For much of this year, Smith staff members have been checking off items on lengthy “to-do” lists in preparation for this month’s the inauguration of President Kathleen McCartney, on Saturday, Oct. 19.
By now, invitations and inauguration kits have been mailed, menus and food deliveries scheduled, guest speakers confirmed, staffing adjustments made, banner and lighting placements mapped out, tables and chairs ordered, speeches and toasts written, sound system and live webcast technology secured, and countless details attended to.
But with Smith’s New England location, there is one significant variable that will remain “up in the air” right up until the ceremony: the weather.
Fall in New England can be mercurial as an October snowstorm two years ago, which brought the campus to a standstill, emphasized. In 1985, when Mary Maples Dunn was to be installed as president, a hurricane barreled up the coast, threatening an outdoor dinner planned for 3,000.
“We just had to sit it out and wait,” said Kathleen Zieja, dining services director and veteran of four Smith inaugurations, about the timing of Hurricane Gloria.
Thankfully, that hurricane stayed mostly on the coast, Zieja said. “While we had some rain, we did not have winds. The calm after the storm provided two beautiful days and the event was outstanding.”
This year, many of the events are indoors. A student party, panel discussions and numerous exhibitions mounted in conjunction with the inauguration are all inside, as is the 3 p.m. installation ceremony at the Indoor Track & Tennis (ITT) facility.
At the ITT, McCartney will address an audience of about 5,000, including some 120 delegates from other colleges and universities around the world. Her husband, William Hagen, her siblings, children, and 91-year-old father will also be in attendance.
The event will be webcast live so that alumnae clubs around the world can hold viewing parties to celebrate with classmates and with cookies adorned with the Smith logo.
The evening of inauguration, Scott Gymnasium will be transformed into a formal dining space, as was the case with the Women’s Global Leadership Celebration last year.
“With all major events here on campus, the things we learn from past events allow us to improve future ones,” said Steve Campbell, who has participated in planning four inaugurations—three as a member of facilities management team and this year with events management.
“All large individual events have hundreds of details. During inauguration, there are a number of events, so those hundreds become thousands of details,” said Campbell. “When unexpected issues do happen, we address them, and usually they are not even noticed by those attending the event.”
For this, the college’s 11th inauguration, McCartney’s life and interests will be reflected in numerous ways. Dining services will bake her grandmother’s blonde brownies for lunch. And, the Campus School mounted a special exhibit of student artwork in honor of McCartney’s academic interest in child development and early education.
“Each inauguration takes on a different flavor as it is special and personal for the president,” according to Zieja. “The staff work tirelessly. And, the true sense of satisfaction for a job well done is appreciated by all.”
During a recent forum, President McCartney thanked the staff members who would support her inauguration by working on the weekend. That varied group includes staff at the Museum of Art and Grecourt Bookstore, which will be open additional hours to serve guests.
Student facilities such as Neilson Library, the Olin Fitness Center and the Campus Café will be closed earlier to encourage those who can to attend the celebration.
And, even if planning can’t control the weather, no inauguration events will be canceled due to the forecast, said Peg Pitzer, events management director.
In the case of inclement weather, the community lunch scheduled to take place on Chapin Lawn will be shifted into the Campus Center. The tissue paper lanterns that are slated to illuminate the campus inauguration night will be switched to nylon lanterns. And, the bagpipers slated to parade from the Quadrangle to the ceremony in the ITT will instead remain in the ITT, she said.
“We have a strong and solid planning committee, a dedicated and hard-working group of staff members attending to every detail,” said Pitzer. “It feels like we are really on track.”