Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Jay Bernhardt inaugurated as college’s 13th president

Ashlyn Wang
Emerson Trustees Ellen Calmas, left, Doug Holloway, behind, and Robert Miller, right, place an academic hood on Bernhardt at the investiture ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

President Jay M. Bernhardt was officially inaugurated as Emerson College’s 13th President at an investiture ceremony held on the morning of Friday, March 22 in the Cutler Majestic Theatre. 

While the ceremony was underway, 13 students were arrested outside of the venue after protesting the “college’s tuition hikes, suppression of students and faculty, and silence on the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” according to an Emerson Students for Justice in Palestine Instagram post. 

In attendance at the inauguration were members of Bernhardt’s family, members of Emerson’s Board of Trustees and Board of Advisors, faculty, students, alumni, and delegates representing more than 35 colleges from around the world. Additionally, three of Emerson’s former presidents, Jacqueline Weis Liebergott, M. Lee Pelton, and William Gilligan, were seated on the platform. 

Jared Bowen, BS ‘98, who works as an executive arts editor and host at GBH, served as the event’s emcee.

Eric Alexander, BSS ‘78, who serves as the chair of the Board of Trustees, introduced guests inside the Cutler and via livestream in Los Angeles, the Netherlands, and other locations around the world. 

“[The word] investiture is from the Latin, literally meaning ‘to put someone in the garb of an official rank,’” said Alexander. “This ceremony of investiture ritually bestows authority and power on our new president today.”

Robert Amelio, MA ‘81, interim director of the Center for Spiritual Life, delivered an interfaith invocation.

“As we inaugurate Dr. Bernhardt, let us pray that during his presidency, he be guided by grace, listen well under duress, and hold dear Emerson’s rich legacy of shaping communicators and storytellers, as well as its keen focus on the future,” said Amelio. “We also pray for the well-being of all Emersonians past, present, and those to come as they work to create a worldwide impact through communication and the arts.”

Ronee Penoi, BA, interim director of the Office of the Arts, shared a land acknowledgment. 

“We are all guests on these lands, residing on the ancestral and unseeded lands of my kin, the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Massachusett peoples, whose name was appropriated by this Commonwealth,” said Penoi. “I invite you to join me in paying respects to the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Massachusett elders, past, present, and future.”

Porsha Olayiwola, MFA ‘22, the poet laureate for the city of Boston, shared a poetry reading. 

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  • Emerson College Board of Trustees Chair Eric Alexander speaks at the Investiture ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

  • Bernhardt shakes the hand of Fiona Brown ’26, who speaks on behalf of undergraduate students, after delivering her official greeting to the president during the ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

  • Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola, MFA ‘22, reads her poem, “Sestina,” at the investiture ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

“Today, we inaugurate a new formation path by desire. This ceremony marks a new ethos,” said Olayiwola. “Let this morning be a promise and a vow, an inauguration of who we claim to be flourishing into. This beginning is not a one-time undertaking but an everyday ceremony, an acknowledgment of a new conductor, a grand leader, so that we may all under his guide take flight.”

State Representative Aaron Michelwitz, whose district includes Emerson, delivered remarks, one of ten individuals to deliver official greetings to Bernhardt during the ceremony. 

“I’m very lucky and blessed to have Emerson in my district that I’ve served for the last 15 years,” said Michelwitz. “Dr. Bernhardt, you have a wonderful institution here. You have some big shoes to fill, but I know you are capable and ready to go. I know you’ve been hitting the ground running.”

District 2 City Councilor Ed Flynn, whose district also includes Emerson, delivered remarks specifically about how Emerson’s move to the Theater District has helped revitalize the surrounding neighborhood. 

“[Emerson’s] presence [and] investments in the neighborhood over the past decades have revitalized and transformed this neighborhood for the better,” said Flynn. “Today, thanks to the strategic investments and historic restoration efforts made by Emerson, we have a vibrant student community here in the heart of downtown Boston.”

Mahesh Daas, EdD, president of Boston Architectural College and representative of the ProArts Consortium, delivered remarks congratulating Bernhardt on his inauguration. 

“I want to extend ProArts’ congratulations to all Emersonians and President Jay Bernhardt,” said Daas. “He looks fantastic in purple, but much more importantly, he is poised to blaze new trails and guide this remarkable institution into the future with vision and grace.”

Fiona Brown, BFA ‘26, chief justice of Emerson’s Student Government Association (SGA), spoke on behalf of the undergraduate student population. 

“Under President Bernhardt’s leadership, we are inspired to continue our pursuit of knowledge, innovation, and social responsibility,” said Brown. “His dedication to empowering the next generation of leaders aligned seamlessly with our mission to cultivate academic excellence and cultivate global citizens.”

Joseph Weingrad, MFA ‘25, a participant in the 2023-2023 Transformational Leaders Graduate Fellowship Program, spoke on behalf of the graduate student population. 

“I implore you to listen to the constituents of your college, especially those who made great sacrifices to be here,” said Weingrad. 

Michael Brown, JD, a professor in the journalism department, delivered remarks on behalf of the Emerson faculty. 

“A warm Friday this past September, I took Jay for a tour of the old campus,” said Brown. “I watched his joy as if he were a newly admitted freshman, just arrived on campus. President Bernhardt has become a friend and someone that I respect. You will judge him by his deeds, as well as his values.”

Matthew Finn, BS, the senior associate director of Academic Affairs, delivered remarks on behalf of the Emerson staff. 

“Since his arrival, Dr. Bernhardt has immersed himself in the crucial work of community building that is essential for a college president,” said Finn. “In our conversations, he has struck me as open, curious, and eager to guide them into its next chapter with the help and the guidance of our staff.”

Jan Roberts-Breslin, MFA, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, spoke on behalf of the Emerson administration. 

“Change allows us to think of innovative and inclusive ways to honor our storied past and build upon it to achieve something greater,” said Roberts-Breslin. “Emerson’s ability to evolve and grow is the foundation of our continuing success.”

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  • Musical theatre students perform “Bring Me to Light” from “Violet” at the investiture ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

  • State Rep. Aaron Michelwitz delivers official greetings to Bernhardt during the ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

  • Jay M. Bernhardt, Emerson College’s 13th president, delivers a speech at his inauguration ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

  • Guests gather for a celebratory lunch at the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym after the inauguration ceremony on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Ashlyn Wang/Beacon Staff)

Nanci Isaacs, BS ‘79, president of the Alumni Board of Directors, delivered remarks on behalf of the alumni community. 

“President Bernhardt, I’m sure you have realized by now that Emerson alumni not only come with a degree which was acquired with a certain level of sass, character, and opinion, but we’re not that different from the students,” said Isaacs. “As alumni, we are deeply invested in the continued success and the growth of Emerson College. We take immense pride in our life and our alma mater’s accomplishments and its impact on countless lives.”

Helen Credle, assistant director for Community Engagement at the Elma Lewis Center, spoke on behalf of the Social Justice Collaborative (SJC), reminiscing about being a dance student of Elma Lewis decades ago. 

“Miss Lewis stepped right into the center of our circle and started her lecture. With her exceptional voice speaking, ‘You’re not meeting the audience in your space. Innovate. Create. Use passion. Bring them into your space,’” said Credle. “The same words and principles were taught seven decades ago that Bernhardt brought to the SJC meeting in 2023.”

Musical theatre students performed a rendition of “Bring Me to Light” from “Violet. Alexander gave an introduction before Bernhardt was presented with the presidential regalia and medallion. 

In his inaugural address, Bernhardt noted that his first nine months on campus have been dedicated to listening to students, faculty, and staff and meeting them where they are on their Emerson journeys. 

“During my first nine months on campus, I’ve spent much of my time listening and learning about what makes this college so special by having countless conversations with our community,” said Bernhardt. “I focused on what it means to be an Emersonian.”

Bernhardt commemorated Emerson’s upcoming 150th anniversary in 2030 and noted that his team is working through a strategic planning process to chart the college’s course for the years to come. 

“We’ve recently launched an institution-wide strategic planning initiative, and we’re seeking ideas from everyone in our community,” said Bernhardt. 

Further, Bernhardt noted that the college’s founder, Charles Wesley Emerson, believed that a person’s deepest beliefs were meaningful based on how they were expressed.

“We know that how a thing is communicated or performed is just as significant as what is communicated or performed. This has always been a place where deeply held convictions are encouraged while, at the same time, showing mutual respect, civility, and honoring our similarities,” said Bernhardt. “Many differences are essential to upholding our values, holding simultaneous beliefs, and allowing for free expression while ensuring community respect.”

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DJ Mara, Assistant News Editor

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