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