Below is the Inaugural Address for Dr. Keith Taylor, Ph.D., seventh president of Gannon University
Friday, Nov. 4, 2011 -- “Welcome to our Gannon campus and to this extraordinary event. I am particularly thankful for the presence today and support of Bishop Trautman, the Board of Trustees, and the members of the search committee, led by Fr. Nicholas Rouch. It is also great to see so many dedicated Gannon faculty and administrative staff colleagues and friends, our enthusiastic students and alumni, my colleagues and partners from our neighboring institutions, and supportive friends of Gannon. I have to say that the greatest joy comes from sharing this with my beautiful wife, Mary, my daughters, Abigail, Kaitlyn, and Samantha and my son, Timothy. While I am confident that my late mother Mary and daughter Kelsey are surely here with us in spirit, my dad, who has always been there for me, my sisters and brothers and many relatives and friends have traveled the distance to Erie to share this day and special time in my and our Gannon life with us. Thank you so much for coming. You have all been at my side navigating along an often uncharted, unsure path to this place.
“What a true privilege it is to stand before you today as the President of Gannon University. This is a proud day for me and at the same time an incredibly humbling day knowing that the expectations, the hopes and the dreams for an already great institution lie in our hands to take it one step further toward excellence. I am asked fairly regularly, 'How does a physical therapist end up a university president?' That question makes me pause, grin, and wonder a bit myself before I answer. My typical answer is, 'I don’t know but it is pretty cool isn’t it?' I have always recognized that I am just one man and it is a team, a family, a community—that makes any organization better and that provides the organization the potential to make a difference in our world. Helen Keller said, 'Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.' So, I am here to work hard as a part of the team. Here to lead – yes – but also very much to serve. To lead from the heart, to lead with passion, enthusiasm and commitment, to lead a community filled with talented and dedicated individuals who also realize the great potential we have and what can be done if we believe that – Together we can – no – Together we can and we will steer our great University toward excellence in the coming years.
“The inauguration theme is fitting for where Gannon is, who Gannon is, and what we can become. My remarks will embellish on the theme: 'Tradition of Service – Strengthening our Community.' Let’s pull that apart a bit and see where it takes us.
“Tradition – Gannon has a rich and multifaceted tradition of Catholic service, of dedication to access and to embracing diversity and inclusiveness, of commitment to the pursuit of truth and excellence in educating our students and in all our scholarly endeavors. Archbishop John Mark Gannon founded Cathedral College – now Gannon University – with the vision to provide access to higher education and to serve the broad educational needs of the young men of Erie and the surrounding Diocese. From the start, he was allied with the Sisters of Saint Joseph, using their charter to get the new institution on its feet. The Sisters of Saint Joseph’s Mission of unity of neighbor with neighbor, and neighbor with God, has played out through our nearly century long relationship from our founding, to the coming together of Villa Maria College and Gannon as one in 1989, to our exceptional partnership today serving our neighbors across our community and the globe. I have daily reminders of my responsibilities as President including John Mark Gannon’s image in a 3-by-5-foot painting hanging above my desk and a picture of Bishop Trautman in the office who has been a tireless champion of our tradition for 21 years. Just outside the office, hang the images of the Sisters who led Villa Maria College and past Gannon presidents who have made significant contributions to Gannon’s tradition and progress through the years.
“The significance of this tremendous heritage was ignited in my mind and was imprinted on my heart the week before the final decision was made for my appointment as President. A good friend and colleague stopped by my office and said simply, 'Come for a walk with me.' Bill Edmondson and I walked up Sassafras Street to the doors of Cathedral Preparatory School, pressed the button to request entry, and traveled down the hall to a place I had never seen nor heard about. He had led me to the peaceful quiet of the crypt where our founder, John Mark Gannon, rests. It was in the silence of that place that I came to a more full understanding of the measure of this man and the magnitude of the responsibility I would soon have—to support this University’s Catholic tradition, to fulfill our obligation to be good citizens, to meet and exceed our faculty and staff’s needs and aspirations, and to provide our students a safe yet engaging and challenging environment in which they can explore, dream and believe in the possibilities. It was in that brief moment in that hallowed place that I felt the power of the Gannon experience and the inspiration of those who came before me to lead our great University to the next level of excellence.
“It is the character of these individuals and so many others like Msgr. Yehl and Joe Luckey and Bruce Morton Wright that are the fodder for so much conversation, fond memories, and loyalty to this university that I hear every day. I am confident that -- 'Together we can' and Together we will preserve the spirit of our University’s tradition as we set and follow a creative and bold course for our future.
“Service – Our day yesterday was filled with invigorating dialogue about what it means for Gannon, a Catholic, urban university, to be a good servant and partner in our local neighborhood and around the world. Our campus is embedded in a community that is struggling as so many are to sustain a healthy and secure environment for its members. In that struggle lies opportunity. For Gannon students, faculty and staff, the opportunities for engagement in activities that connect what is being discussed in the classroom with the realities of life outside those walls, and for a chance to support and improve the stead of others, are the heart of a complete education.
“The campus-wide Erie-GAINS project team and the Alternative Break Service Trips and many other programs available across campus are shining symbols of evolving efforts to live our Catholic identity as well as to acknowledge our civic responsibility and commitment to global solidarity.
“In 2009, I made the trip to the Bronx to spend spring break serving food at Part of the Solution soup kitchen with a group of compassionate and energetic students. POTS – Part of the Solution – that word and phrase have stuck with me and facilitated daily reflection on my role at Gannon and beyond. The remarkable experience of that first Alternative Break Service Trip led to another last year with a fantastic group of students serving a garbage dump community in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. We traveled to this community to help dig a trench for a foundation for their new school building – with a pick axe and shovel in 100-degree blazing sun, I might add – and to support the local daycare and home-to-home completion of a community survey. These young women gave of their skills, enthusiasm and hearts, and received in return a transformative learning experience and the unconditional love and lasting memories of a community of people that live content and faith filled in spite of their difficult lives without running water, bathrooms, beds, proper clothing, health care or food on a daily basis.
“The image of David is imprinted in my mind–a tiny boy with a hilarious imitation of a quacking duck walk – who almost made his way back to Erie in our baggage. Aileen, our bright young interpreter, provided our group with essential support. She also observed our students’ modeling Christ’s way and was compelled to reach out for her first time to support those in need in her own neighboring community.
“We will be literal about our Gannon Invitation to Serve Everywhere. I will call upon the Gannon family to continue the dialogue and to build alliances for the good of our regional and global communities. We have a shared interest and obligation to serve the significant needs of our struggling neighbors and to be Part of the Solution. Together we can – and will work tirelessly with our community partners at all levels to create meaningful change.
“Strengthening – The development of our master plan for campus facilities, the on-going strategic plan, the evolving Erie-GAINS project, and our more defined globalization efforts are establishing a framework upon which we can intentionally and conscientiously transform our great University. A focus on excellence and on action will be our calling card.
“We will take this opportunity to take a step back and look with fresh and innovative eyes at our approach to all that we do. The learning partnership between our faculty and students is rightfully a point of pride for the faculty and for all of us. It is our responsibility to continually identify best practices in the creation of an engaging, self-energizing, and mutually beneficial relationship between the faculty and staff and our students. We must ask, 'How can we more deliberately connect the essential knowledge and skills acquired through the study of the liberal arts and sciences with the exceptional professional education Gannon students have come to expect? How can we fully and inextricably intertwine the campus learning laboratory with the real-life laboratory accessible literally at our door step?' One example of how these can be accomplished can be found in the entrepreneurial spirit and initiative of the interdisciplinary, multicultural, student team that hatched the idea and now manages the student-operated One Green World Café. The teams of health professional students that are solving problems and “saving manikin’s lives” in our patient simulation center are another example. These future Gannon alumni will be the leaders we are counting on to solve our nation’s and world’s healthcare crises.
“We must invest our time, talent and resources into this transformation to remain competitive and relevant in this rapidly changing environment. Our success is predicated on taking our ideas to the next level and turning them into action. Gannon must continue its evolution–this is not a call for revolution – rather, a recognition of the need for entrepreneurial and calculated change emerging from our Mission that commits each of us to excellence and continuous improvement in all that we do.
“Together we can -- and will establish an environment and University spirit that facilitates collaboration and mutual respect, that is characterized by action, and that promotes excellence.
“Community – My upbringing in the Taylor family has unknowingly created a natural fit for me here in supporting Gannon’s Mission. I grew up in Schenectady, New York – another GE town – the youngest of six perfectly behaved children – isn’t that right Dad? My mother was a devout Catholic, taught CCD every Sunday, was a leader in our church and in the regional interfaith community, and was a math teacher. Mary held the Taylor family together and was a driving force behind our development as young adults before her passing in 1984. Nonetheless, the lessons of respect, accountability, service to others, hard work, faith, and no job being either too large or too unimportant were instilled by our parents. Occasionally, interesting individuals just seemed to appear at our door, brought home by Mom from church or fresh air children from the big city or foreign exchange students spending time at our humble home during the summers to experience small town America. We were exposed to and learned so much from their cultural experiences and from our differences and learned to open ourselves to others in the same way Gannon’s family opens itself to all who enter.
“Many of the simple pleasures of those days have all but gone, but our obligations remain to develop our youth, to reach out to those in need, to expose our students to the reality of poverty, to racial and ethnic diversity and to the joy of cultural difference. Gannon must do more than acknowledge the changing local demographics and take an active, leadership role in partnership with our elected officials and other community leaders in the effort to provide access to quality education and to turn the tide toward a healthy, sustainable community.
“Our emphasis on globalization is not in conflict with that local commitment. Rather, it reflects the recognition that we also have an obligation to educate our students to be prepared to function in a society that is dependent upon the stability of the national and world economies and the influences of ever- emerging and changing global conflicts. Erie’s Sixth Street millionaires’ row is not what it was and our State Street is becoming ever closer to the hustle and bustle of India’s, Jordan’s, and Haiti’s busy streets. Gannon is working diligently and intentionally to create a truly multicultural campus community and to infuse our curricula, and living and learning environment, with a global perspective. Study and service abroad, faculty and student exchange, international collaborations and outreach in communities across the globe are key aspects of Gannon’s vision and of successful American higher education in the 21st century.
“Together we can… and will march toward our goals and achieve our Mission and vision to be recognized as a globally-minded and community-focused Catholic university that is driven by innovation that emerges from hands-on engagement in learning partnerships that benefit the student, the faculty and the diverse society in which we live.
“So today we reflect on our Tradition of Catholic Service and our commitment to Strengthening our Community near and far.
- Tradition – a reminder of where we came from, the importance of our powerful roots that prevent us from tumbling, and the strong foundation upon which we will build.
- Service – a core value and central tenet of our Mission and Catholic tradition, to put others first and to fully engage ourselves in the work of service.
- Strengthening – an action orientation–a dedication to do better, to make things better, and to strive to orient this great institution toward excellence.
- Community – action in partnership with the Gannon community, our neighborhood, city and regional community, yet with our sights clearly on the ever more connected global community.
“These words are central to our activities this week and they will be integral to our plans and vision for the future of Gannon University. Together we can … and will continue to lead this great University toward excellence, remembering our past but looking ever forward to create our future. It will require partnership and collaboration, a strategic and entrepreneurial spirit, lots of creative and hard work, and the power of God's blessings on our Bishop and Board of Trustees, our administration and staff, our exceptional faculty, our prized students, and our always supportive alumni and community partners. We can … and we will do great things together.
“Thank you so much for sharing this important day in the life of Gannon University. I look forward to continuing our celebration this afternoon and for many years to come.”