About 1,000 people attended an inauguration ceremony in the Costantino Recreation Center on Friday afternoon for George Bridges, president of The Evergreen State College in Olympia.
Bridges began Oct. 1 at Evergreen after serving as president at Whitman College in Walla Walla for a decade. He replaced Thomas “Les” Purce who retired after 15 years at Evergreen’s helm.
“In case anyone thinks that we’ve been too slow in getting this ceremony organized, I would just like to point out that Evergreen’s first president, Charles McCann, had been in office almost four years before the college held an inauguration ceremony,” said Gretchen Sorensen, vice president of Evergreen’s Board of Trustees, who emceed the event.
The ceremony began with drumming and singing by the Git-Hoan (People of the Salmon) Dancers and a procession of faculty members, who wore robes, hoods and other academic regalia.
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Former Evergreen president and Washington Gov. Dan Evans delivered opening remarks. He quipped that Bridges’ career reminded him a little of Goldilocks.
“He found the University of Washington too big, Whitman College too small, and Evergreen fit just right,” Evans said.
During the ceremony, staff from Evergreen’s Longhouse and Cultural Center presented Bridges with a wool blanket, which is a traditional honoring gift by Native American people. Skokomish tribal artist John Edward Smith also presented Bridges with an item to add to his bow tie collection: a hand-carved wooden bow tie, featuring a Coast Salish design.
Members of the Board of Trustees also presented Bridges with a college medallion.
Bridges told the crowd he’s spent the past six months observing, listening and learning about the 3,650-student liberal arts college.
“I am deeply grateful for the honor of this appointment and the opportunity to serve as Evergreen’s sixth president,” he said. “We gather today to celebrate this great college, the many people who established it, supported it over many years, and those who now comprise it and sustain it.”
Bridges said he’s been impressed with what he’s seen at the college, but he’s seen areas that need improving. Those include adding more student advising services, increasing support for first-year students so they can feel more connected with the campus community, creating a system that allows every student to have an internship, major research project or community service opportunity before graduation and improving the campus climate. He said he plans to hire a new vice president of diversity and inclusion.
In addition, Bridges said the college needs to find ways to serve its tribal partners better. Evergreen offers several reservation-based programs in the region, along with a master in public administration in tribal governance program on its main campus, and a growing number of programs through the Longhouse.
After the ceremony, Evergreen senior Eddie Parnel said he liked Bridges’ idea of an administrator who will tackle diversity and inclusion issues.
“I think that’s an amazing concept,” said Parnel, 43, of Centralia. “I think the position will help consolidate a lot of the … ideas that the students have pushed for.”
Parnel said he thinks Bridges has done a good job so far. And he described the inauguration ceremony itself as “very Evergreen.”
“Formal without being uptight and pretentious,” he said. “It was just right.”