In a solemn, but jubilant inauguration ceremony that Genesee Community College has only experienced three times in its 45-year history, hundreds of academic supporters, friends and family members heard President James M. Sunser invoke the spirit of community and college pioneers, calling upon the College and community to exceed ordinary expectations of innovation and service, and aspire to excellence.
The inauguration ceremony was preceded by a colorful march of more than 100 academe dignitiaries from GCC faculty to the presidents, provosts and noted officials from across the State University of New York and many other colleges and universities. Dressed in full academic regalia including robes, caps, gowns and hoods—the wide spectrum of colors represented numerous degrees and institutions all dedicated to the power and promise of education.
Among dignitaries taking part in the ceremony were SUNY Vice Chancellor Johanna Duncan-Poitier, Genesee County Legislature Chair Mary Pat Hancock, and members of GCC’s Board of Trustees including Charles R. Ruffino, chair, and Diane D. Torcello, who chaired the presidential search advisory committee that recommended Dr. Sunser as a candidate for GCC’s presidency. Also speaking were Dr. Ryan P. Sunser, son of President Sunser, Dr. George W. Walker III, retired GCC vice president for Student Services, and Michael S. Stoll, interim executive vice president for Academic Affairs served as Master of Ceremonies.
A native of Syracuse, President Sunser’s path to GCC began more than two decades ago at Syracuse University and later at Onondaga Community College, where he originally earned his associate’s degree. From bursar and vice president for finance, to vice president for continuing and extended learning, Dr. Sunser gained a wealth of knowledge from all aspects of community college education.
It was of special significance to him that his friend, mentor and former boss, Dr. Debbie L. Sydow, president of OCC gave the keynote address. In her remarks, Dr. Sydow reflected on how helping students achieve their goals and realize their potential is central to Jim Sunser’s leadership style. She suggested that Genesee Community College will value not only his team-oriented approach but also his ability to inject good humor alongside his no nonsense dedication to helping students succeed. In summarizing Jim Sunser’s overall character, Dr. Sydow drew from a quote by William Arthur Ward: “The adventure of life is to learn. The nature of life is to change. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The beauty of life is to give,” she stated.
Dr. Sunser earned his BS degree from Syracuse University, MS from SUNY College at Brockport, a Certificate of Advanced Study and his Ed.D. degree from the University of Rochester. He is only the fourth president to serve GCC.
On August 1, 2011, he succeeded Dr. Stuart Steiner, the immediate past president whose 37 year tenure—from 1975 through 2011—is among the longest presidential terms on record in the United States. Previous GCC presidents include Dr. Cornelius (Neal) V. Robbins (1970-1975) and Dr. Alfred C. O’Connell (1967-1970). For more information about GCC’s presidential history, visit: http://www.genesee.edu/library/college-archives/college-presidents/.
GCC was founded in 1966 after a public referendum, and is sponsored by Genesee County, but also serves Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties with campus centers in Albion, Arcade, Dansville, Lima, Medina and Warsaw.
The inauguration was the culmination of a week-long celebration at GCC, which included a wide range of interests, all reflecting the College’s “Beyond Expectations” initiatives. Among the events this past week were: the five day construction and ceremonial destruction of a sand mandala created by Tibetan Monks which represented the compassion, love and the circle of life; the opening of the Honorary International Peace Garden; Law Day activities; the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life; and the GCC Alumni Hall of Fame induction ceremony. For extensive photographs from President’s Inauguration week of events go to www.facebook.com/GeneseeCommunityCollege.
After his official installation and at the conclusion of the special ceremony, Dr. Sunser gave a moving address highlighting several of his favorite historians whose fame and notoriety were based upon exceeding expectations. “I find it humbling to stand here as your fourth president and as the steward of the legacy you have created. I will always seek to be worthy of the office and the honor you bestow on me this day. In the same measure, I will always seek to challenge us to exceed the standards and expectations of excellence for which Genesee Community College has become known. If we embrace what Emerson called “a spirit of divine discontent” with the ordinary and the expected, we will not fail. Now, let us leave a legacy of accomplishment and greatness that will make those who follow us proud,” President Sunser said.
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