Dear Minerva Community,
I couldn’t be more pleased for the opportunity to become Minerva University’s next President. I want to thank our Founder and Chancellor Ben Nelson, Founding President Teri Cannon, the Board of Trustees and the faculty and staff who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting for their warm welcome and the honor to lead Minerva forward. In many respects, stepping into this role is a culmination of a series of personal and professional experiences that have shaped my sense of purpose, guided my career in education, and prepared me to now help take this remarkable university into the future at a time when its mission is undeniably essential. As I get to know all of you, I want to begin by sharing my story.
In the late 1980s, I visited the Soviet Union with my high school’s Model U.N. team and the trip had a profound effect on me. I started my education in a North Carolina public school that was more racially integrated than it had ever been before or would ever be since, in a brief moment in time when integration was actually happening in the American south. In my teens I read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Why We Can’t Wait and Mahatma Gandhi’s Autobiography. I had also grown up Catholic in a progressive tradition exemplified by my mother — who had once been an aspiring nun and whose favorite book was (and is!) The Autobiography of Malcolm X. At 17 my curiosities and passions came together as an idea: I would go to college to study liberation theology and, eventually, become a human rights lawyer.
Alas, I did not. I became a college professor filled with a desire to understand the relationship between language, social change and democracy, to write about this and talk about it with my students. Eventually these same passions led me to co-founding and leading two non-profit organizations. The first launched racially and economically integrated public schools. The second created a large and diverse community of leaders committed to changing public education systems so that they are centered, as Minerva is, around students.
As I reflect on my own journey, I realize how much I would have benefited from Minerva’s undergraduate program. Our university is uniquely global and immersive, its course of study uniquely ethical and purpose-driven, our student body uniquely diverse. There really is nothing else like it. And the world needs us.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Two years later he repeated those words to young people at a college commencement, knowing — at least hoping — they would carry forward his message of interconnectedness. At Minerva, our students live the reality Dr. King described every day, bonded to each other across every conceivable line of difference. At Minerva, tomorrow is today.
The stakes could not be higher. When I think of the world’s catastrophes — the pandemic we have all lived through, the current war in Ukraine, the impending climate crisis — I see a common thread in an utter failure to understand each other and to cooperate, as true problem-solvers, across national boundaries and our various identities. And yet when I think of Minerva students I brim with hope — for they are our future leaders, in governments and businesses and non-profit organizations and movements around the world. They are learning with us what will be required. They will, I am confident, stay true to each other. I believe with my whole heart that our world will be safe in their hands. This is the necessity of Minerva University and the reason I am honored to serve as president.