COLUMBIA — After Dianne Lynch was given the presidential medallion, a symbol of the top office at Stephens College, the entire audience in Kimball Ballroom at Stephens College stood and cheered. Lynch wanted her inauguration to be about the entire community, but she couldn't help but be the center of attention.
After a morning parade that briefly tied up traffic around the downtown campus, Stephens installed its 24th president in a ceremony that felt both formal and joyful.
When she took the stage, wearing bright red and olive-green robes, Lynch showed her commitment to what she called "the phoenix-like tenacity of Stephens College" and to being a "Stephens Woman" — a brand of woman independent in her thoughts and actions — in her inaugural address.
Lynch reached back into the college's history to set the tone for what she plans to accomplish during her presidency. Her speech built itself largely around the history of James Wood, sometimes called “Daddy Wood,” who was Stephens' president from 1912 to 1947. Lynch spoke of his innovative, student-driven leadership and vowed to adhere to the standards he set for the school.
Many student groups participated in the inauguration.
Junior Amber Hurd led students in the national anthem; tap-dancing students performed a “42nd Street” dance routine; the Stephens College Concert Choir sang “Over the Rainbow” and the “Stephens Hymn”; Kristin McCowan read her inaugural poem titled “She is…”; and the inauguration closed with the Velvetones singing “I’m a Woman.”
“Inaugurations don’t happen every day, so it’s wonderful when you get to celebrate with your family, the history of the institution you’re a part of and the future that lies before you,” Amy Gipson, vice president of marketing and public relations, said during a picnic at Stamper Commons following the installation ceremony.
Lynch appears to have made a positive impact so far.
“She’s already made her mark," said senior Jaimie Link, who served on the presidential search committee. "People already like her.”
Link said Lynch had that “something” that the committee had been looking for, but couldn’t define.
“I was looking for someone who literally screams ‘Stephens!’ and she has it,” Link said.
During her speech, Lynch laughed as she recalled her interview. “I really did walk in and say, ‘OK. Look. I’m it!’"
Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation, received an honorary doctorate from the college at the start of the ceremony.
“I don’t think people know what they’re in for — she’s not just a creative thinker, she’s an original thinker," Ibarguen said. "I think having somebody like that at an institution with history and with structure, to be the base for really original thought, is a wonderful combination.”
Although Lynch has been at Stephens since June, her inauguration marks her official position as president. Formerly dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College in New York, she follows Wendy Libby, who was president for six years.
Lynch often wears red shoes to the office, in part as a way to identify herself, and she wore them to her installation. In the audience, many of the hundreds of women who attended the ceremony had on red shoes, too, or had affixed red bows to plainer pairs.