Planning the presidential installation

Sam Patterson, Campus Life Reporter

The time has come to officially welcome Whitman College’s new president. On Friday, April 28 at 5:00 pm, Sarah Bolton will formally start her tenure through the customary presidential installation. The event will span over Friday and Saturday, including a wide range of speakers and activities. 

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Steven Setchell provided a broad overview of the installation’s activities.

The Friday 5:00 installation ceremony will feature President Bolton’s address, an academic processional, student music and remarks of community members and distinguished guests,” Setchell said. “Saturday’s events will begin with a panel of thought-leaders on the future of higher education, including former Kenyon College President and new President of the American Museum of Natural History, Sean Decatur.”

The event will then continue with events aimed at bringing students together to celebrate the installation of a new president.

“We’ll also hear from students and faculty about their research, enjoy a picnic with live music on what looks to be a beautiful day and then continue with athletics and music events culminating with a student-planned Bolton Bash Saturday evening,” Setchell said.

With such a large ceremony and itinerary, the extensive preparation needed to successfully run these types of events isn’t always recognized. Vice President for Communications Gina Ohnstad spoke to the tremendous organization that goes into the installation. 

“Logistically, I would compare it to preparing for commencement. There are a lot of moving parts and pieces, and it takes a lot of communication between different departments on campus to pull all the details together,” Ohnstad said.

This organization includes many campus departments working together to ensure the event goes as smoothly as possible.

“Steve Setchell and I have been working closely with Associate Director of Presidential Events Lauren Riker since the fall to plan the multi-day event,” Ohnstad said. “Departments across campus have been instrumental in the planning process as well – Conferences and Events, the Provost Office, the Music Department, the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Communications, the Office of the President, Technology Services, Bon Appetit, Development and Alumni Relations to name a few.”

Catering Manager for Bon Appetit Brenna Frisbie discussed the catering company’s rigorous preparatory steps for the event.

Once we have the guest count, dietary restriction and table setting, I create the whole map of each table,” Frisbie said. “We are ordering all the tables, chairs, linens, place settings (plates, silverware, glassware and napkins) and having Bratton Tennis Center turned into this grand dining experience. We will have a bar, passed appetizers to start the event and then will go into a three-course plated dinner. I will also be doing all the flower arrangements for the dinner, as well.”

Preparation for an event of this size involves both students and staff switching up their typical working routines and adjusting to different roles.

“[We are having] meetings with staff to ensure that everyone knows their tables and who has what dietary needs.  [We are also] organizing all the items we need to bring to the event and ensure they are all in the correct place,” Frisbie said. “We have about 14 employees to pull off the front of the house duties with some of those being student workers. We have had meetings about [the] installation since January [or] February.”

Ohnstad continued, reinforcing how the planning process began months ago and how a strong sense of direction was quickly established for the event.

“In the fall, we started out by setting goals for the event and then putting together a dedicated team to execute the plan,” Ohnstad said. “We knew we wanted to celebrate President Bolton and her vision for the college’s future, highlight Whitman’s strong academics and impressive students, faculty and staff, strengthen community and connection and nurture local and regional relationships. We looked to plan events that help us accomplish these goals.”

With such a large, collaborative effort and ample dedication by the Whitman community, the installation is poised to be an impactful occasion on campus.

Ohnstad emphasized the significance of the event and the widespread excitement it has created.

“It’s going to be a really special event and celebration. There are so many interesting and exciting events to attend; people are traveling from across the country to Whitman for the event, many for the first time. There will be three past presidents in attendance, trustees and other special guests. The weather looks like it’s going to be spectacular,” Ohnstad said. “Not only is it an opportunity to celebrate President Bolton and the exciting future of the college, but [it is] also [an opportunity] to commemorate how we’ve arrived at this moment and the impact that Whitman has made on the lives of thousands of students.”

Check out the presidential installation itinerary on the Whitman College website and be sure to mark the many events of the installation in your calendar. The hard work of countless organizers will come to fruition over the weekend, providing a wide variety of spectacles and activities for the community.