Donna P. Henry speaks during Tuesday's inauguration ceremonies at UVA-Wise. Tim C. Cox photo.
WISE — The rector of The University of Virginia, George Keith Martin, dubbed Donna P. Henry "Henry the Eighth," a light-hearted yet official proclamation making it so.
Inauguration ceremonies were staged Tuesday to formally install Henry as the eighth chancellor of The University of Virginia's College at Wise. Henry assumed the office 15 months ago, but colleges and universities typically wait a year or so for formal inauguration ceremonies.
Henry's inauguration was well worth the wait, featuring all the pomp and circumstance of institutions of higher education and attended by many if not most of Southwest Virginia's political, business, community and academic leaders — as well as many from well beyond the region.
UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan called Henry's inauguration "a momentous occasion in the life of this college and this community." She said UVA in Charlottesville and its only branch campus share priorities and missions that include academic excellence and opportunity.
"Just as we have a shared future," Sullivan said, "we have a shared past," stretching back to when UVa-Wise was established as Clinch Valley College in 1954 and "evolved from a modest beginning to one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges."
Sullivan called Henry "the ideal person to build on the momentum" of her predecessors, possessing "both a good head and a good heart."
Henry came to UVa-Wise from Florida Gulf Coast University. During her 16 years at FGCU, Henry was a founding faculty member, served as faculty senate president and a member of the FGCU Board of Trustees, and as dean of the FGCU College of Arts and Sciences.
FGCU President Emeritus Roy E. McTarnaghan provided the event's keynote speech, recalling his first and only visit to UVa-Wise 44 years ago and how the growth of the campus since then "is just mind-boggling to me."
McTarnaghan said his tenure at FGCU proved to him that Henry is the sort of person who "sees what needs to be done and does it," someone who "can make things happen."
Henry possesses the full complement of leadership skills needed to lead UVa-Wise to a bright future, he said, but he reminded the college's faculty and staff that UVa-Wise "needs all of you. This is a team effort. This inauguration is not just about one person, but the goals and objectives of the college."
There were a number of other speakers, including UVa-Wise Board Chair Marcia A. Gilliam, UVa-Wise Faculty Chair Christopher J. Scalia, Staff Council Chair Jessica J. Necessary, UVa-Wise Alumni Association President Larry J. McReynolds, and Student Government Association President Dakota R. Hill.
As for the latter, Hill said he decided to speak from the heart, but — considering the nature of so formal an event, and the fact he expected to be nervous — whipped out a prepared speech instead.
Hill referred to the late Chancellor David J. Prior, the college's seventh chancellor, who died unexpectedly at age 46 in the seventh year of his tenure.
Prior was highly regarded, and Hill recalled Prior urging students to "find the light in dark situations and to dance in the rain." After more than a year of getting to know Henry, Hill said a "new legacy" has indeed arrived at UVa-Wise.
"How proud David Prior would be," said Hill, that "we have found our light and are now dancing in the rain."
As for Henry, the college's eighth chancellor said being chosen to lead UVa-Wise "is a unique joy and humbling responsibility," and that she and her family have been "welcomed graciously and now call Wise home."
The only real surprise Henry has discovered in her new posting is that there haven't been any.
She said she has been asked, "What surprised you most?" at UVa-Wise. "There have been none. UVa-Wise is who it purports to be," a nationally recognized quality liberal arts institution.
Henry referred to her first initiative as chancellor, "Envisioning 2020," a strategic plan to strengthen and expand academic programs and ties to the community as well as grow student enrollment.
"Our six-plus year challenges are considerable," she said, "but our resolve is strong."