Midway through her inauguration remarks, Lehigh President Alice P. Gast mentioned Howard McClintic and Charles Marshall, a pair of Lehigh alumni who played a key role in building some of this country’s most famous bridges, including the Golden Gate Bridge.
The sweet irony of Gast’s obvious admiration of Lehigh’s “M&M” (McClintic and Marshall) wasn’t lost on MIT president emeritus Charles M. Vest. Like them, Vest said, Gast is a master bridge builder, a skill that will serve both her and Lehigh quite well in the years ahead.
“Lehigh University is fortunate to have Alice Gast leading them in this point in their history,” Vest said just minutes after the ceremony’s completion. “Not only is she an extremely bright and gifted individual, but she’s the consummate colleague, a person who truly cares about this university and respects and values everyone who works here.
“She’s terrific at getting people with different areas of expertise to work together to achieve extraordinary things. She will make quite an impact at this already fine university.”
Gast already has, according to John Smeaton, vice provost for student affairs.
“She mentioned students many times in her inauguration speech and there’s no question that she genuinely cares about our students. She’s made that evident in so many ways since she arrived here this past summer with her open-door policy for students and student groups to the fact she and her family are always at student events, whether it’s sporting events or student musical performances at Zoellner Arts Center,” Smeaton said. “She’s visible, accessible, involved, bright, warm, caring, intelligent … everything that you want in a university president.”
Those qualities have allowed her to be a successful consensus—or bridge—builder at Stanford, MIT and already at Lehigh. Many of those qualities were evident in the ceremony itself, which had a true sense of family, according to Kashi Johnson ‘93, who served as mistress of ceremonies.
“I was blown away by the ceremony’s sense of family,” Johnson said. “The presenters included members from all parts of the Lehigh family—students, faculty, staff, alumni, the mayor of Bethlehem—as well as people that have played important roles in President Gast’s life from colleagues from MIT to the man who married her and her husband Brad (the Right Rev. Frederick Borsch).”
By design, the event was both a celebration of Gast’s inauguration and a celebration of Lehigh’s past, present and future. In attendance were two former Lehigh presidents: Peter Likins (1982-97) and William C. Hittinger (1997-98).
“It’s a great day for Lehigh,” said Bonnie Devlin, vice president of advancement. “There was just such an outpouring of enthusiasm and warmth for Dr. Gast from alumni, students, faculty, staff and guests.”
“I’d like to congratulate Caroline Clifford and Rick Weisman, who chaired the events. They did an absolutely spectacular job. It was just flawless.”
The director of Lehigh’s Center for Optical Technologies (COT), Tom Koch, referring to the daylong Academic Symposium and the inauguration ceremony, said: “I’ve been here four years, and this is my proudest moment at Lehigh. And it’s not anything I did. It’s for the institution.”
Of Gast’s speech, Koch said: “We were all captivated by her initiatives. I’m anxious to learn more.”
Many of the estimated 2,500 people in attendance on the blustery mid-April day left the inauguration with the same feeling.
“This is truly a great day in Lehigh’s history, a day celebrating Lehigh’s proud past and plotting its course for the future,” said Scott Wojciechowski ’09. “President Gast is a world-class researcher, as evidenced by the work that she’s done at Stanford and MIT. And as she laid out today in her speech, she’s prepared to commit the resources to improve the level of research done by Lehigh’s undergraduates, graduate students and professors.
"That commitment and Dr. Gast’s outstanding reputation, combined with the caliber of student that Lehigh attracts, will allow us to produce the type of world leaders that tackle the major challenges that she talked about.
“I’m truly excited about Lehigh—and the person leading this university—as I leave this inauguration today.”
Back to Gast: “Let us set our sights high”