Elon University inaugurates Connie Ledoux Book as its ninth president

The focal point during a celebration lasting through Oct. 20, Thursday's inauguration ceremony in Schar Center drew thousands to mark this significant milestone in the university’s 129-year history.

Elon University officially installed Connie Ledoux Book as its ninth president on Thursday during a ceremony in the new Schar Center that spoke to Elon’s past and the future that lies ahead.

The inauguration ceremony followed the start of Book’s tenure on March 1 and is the focal point of a multiday celebration highlighting Elon’s academic excellence, alumni engagement and continued growth. Schar Center was filled with thousands of students, faculty, staff, alumni, community leaders and delegates from a broad range of colleges and universities as Elon marked the installation of the first female president in the institution’s 129-year history.

>> See a photo gallery from the Oct. 18 Inauguration events.

>> Watch a highlight video from Inauguration week

>> More information on Elon’s Inauguration website

In her inaugural address, Book described the importance of “always becoming” — as a student, as a professional, as a higher education leader and as a university. Drawing examples from her own life and from history, Book said that living a life marked by growth and always reaching higher can change how we see the world, and how we seek to change it.

“’Always becoming’ is Elon’s story — this great institution recognizing the strength of setting our own course, our own sails, a perpetual state of always becoming more, better, stronger,” Book said.

Joining in the 90-minute inauguration program were voices from Elon students, trustees, long-time leaders, faculty and staff. Processing with university leaders and faculty was the “Long Maroon Line of Alumni,” with representatives from 69 Elon graduating classes dating back to the 1930s. Eighty-four delegates representing 81 colleges, universities and organizations joined in the celebration in a show of support for Book as she undertakes the work ahead.

The presidential inauguration — Elon’s first since Leo M. Lambert was installed as Elon’s eighth president in 1999 — has provided the opportunity for members of the expansive Elon community to reflect on the institution’s values and assets, reconnect with one another and celebrate what the future holds as Book begins to leave her mark on the university.

Following an invocation by the Rev. Jessica Patchett ’05 and a performance of the national anthem by Josh Carswell ’11, Trustee Noel Allen ’69 offered a welcome to the crowded Schar Center, looking back on Elon’s history to the “men and women who dreamed when others doubted, and imagined a Phi Beta Kappa chapter when others just saw kudzu.”

“Today the baton is officially being passed from a legacy of great college presidents to a person whom I believe can be the greatest ever,” Allen said.

Faculty, staff and student representatives spoke to the values and spirit that the Elon community holds common. Elon is a diverse intellectual community made up of a “rich fabric of cultures, backgrounds and perspectives,” said Prudence Layne, associate professor of English and chair of the Academic Council.

“It is a time for us to recommit as a community to our shared values and to celebrate our unique and affirming community,” said Janet Rauhe, manager of Phoenix Card Services and chair of the Staff Advisory Council. “Those of us who walk these red bricks under mighty oaks aspire to create the finest learning community in the country.”

Student Government Association President Kenneth Brown Jr. challenged the crowd to express their excitement and support for the Elon community and for Book with their applause, noting that “as we look forward to a bright tomorrow, we the students, faculty and staff of Elon University say to you, President Book, that we stand with you.”

Offering Book’s introduction was retired Lt. General John W. Rosa Jr., president emeritus of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, who in 2015 brought Book, then associate provost at Elon, to the Charleston, S.C., institution to serve as its first female provost. He called hiring Book “one of our greatest achievements,” noting that she set the gold standard for her position and had a profound impact on The Citadel during her short tenure there.

Book stood out during her three years at The Citadel because of the way she grew as a leader, particularly as a person without a military background who stepped into the No. 2 position at a military college, Rosa said. As provost, she developed new academic programs including a nursing school, helped move faculty toward shared governance of the institution and expanded study abroad opportunities, he said.

That’s why, he said, when he thinks back on Book and her time at The Citadel, he is always drawn to the word “leadership.” He recounted how she overcame crisis and challenges during her tenure there with her unique insights and willingness to innovate, always eager to get her team on board.

“Connie Book made The Citadel a better place to work and live,” Rosa told the crowd. “She made me a better president. She loves students and is passionate about making their experience all that it can be. She embraced our faculty and our staff and built a dynamic team. I commend Elon on her selection and I am certain she will lead this wonderful institution with great skill for many, many years.”

In her remarks, President Book drew from her own personal and professional history, noting how throughout her life she has experienced or witnessed “liberating acts” that often propel people or institutions to strive higher. Book explained the phrase “liberating act” is drawn from “Small Craft Advisory,” a 1991 memoir by Charleston native Louis D. Rubin, that encapsulates those moments of bravery and courage when people follow their minds and hearts.

There was the decision by her parents to uproot their family of 11 to move from Louisiana to Corvallis, Ore., so her father could continue his education. “That liberating act would change all nine of their children’s lives, forever better, forever richer, and all of our children’s lives,” Book said.

Book explained that as a child, she read about others throughout history whose lives were changed by liberating acts, such as aviator Amelia Earhart, sharpshooter Annie Oakley and author Louisa May Alcott. These stories inspired her to seek her to strive to be more.

“You see, I believe liberating acts break us out of the status quo,” Book said. “They do away with the expected and open wide the horizon to a bolder future that we hadn’t previously imagined.

“And yes, liberating acts help us understand that the most meaningful part of our lives is not the finish line. The richness of life is in the next, the hope of becoming better, brighter stronger and wiser.”

The impact of these liberating acts are intertwined into Elon’s history, she said. There is Isabella Cannon ’24, whose life took her around the world as she explored various professions before being elected the first female mayor of Raleigh, N.C., at the age of 73. Cannon, whose Bible Book used as she was sworn in as Elon’s president, delivered Elon’s Commencement address in 2000 at the age of 96 and encouraged graduates to embrace the unexpected opportunities that come their way.

These stories continue to inspire, Book said, and reflect Elon’s own story. Consider the impact that Elon’s recent presidents — J. Earl Danieley, Fred Young and Leo M. Lambert — have had on the institution as it has deepened its commitment to teaching and learning, expanded its student body and campus and taken Elon to a higher plane of academic excellence while increasing access to what Elon has to offer, she said.

“This is Elon — a community of courageous and determined educators dedicated to liberating acts and always becoming better,” Book said. “One of the things I have so admired about each of you and Elon is when faced with challenges, we get to it and work to improve, to listen to each other, and with our new understand, advance our community.”

During her address, Book announced new gifts to Elon that will expanding access to an Elon education and allow students to take advantage of opportunities they may encounter during their time at Elon. A gift from Trustee Louis DeJoy and his wife, Dr. Aldona Wos, of Greensboro, N.C. will provide for 12 new Odyssey program scholarships for students from Guilford County. Don Chaplin and Andy Hunt of Burlington, N.C., made two gifts to support the students and programs in Elon’s Gender and LGBTQIA Center that opened in 2013.

Looking ahead, Book believes the university must hold tight to its student-centered mission to develop the mind body and spirit. Elon will deepen and advance curricular and experiential offerings on its own campus and in locations around the world, she said.

“Our strength for tomorrow depends on each of us — our dedication and our talents in support of Elon’s future, and of our students’ futures,” Book said.

Elon will expand its facilities and programs in science, technology, engineering and math to create graduates who tackle the world’s most challenging problems with an entrepreneurial spirit, she said.

“From this diversity of people, from all walks of life, the collective energy and inspired wisdom of our community will be our powerful guiding lights,” Book said. “Today, we boldly embrace Elon’s future, knowing there is no endpoint to this journey, with each of us always becoming. Elon — always becoming.”

Preceding her remarks, Book was joined her children, Joe and Bella, as she took the oath of office using the Bible given to Isabella Cannon at her commencement by Elon’s fourth president, William A Harper. Ed Doherty, chair of the Elon Board of Trustees, delivered the oath, noting that “your first responsibility is always to students, that they may engage deeply in an Elon education and prepare to be changemakers.”

Sworn in, Book was presented with the presidential medallion that she will wear at formal academic and ceremonial occasions by trustees Lauren Brown ’17 and Ed Moriarty P’15, P’18. The medallion was crafted for Book by Graham Newton, a gemologist and designer in Louisville, Kentucky. The large medallion is plated in 18-karat gold over bronze and features Elon’s seal surrounded by 44 Mozambique garnets. The chain contains rectangular plates with the names of each of Elon’s previous eight presidents, two discs with the four values of Elon’s Honor Code — honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect — and four discs with the all-seeing eye and lamp symbols from the seal along with the words of Elon’s motto, Numen Lumen.

During the ceremony, Schar Center was filled with the voice of Elon alumnus Josh Carswell, a member of the Class of 2011, who led the crowd in the singing of the National Anthem and the Elon Alma Mater, while also delivering a rendition of “What a Wonderful World,” accompanied on piano by Tyson Hankins, university accompanist and instructor in music.

Representing Elon’s 33,500 alumni, Michelle Wideman Snavely ’00 presented Book with a copy of the original, handwritten charter of Elon College. “This historic document reminds us of our deep roots and our founders’ vision to grow the branches of this mighty oak ever higher,” said Snavely, who serves as alumni president. “In offering this gift of Elon’s charter, we place in your hands our trust and the future of this institution that we love.”

Following a performance of Elon’s alma mater, Jo Watts Williams ’55, vice president and professor emerita, and Brown offered a closing, looking ahead at what is to come as Elon moves forward with a new president at the helm.

“President Book, we look forward to doing great things along with you in the years ahead,” Brown said. “Today, our hearts are bursting with pride and optimism about the future to come.”

Williams explained that so much has changed about Elon’s campus since she began her studies in 1945, but the people and the core principles that guide them have remained constant. They are humble, hardworking, generous kind, take care of each other and love Elon, she said. 

“After witnessing more than seven decades of growth and change at Elon, I feel a great sense of pride and anticipation as we begin this next chapter in Elon’s unique story,” Williams said. “Open your minds and dream big, Elon. We are just gettings started.”