After ten months, it’s official

Andre Radzischewski

Lefton inaugurated as KSU’s 11th president

President Lester Lefton was officially inaugurated last Friday, 10 months after taking on his role as President of Kent State. ELIZABETH MYERS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

Lester Lefton has held positions from “domestic diva” to Weight Watchers group leader, his daughters told the crowd at Lefton’s inauguration Friday. Their father is now officially Kent State’s 11th president.

With their personal comments, Sarah Lefton and Jesse Zilberstein added some comic relief to an event otherwise marked by ceremony. Several hundreds attended the celebration in the M.A.C. Center, which had been decorated in a three-day effort.

Besides members of the extended Lefton family, the guest list included all deans of Kent State’s colleges and campuses, delegates from some 40 colleges and universities and representatives of the national, state and local governments.

Kathy Stafford, vice president for university relations, chaired the committee that for eight months had planned the inauguration, which she said was “big in the life of the university.”

“It’s a way of celebrating our past and launching new leadership,” Stafford said, explaining that the detailed planning didn’t allow for an earlier date. Lefton has been in office since July 1, 2006.

The total cost for the four-hour event was $52,000, Stafford estimated. She said it was a “modest” celebration.

Scripted in every detail by Kelly Daw, Kent State’s special events coordinator who is usually in charge of the university’s commencements, the ceremony centered on Lefton’s installation and oath of office.

In his inaugural address, Lefton drew on Kent State’s new motto, “excellence in action,” listing six characteristics for which he wants Kent State to be known:

• academic excellence

• the joy of learning

• commitment to student success

• accessibility and affordability

• discovery and innovation

• institutional cooperation

Calling himself Kent State’s “believer-in-chief,” Lefton said, “I’m confident that we are on our way to becoming one of America’s best universities.”

Speakers for the state of Ohio and Kent State students, faculty and alumni delivered greetings. Only one of them, USS Executive Director Katie Hale, wore her cap’s tassel to the right – an indication that she hasn’t completed a degree yet.

Hale may not have been the only one lost in a sea of colorful gowns and academic titles. Few students attended the inauguration despite a preview in the Daily Kent Stater and a morning FlashLine invitation from Lefton.

President Carol Garrisson of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, longtime Lefton friend, and President Scott Cowen, his former boss at Tulane University in New Orleans, praised Lefton in their remarks.

Lefton has “a big heart, a great mind and a competitive spirit,” Cowen said. “You are extremely fortunate to have my friend as your president.”

Cowen said Lefton’s favorite TV show is “The Sopranos,” cautioning members of the Kent State community that Lefton identifies with Tony Soprano.

Following the official ceremony in the M.A.C. Center, bells were ringing as the crowd headed to the Student Center Ballroom to mingle with Lefton and other guests, among them his predecessor, Carol Cartwright.

Cartwright, whom Kent inaugurated in 1992, said that Kent State is “in good hands” with Lefton. Inaugurations are very important because they bring the community together, Cartwright said.

The get-together gave Lefton a chance to comment on Cowen’s “Sopranos” warning.

“I think it’s projection on his part,” said Lefton, who holds a doctorate in experimental psychology. “He is the Tony Soprano.”

But while, with all the handshakes, pictures and congratulations, Lefton may have been as popular as a TV star, he stayed humble on his inauguration day.

“It’s not about me,” Lefton said. “It’s about the faculty, and it’s about the students.”

Contact news correspondent Andre Radzischewski at [email protected].