WASHINGTON – John Knapp received a standing ovation from students, faculty and alumni Thursday afternoon just after he was sworn in as president of Washington & Jefferson College.
“I’m honored and humbled,” Knapp said in address to the college during his inauguration ceremony. “Today is, first and foremost, the inauguration of a new season of possibilities and opportunities for all of us.”
The college selected Knapp in April to take over for departing President Tori Haring-Smith, who retired in June after holding the position since 2005.
Previously, Knapp was the president of Hope College in Holland, Mich., for four years. He also founded and directed academic centers for ethics at Samford University and Georgia State University.
Knapp said during a time when “a lot of colleges are really faltering,” W&J is an “exception,” due to its many strengths, including “a tremendously loyal group of alumni.”
“This is a place that can continue to thrive,” he said.
In his address, Knapp pointed out three commitments he wants to continue at W&J – graduating students with a “high integrity in the way they live their lives,” an uncompromising standard of excellence and a focus on a liberal arts academic program.
Knapp said the college is working on constructing a new strategic plan, with most of the work on it expected to be completed within the next year.
Many people welcomed Knapp to his new position, including a former coworker, T. Andrew Westmoreland, president of Samford University.
“Congratulations, W&J, because you chose very well,” Westmoreland said. “He is a person of great intellect. He is a careful and focused listener. He treasures people – all people.”
The student body also welcomed Knapp, with Kenneth Clark Jr., a senior and president of the school’s student government, addressing Knapp during the ceremony.
“W&J’s student body is growing more diverse every year, and we are excited to hear your ideas and work with you as we offer more events and programs to celebrate all students on campus, including diverse or underrepresented groups,” Clark said.
Scott Punam, mayor of Washington, also welcomed Knapp and his wife, Kelly, to the city.
“The city of Washington has much to offer the college, its students, faculty and staff, and you, Dr. Knapp, as well as your family,” Putnam said. “We live in one another’s backyards and when the college thrives, the town thrives – and vice versa. The Washington community is standing behind you, ready to continue our work making this town, and the college within it, a great place to live.”
Knapp, originally from Atlanta, is living in the president’s house on campus and said he’s enjoyed his time in Southwestern Pennsylvania thus far.
“People here have been incredibly warm, welcoming and genuine,” he said.