Stewardship of Dalton State is a Shared Responsibility

As Dalton State celebrates its 50th year of service to Northwest Georgia this year, we look back at our rich history, and we look ahead to our vibrant future. As I consider my own place in the college’s half-century tradition, I am simultaneously humbled and proud of where we’ve been and where we’re going. Moreover, this 50th anniversary year reminds me of the immense responsibility each of us here on campus has as stewards of this magnificent asset that is Dalton State.

When University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby inaugurated me as only the fifth president in Dalton State’s history last October, he did so with a charge to keep – namely, that I always work to preserve the college and put its people first. While the scope and responsibilities of a college presidency are wide and varied, it is this one – that of Chief Steward, if you will – that I take most personally.

In January 2015, I assumed duties here as interim president, and began talking with and hearing from many institutional stakeholders. Donors, alumni, faculty and staff past and present, students, local employers, elected officials – everyone, it seemed, spoke of the college in the plural possessive: our college, our campus, our students, our academic programs, our graduates and so on. Their pride in Dalton State was –and is – palpable, and it was partly because of their pride in the college that my own satisfaction began to grow in ways that I had not expected. I had served at other University System of Georgia campuses, but I had never been in a community where there existed such a sense of community connectedness, of ownership, in the local campus. This was both profoundly meaningful and invigorating. When I was named permanent president the following September, the reality of the situation hit me: I was finally home, and I was ready to get started.

The Bible tells us that to whom much is given much shall be expected, and while Dalton State is not a faith-based institution, my own faith still guides me in my daily life and even in my decision-making as president. Dalton State already has given me so much – much more, in fact, than I ever dared imagine possible when I first dreamed of becoming a college president. The two years that I have been fortunate to serve here only reinforce those powerful first impressions of what a treasure we have here and how proud people are of their college. I feel the responsibility every day of how much is expected of me and my colleagues here on campus.

Our first duty as stewards of this magnificent asset is to our students, and our greatest responsibility as stewards is to the future. Our work here is not so much to add new academic programs, build new facilities or raise more funds for scholarships, although all of those are worthy goals and important achievements. Rather, our work here, if we are doing it correctly, is to leave this institution and community better than we found it, to strive for the “above and beyond” in everything we do, and to prepare the institution for its eventual transition to our successors whenever and whomever that might be.

Just over half a century ago, the local Junior College Committee that had been working throughout the 1960s first to bring then to build a college in Dalton handed the reins of stewardship to the first president, Arthur M. Gignilliat. President Gignilliat set the tone of servant leadership in those critical first years and entrusted the college to the second president, Derrell C. Roberts, in 1970. For nearly a quarter-century, President Roberts’ careful stewardship through some challenging times prepared the campus for James A. Burran in the mid-1990s, and President Burran’s leadership moved us forward yet again with the addition of baccalaureate degree programs. He handed off the baton to John O. Schwenn, and President Schwenn handed off to me an institution on the move, one full of opportunity and excitement, and a place of unbounded expectations for the future. I am honored to serve in the tradition of stewardship that my predecessors have built.

Walking on campus, I am reminded daily that each of us here carries the responsibility of stewardship for Dalton State. We are transients on these acres that were the very first gifts in the institution’s history. We owe much to those who came before us, but we owe more to those who will follow us. When the time comes for each of us to move on or to retire, our greatest contributions will be told not in how many students enrolled or the number of championships we won but in whether we left the college better than we found it. In Dalton State’s 50th year, I can think of no greater legacy to leave for those who will build it in its next 50.