Recognition Dinner for Anne Hopkins, Former UNF President

Monday, April 16, 2012

As many of you here know, before I strayed from my true path in life, to paraphrase the opening canto of Dante’s Paradise Lost, by abandoning the enlightened world of the faculty for the benighted world of administration, I used to be a professor of literature. Indeed, I believe that it was at least in part because I was an English professor—and thus presumably someone who was capable of constructing artful prose—that Anne chose me to be her Special Assistant. So I hope you will bear with me if I borrow an insight about literature by way of framing my brief comments about Anne.

An astute reader of literature has made the observation that every great literary work begins with an expression of desire that motivates its plot and that anticipates its own end when that desire is either frustrated, abandoned, or gratified. A noteworthy and indeed classic illustration of this principle is provided by Homer’s Odyssey, which begins with Odysseus, twenty years after leaving home to wage war in Troy, sitting on the island of Ogygia, captive of the lovely and ageless goddess Calypso but nevertheless pining away for his wife and mortal companion Penelope and his now grown son Telemachus, and which ends many episodes later with Odysseus having vanquished the suitors from his home and regaining his rightful place as husband and father and master of his domain.

I invoke this insight because I think the trajectory it describes—from an expression of desire to its fulfillment—is an apt metaphor for Anne’s career, not just at UNF but indeed going back to her days as a student at the famed Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, of which she is proud graduate. As Anne no doubt well knows, inscribed on the wall of Maxwell Hall is the text from the Ephebic Oath that was sworn to “by the young men of Athens upon their induction into the Ephebic College, graduation from which was required to attain status as citizens” (Wikipedia). The oath reads as follows: We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many; We will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty; We will revere and obey the city’s laws; We will transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.

What I trust Anne will recall is that when she and I were working together on the composition of her inaugural remarks that she delivered at her presidential installation in the fall of 1999, she was insistent that those lines figure prominently in her speech. As much as she revised other sections of the address, and as much as she insisted upon putting commas and semi-colons and periods in places that drove the English professor in me absolutely crazy, the one part of the text that remained sacrosanct was the Ephebic Oath.

How fitting, therefore, that—like a finely constructed work of literature—Anne began her tenure as president with an expressed intention to transmit the university at the end of her watch as an even “greater, better, and more beautiful” institution than it was when she received it; and that as she leaves the university as past president and professor emerita it is only after ennobling not only the institution that she has served but all of those whom she has touched with her enormous zeal for perfection and her compassion for those of us who strive so earnestly to achieve it.

It is a great honor to be able to share these few words about Anne, whom I regard both as a mentor and a friend. I owe Anne a lasting debt of gratitude for having selected me to be the special assistant to the president and thus for providing me with a synoptic view of the university that enabled me to rise to the positions of dean and now provost. From this position—that I likely would not occupy had she not provided me with my very own transformational learning opportunity—it is an official pleasure to be able to thank her for leaving our institution better and more beautiful by virtue of her influence upon it. And even more importantly, it is a personal pleasure—and one that I know I share with everyone who is gathered here today—to be able to thank her for her unqualified care and affection.

I trust it has occurred to you that the acronym for Special Assistant to the President is SAP. I am not embarrassed to say that, even a decade after officially leaving that role, I will always be a SAP for Anne Hopkins. 

 Thank you.