Among a crowd of students, faculty and alumni of Tuskegee University, Gilbert L. Rochon became the school’s newest president Saturday. He is only the sixth president in the 130-year history of the university.
Members of the community and various well-wishers also filled the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Center for more than three hours to witness the inauguration of the new president. More than 25 speakers took the stage to offer their praise and congratulations to Rochon, including Gov. Robert Bentley, who is still fresh off his own inauguration.
“It is indeed an honor for one of my first appearances as your newly inaugurated governor to come to Tuskegee University,” Bentley said. “This is such a prestigious university. As the governor of the state of Alabama, I want to support all institutions of higher learning and there is no greater institution than Tuskegee University.”
The university’s history was a focal point of the afternoon as founder and first president Booker T. Washington was mentioned by nearly every speaker.
John Wilson, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, mentioned Washington’s ambition of starting an entire university out of nothing and wished for Rochon to have the same productivity, ambition and discovery as Washington.
Before taking Tuskegee University into the future, Rochon himself also acknowledged the past.
“It is with great respect for this historic institution, founded by Booker T. Washington on July 4, 1881, and for my illustrious predecessors that I stand before you today,” Rochon said.
Rochon said he “stood upon the shoulders” of past presidents, including Washington, Robert Moton, Frederick Douglas, Luther Foster and Benjamin Payton. He went on to praise the university’s student body, faculty and programs while talking of specific goals for the future.
Enhancing the undergraduate program, building on their strengths in veterinary medicine and dedicating themselves to the social and economic development of the surrounding regional communities were just some of the tasks Rochon laid out.