Published April 05. 2014 5:00PM Updated April 06. 2014 12:07AM
New London — In a ceremony that touched upon history, personality and community, Connecticut College on Saturday morning formally inaugurated Old Lyme native Katherine Bergeron as its 11th president.
Bergeron, a scholar of music and French culture who most recently served as the dean of the college at Brown University in Providence, spoke about her personal ties to Connecticut College in her address to a packed Palmer Auditorium on the college's campus.
"It is like a homecoming. As many of you know, I grew up not far from New London, so both the college and the region have been in my life for a long time," she said. "What I've come to appreciate is that Connecticut College is an institution that, from the start, dared to imagine something greater for its first students."
Bergeron graduated from Lyme-Old Lyme High School in 1976 and attended Wesleyan University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of arts in music. She later earned her master's and doctoral degrees in musicology from Cornell University.
Saturday's inaugural ceremony — held 103 years to the day that the college's founding charter was signed — included musical interludes that reflected the new president's diverse scholarship. It also reflected upon the college's relationship with the city of New London.
In her address, Bergeron spoke of the school's formation in 1911, when city residents pitched in to help establish an institution that would benefit the city, the state and the country.
"It was propelled by generosity when New London citizens donated funds and entire tracts of land — some 300 acres in all — to win the privilege of hosting the new college in their city," Bergeron said.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio wished Bergeron well and talked about the success the college and city could share if they work together.
"As mayor of our city, I am also encouraged that you have made improving relations with the city a key goal of your new administration," Finizio said. "The city of New London and Connecticut College share a century old symbiotic relationship. What benefits the college, benefits the city. What benefits the city, benefits the college."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy welcomed Bergeron and spoke of the value of liberal arts colleges, saying he would not be the man he is if not for his liberal arts education.
"I have been an admirer of this institution throughout my adult life and I appreciate the quality of a liberal arts education which is provided at this institution," Malloy said.
Ruth J. Simmons, the former president of Brown University and a mentor of Bergeron, delivered the ceremony's keynote address.
Bergeron joined Brown University as professor of music in 2004 after 11 years as a member of the music faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. She was named chairwoman of the music department in 2005 and, a year later, appointed dean of the college. Earlier in her career, she taught at Tufts University and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
During her nine-year tenure as dean of the college, Bergeron led a comprehensive review of Brown's curriculum and helped create new learning goals and standards. She also designed and implemented new initiatives to support students who study science, mathematics and technology.
Since she took over as president on Jan. 1, Bergeron has been helping to guide the college's most dramatic curriculum revision since the 1970s. The new curriculum, she said, will require students to be engaged on a local and global level and will focus on developing intellectual and practical skills.
In addition to bolstering Connecticut College's academic rigor, Bergeron said she wants to increase the diversity of the college's student body and faculty, advance the financial aid programs to provide more ease of access, and raise the college's national and international profile.
"Although I know I take on the mantle of this new responsibility at a time of great challenge not just for higher education but for our communities, our country, and our world, I do so with a conviction that the education we offer here at Connecticut College — and the graduates that we produce through that education — will be part of the solution," Bergeron said.