs interspersed. 

“As your president I say we are home, because we have all answered the call on this bridge together.”

President Pardis Mahdavi speaks to the many students, staff, community members, friends, and family in the Athletics Pavilion on Oct. 13 for her inauguration. Mahdavi is the 19th president of the University since its founding in 1891. / photo by Amanda Torres
President Pardis Mahdavi speaks to the many students, staff, community members, friends, and family in the Athletics Pavilion on Oct. 13 for her inauguration. Mahdavi is the 19th president of the University since its founding in 1891. / photo by Amanda Torres

Sage Tenders of the indigenous community, Mari-Elena Cardena and Jose Bear Gallegos, led a prayer giving back to the land where the University sits and blessings for Mahdavi. Followed was a traditional celebratory drum performance by Wolf Creek Pass. The University Choir also sang “Stand in the Light.” 

The inauguration ceremony also featured  dance performances by The Versa Style Legacy dance group performing “Legacy,” and “Take it Back,” dances inspired by songs from the early 2000s. 

The event also featured prominent guests from the academic world and beyond who knew and worked with Mahdavi. They included Jad Abumrad, former producer and co-host of the public radio show “RadioLab;” Anthony Tirado Chase, professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College; Elizabeth Chin, professor and editor-in-chief of the American Anthropologist; and Mariko Silver, president and CEO of the Henry Luce Foundation. All emphasized the pivotal role of universities in today’s society and how Mahdavi’s experience is right for the University and the challenges of today.  

Other speakers included University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner, who gave a blessing; La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn; Interim Provost Roy Kwon, Alumni Board President Stephanie Hancock, ASULV President Isela Chavez, and Victoria Aleman, administrative professional employee committee chair.

Junior Julia Thomas showed support on behalf of the volleyball team and ASULV.

“It was important to be here today as this is the second woman president,” Thomas said. “This is very important to our community.”

A reception followed the ceremony. 

Sheridan Lambrook can be reached at sheridan.lambrook@laverne.edu.

Board of Trustees Chair Anthony Revier welcomes the audience to the inauguration of Pardis Mahdavi as the 19th president of the University of La Verne on Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Revier earned his MBA from La Verne in 1993. / photo by Amanda Torres
Board of Trustees Chair Anthony Revier welcomes the audience to the inauguration of Pardis Mahdavi as the 19th president of the University of La Verne on Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Revier earned his MBA from La Verne in 1993. / photo by Amanda Torres
President Pardis Mahdavi poses for a selfie with her daughter, Tara, before the start of her inauguration Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Mahdavi was also accompanied by her two sons, Shayan and Raami. / photo by Amanda Torres
President Pardis Mahdavi poses for a selfie with her daughter, Tara, before the start of her inauguration Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Mahdavi was also accompanied by her two sons, Shayan and Raami. / photo by Amanda Torres
The Versa-Style Legacy dance group busts some moves in a performance during the inauguration of President Pardis Mahavi inauguration Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Versa-Style Dance Company focuses on serving underprivileged and marginalized communities worldwide through unique hip-hop performances, promoting diversity, inclusion and equity on stage. / photo by Amanda Torres
The Versa-Style Legacy dance group busts some moves in a performance during the inauguration of President Pardis Mahavi Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Versa-Style Dance Company focuses on serving underprivileged and marginalized communities worldwide through unique hip-hop performances, promoting diversity, inclusion and equity on stage. / photo by Amanda Torres
President Pardis Mahdavi thanks Anthony Revier, Board of Trustees chair, for his opening words Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Mahdavi was inaugurated as the University's 19th president before the start of Homecoming weekend. / photo by Amanda Torres
President Pardis Mahdavi thanks Anthony Revier, Board of Trustees chair, for his opening words Oct. 13 in the Athletics Pavilion. Mahdavi was inaugurated as the University’s 19th president before the start of Homecoming weekend. / photo by Amanda Torres

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