She’s been on the job since June 1, but Jerald Jones Woolfolk was installed formally Friday as Lincoln University’s 20th president.
“There are really no words to adequately describe my feelings today,” Woolfolk said at the beginning of her acceptance address. “The emotions that I feel are overwhelming. Today officially marks the beginning of a new day, a new dawn, as we continue to move Lincoln University forward to her true destiny of being among the elite institutions of higher education in this country.”
Woolfolk repeated several times: “I do not stand alone,” then noted her debt to LU’s current and past faculty, students, staff, administrators, presidents and curators since its founding in 1866.
“I stand on the shoulders of the soldiers of the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantries, who founded this great institution of higher learning, understanding that, if African-Americans were to prosper as free men, they would have to be educated,” Woolfolk said. “So, with their life savings of somewhere around $100, these soldiers founded what is now Lincoln University.
“Our commitment is to continue their dream, and to continue to provide access and opportunity to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Our commitment is to ensure that Lincoln University is sustainable for another 152 years.”
As she has said before, Woolfolk noted LU’s future will be formed “through increased enrollment, increased retention and graduation rates, increased employability of our graduates, providing academic programs that meet the needs of the 21st century workforce, strategic planning, marketing and branding.”
Lincoln’s success, she said, also will come through “developing stronger collaborations with the Jefferson City community, local and state government, increasing research funding, providing an inclusive environment where everyone has a sense of belonging to our university community.”
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe was one of several speakers welcoming Woolfolk into her new job.
“When I travel and I meet people all over the United States — it just happened to me (again) last week in Georgia — I’m asked ‘Where are you from?’ I say Jefferson City, and they say, ‘I went to Lincoln,'” Kehoe told Woolfolk. “The footprint that I find from Lincoln University is so far reaching that it’s absolutely unbelievable, and I think that speaks to the quality of the institution that we have and its historic significance.”
LU is one of two historically black colleges and universities in Missouri and, Kehoe noted, one of two federal land grant universities in the state.
He noted Lincoln still faces many challenges in its future.
“I don’t think any of those troubles will be any more severe or significant than the troubles that the soldiers who founded this institution had back when they were taking this on,” Kehoe said. “If you think about the trials and tribulations they went through, you quickly realize that all those pains and all those things you think are insurmountable are nothing compared to what they would have (gone) through.”
Woolfolk grew up in the Mississippi Delta region of West-Central Mississippi and later earned her bachelor’s and doctorate’s degrees from Jackson State University.
Alfred Rankins, commissioner of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Education, urged her to have five goals while serving as Lincoln’s president, including ensuring financial stability, keeping focused on students, treating “all the campus constituency groups equally,” being clear about her expectations and never selling her integrity.
Dwaun Warmack, president at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, added four other goals: remain dedicated to the folks that matter, especially family; be committed “to the mission of this amazing institution;” stay motivated; and “stay prayed up” because “faith is everything.”
William Bynum, Jackson State’s president, called Woolfolk one of his school’s most accomplished graduates and noted she is one of those people who is “just made for certain roles and responsibilities.”
Woolfolk thanked several of her mentors and previous bosses and her son, Brandon Woolfolk, for their support and encouragement, telling each of them: “Without you, this (inauguration) would not be possible.”
Deborah Stanley, president of the State University of New York-Oswego — where Woolfolk worked until being hired by Lincoln — said she knew as soon as Woolfolk interviewed for the Oswego job that she eventually would be a college president.
“She is an excellent example of a leader who understands the centrality of higher education to make a difference,” Stanley said. “Jerald has that kind of striking presence — you just know that she understands the importance of our work.”
Harry Williams, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said he told Lincoln’s Search Committee they should stop their search and hire Woolfolk.
She has the determination, persistence, commitment and endurance to do the president’s job well, he said.
Stanley said: “You can count on her bravery and her tenacity and, of course, her never-ending good will and good humor and her style.”
By Bob Watson of the News Tribune.