Grand Rapids Community College staff, faculty, students, local college presidents and community officials celebrated Charles Lepper’s Investiture as GRCC’s 11th president at Fountain Street Church on Thursday, Sept. 14.
The event included supportive remarks from a number of individuals about Lepper’s contributions to higher education and pledges to work with Lepper to continue to build on GRCC’s established relationship with the local community.
The event was festive as most visitors were in suits while many of the faculty participants in the event wore academic regalia consisting of a cap and gown. The ceremony began inside the church when a group of GRCC students walked in carrying flags along as musicians played trumpets and a pipe organ. The national anthem was sung by GRCC alum Lisa Knight.
Lepper was presented with the GRCC medallion, made by faculty members, which is a recreation of the college seal and represents the scholarship and authority of the office. He also was presented with the GRCC Mace which is a rope of gold encircling the wooden handle that spirals upward emphasizing the strength of the institution.
“Today, I stand before you humbled to serve as the 11th President of Grand Rapids Community College,” Lepper said. “First and foremost, I want to thank the Board of Trustees for trusting me with the responsibility of leading this institution.”
Before Lepper gave his speech, several local dignitaries extended their congratulations to GRCC’s new president who started his new role in January.
Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce President Rick Baker was the first to speak at the event.
“I have come to know Dr. Lepper as a trusted man, who deeply cares about people and wants the best for this college along with the students,” Baker said. “Grand Rapids Community College is a testament that education should be accessible to all, and I know Dr. Lepper is committed to fostering an inclusive learning environment where every student can succeed.”
Grand Valley State University President, Philomena Mantella, remarked on Lepper’s education journey which included earning a graduate degree from GVSU.
“I am so thrilled with pride to extend a heartfelt congratulations to Charles Lepper,” Mantella said. “On behalf of the many distinguished educational leaders from colleges and universities gathered here today, I humbly welcome you Dr. Lepper, and though we come from different institutions, we are united in our recognition of the profound significance of education… Since his return to Grand Rapids, President Lepper has led with a fundamental question: where can we join forces to achieve more. His leadership and welcome experience has helped us realize our collective potential.”
GRCC Student Government President, Alex Miranda, spoke on his growing relationship with Lepper along with some lessons he has learned.
“It’s my privilege as student body President to welcome President Lepper to his important role at GRCC,” Miranda said. “Dr. Lepper is my friend, he is the boss of everyone first, but him being our friend is a very close second. His dedication to putting students first and advocating for student needs is clearly evident. To highlight President Lepper’s impact on me, he has influenced me on how to become a better president in terms of productivity and advocacy. Dr.Lepper shows undivided attention and love to create a better environment here at GRCC.”
GRCC’s Interim Provost Sheila Jones highlighted the college’s mission support forLepper.
“We are dedicated to the idea that everyone is welcome and everyone belongs at GRCC,” Jones said. “The college’s strategic goals follow this mission, to name a few: excellence, diversity, innovation, sustainability, equity, community impact. This list is not meant to be exhausting but to highlight just a few ways that our faculty and staff work diligently to fulfill this mission. Dr. Lepper, we know that you believe this, too, and there is no short undertaking to serve as a community college president. Our task together is broad but I know we can achieve a great deal with your leadership. We are ready to stand with you and support you in this vision.”
Lepper began his speech thanking everybody that spoke before him.
In his address, Lepper examined GRCC’s mission and his commitment to serving his local community.
“As you heard today, GRCC was established in 1914 as the first community college in the state of Michigan,” Lepper said. “Grand Rapids Community College has a long and rich history that has led to a nationally respected reputation due to its excellence and innovation. The mission of GRCC is to serve as an open access college and to prepare individuals to attain their goals and contribute to the community, and I am very proud that GRCC is a catalyst for dreams to become reality. Belonging arises at the heart of our institutional mission and values and is essential for the teaching process, inside our classrooms and beyond.”
Lepper continues with his main message of this semester – creating a sense of belonging on campus.
“As a community college, and more importantly, as the communities’ college, we have a unique privilege and responsibility to create an environment where every individual feels valued, respected, and accepted,” Lepper said. “Belonging isn’t just about those things, but a part of a sense where the feeling of something much greater than yourself.”
Later in the speech, Lepper recalled how he was counted out at an early age, but has since felt continuous support throughout his college education and career.
“Some of you may know my story, but I am a first-generation college graduate and my high school assistant principal said that I would never go to college,” Lepper said. “I went to college anticipating that I would fail and never graduate. Fortunately for me, I’ve been surrounded by individuals that help support me and lift me up while creating a sense of belonging for me. Since I’ve moved back to Grand Rapids, I’ve continued to receive that same support, making sure that I felt welcomed, connected, and a part of this great community. Today is about the future of GRCC, the students we serve, and our community. Despite the many obstacles that lie ahead, I am very optimistic of what lies ahead.”
Lepper shared his vision for the future of the college.
“In the coming years, my vision for GRCC is clear. To recruit and bring in top tier faculty and staff like the community that we serve. To strengthen our relationships with business’, K-12, and industry,” Lepper said. “To empower our students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in this changing world. And to ensure that GRCC continues to be a national leader in innovation, education, and workforce development. However, I cannot do this alone. I call each and every one of you to join me in this endeavor.”
Lepper got emotional when he thanked his parents and husband for their support.
“I would be remiss if I failed to recognize my family, my mom and dad, who have been with me since the beginning,” Lepper said. “And they have supported me through my journey. And Shane for the last 10 years. He has been my biggest supporter and right-hand man, allowing me to pursue my dreams. I could not be here without your love and support. To my invited guests, you have played an important role in my success. Thank you for the guidance, lessons learned, and friendships over the years.”
Lastly, Lepper thanked the community and his GRCC colleagues.
“You’ve welcomed me with open arms and raised me over the past eight months,” Lepper said. “I would have never guessed that 25 years ago, when I graduated from GVSU, that I would return, let alone in this capacity. Thank you for all that you’ve done to help my transition back to this community. GRCC and the city of Grand Rapids has become my home and I feel that I belong. I am deeply honored to serve as the 11th president of the college. I look forward to the journey ahead, the challenges we will face, and success we will achieve together.”