|Surprise! Admirers Celebrate "The Vagt Decade" Despite His Preference to Slip Away Quietly
July 27, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Though his tenure officially continues until Tuesday, July 31, it was clear late Friday morning that President Robert Vagt had lost control.
|(r-l) Librarian Emeritus Leland Park organized the campus surprise party for President Vagt.|
On his last day in office, college faculty and staff surprised and embarrassed their CEO for the past decade with an outpouring of affection he never would have authorized if asked. Lured into the Baxter Davidson Room of Chambers Building on false pretenses by Librarian Emeritus Leland Park, President Vagt was swept up into a fait accompli
“Well, I haven't run anything around here for the last ten years!” he joked to faculty and staff crowding the room. “Don't you all have anything better to do?!"
Park then introduced three presentations lauding Vagt for achievements of the college during his time in office. Margo Williams, mayor pro-tem of the Town of Davidson, read a Resolution of Appreciation from members of the Board of Commissioners. Park read a proclamation from Patrick McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, declaring July 30 as “Robert F. Vagt Day.” The final presenter was Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, who thanked President Vagt on behalf of that group, and announced that the State of North Carolina has awarded him its highest civilian honor, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
The ceremonies were sealed with a champagne toast to the chief. Vagt responded to the acclaim with characteristic humility. “The thanks have been going the wrong way," he said. He then reversed the toast to the people around him, thanking them for everything they've done for and meant to Davidson College.
Earlier in the day, President Vagt answered some questions about his time in office and future plans:
|President Vagt promised that he will remain engaged with Davidson in any way future administrations wish.|
Q: What do you plan to do next in life?
A: I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I determined a while ago that to give Davidson my full attention, I would have to do that and not worry about looking ahead. My standard line is, “Ruth Ann and I took a vote, and it was a unanimous 2-0 that we’re going to continue eating. And if we’re going to eat I’m going to have to work.” It’s not that I don’t care about what I’ll do next, but at this point I really don’t know.
Q: Well then, what are you going to do when you leave campus?
A: The day I leave we’re going to Castine, Maine, where we have a home, and we’ll hang out for two or three weeks. In the course of that we’ll start to think about what lies ahead. I’m also going to take some time to compile some of the speeches I’ve made here. Most of them are now in notes and short hand, but I want to clean them up to pull together some of the thoughts and ideas I’ve had about the last ten years at Davidson. It won’t really be a time to just relax, but to shift focus and change gears. Working here for ten years does grind a new lens through which you look at the future, and I’m certain that whatever I do next will be influenced by the people I’ve met, the hopes dreams and aspirations they have, and their notions about what’s right and good.
Q: What will be your future relationship with Davidson?
A: I’m proud to join the illustrious group of Presidents Emeriti of Sam Spencer and John Kuykendall. And, like them, I’ll do anything the college wants. Historically the college has included past presidents in events, reunions and gatherings, and alumni trips. Tom Ross knows he’s got my automatic affirmative response any time he calls.
Q: How will you replace the student energy you’ve enjoyed so much on campus?
A: You’ve hit a raw nerve there. It’s something I do worry about. The students on this campus provide the energy of not just calorie burn, but inspirational energy. It’s a “cobwebs out of your brain” and “blinders off your eyes” kind of energy, and I don’t know that you can replace that. I may have to come back periodically to get an infusion.
Q: How have alumni shaped your actions as President?
|(l-r) Professor of Religion Karl Plank was among many who queued up to thank President Vagt for his leadership.|
A: You put your finger on something I’ve said during the last year at chapter events. If you take my ten-page list of what’s special about Davidson and force me to talk about one thing, I talk about the Davidson family—who they are and what they do and what they represent to society, and how by their lives they lift up what we try to teach here. And alumni are at the heart of the family. They are quick to tell you when you mess up as well as to praise you, which is a great thing because they care so deeply about the place! Our alumni do, as a group, live lives that demonstrate what it is, in addition to a liberal arts education, we try to provide and encourage around here. When you talk about where Davidson is going, how’s it going to do this, or what its stand should be on that, alumni have had as much to do with decisions around here as trustees, students, and faculty. They are vital, and not just their sixty percent contribution to the Annual Fund. They are absolutely dedicated to this place, and I think it’s one of the things that sets Davidson apart.
Q: Have you learned any specific skills in this job that will serve you well beyond Davidson?
A: At the press conference in the Baxter Davidson Room after the announcement of my presidency in 1997, the first question really set me aback. Someone asked, “What’s your favorite Bible verse.” I’m not particularly big on flipping Bible verses, but I thought about it a second and said, "Mark 9:23—'All things are possible.'” A decade later, living here and watching what’s happened, watching what students and faculty and staff achieve, I’ve become ever more certain that there really isn’t anything you can’t do if you set your mind to it. I know that’s not exactly a skill like learning to interact with people or write a good paragraph, but it is something that’s been deeply imprinted on me.
Q: Any final comments?
A: People have been so gracious and generous in expressing thanks to Ruth Anne and me, and it’s really important for us to express how backward that feels. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful we are for the chance to be here, and for all that people have done for this place while we’ve been here. They’ve accommodated our foibles, offered constructive advice, encouraged us, and helped us, and we’re just so grateful. I’m saying goodbye for now, but you can’t get rid of me because you know I’ll be back!
(President Vagt is pleased to note that he is being allowed to retain in perpetuity his Davidson e-mail address)
Posted By: Bill Giduz