Trinity officially welcomes new “storyteller-in-chief”

Vanessa Beasley takes her place as 20th president after week of inauguration events


Photo courtesy of Tiger Network

Days before drones flew through the sky to spell out her name, the lobby outside President Vanessa Beasley’s office bustled with inauguration preparations. Letters from presidents of other universities sending their regards lined the table in the lobby outside the president’s office, and Beasley’s gown had just arrived, complete with its fourth chevron to signify her presidential status.

By the end of the week, she would be given the seal and mace, officially becoming Trinity University’s 20th president.

After taking the plastic wrapping off her regalia, Beasley opened a box that held the president’s medallion: the Trinity seal hung on a chain made up of circles listing the university’s past presidents.

“Heavy, isn’t it?” she said as she weighed the seal in her hands.

However, things were a little quieter inside her office, where she was in the middle of preparing her remarks for the week’s events. Sitting against a view of the San Antonio skyline, Beasley contemplated what the week ahead really meant.

“The only way that I can start to process it is to focus on the truth, and that is it’s not really a celebration of one person,” Beasley said. “It’s a celebration of a community. It’s a celebration of what kind of community Trinity has been and the kind of community it hopes to be.”

The Trinity community, guests from other universities and President Beasley’s loved ones flocked to Laurie Auditorium last Saturday, Feb. 12. An upbeat processional march led in the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty and others involved in the investiture ceremony. Photographers circled the bottom of the steps to capture the moment everyone awaited. Beasley trailed the procession, stopping for just a moment to take it all in before taking her seat on the stage.

A video featuring messages to Beasley was presented, followed by speeches from various members of the community, including Ron Nirenberg, mayor of San Antonio and Trinity alum.

“A new era begins today [with] Dr. Beasley’s installment as the first woman to serve as Trinity’s president,” Nirenberg said in the midst of applause. “I agree these are milestones worth celebrating and recognizing. I would like to point out that it only took the city 300 years to elect its first female-majority city council, so you’re way ahead of the game.”

Chad Spigel, professor of religion, vice-chair of the Faculty Senate and former Presidential Search Committee member, gave his remarks on stage, which were partially written by ChatGPT, a comical nod towards the underlying theme of the future.

“Effective leadership is crucial to the success of all areas of university life,” Spigel said. “As the president of Trinity University, you are not just a leader. You are a leader of leaders.”

Before Melody Meyer, chair of the Board of Trustees, officially bestowed the seal and mace, Provost Megan Mustain took to the podium adorned with flowers of colors matching the inauguration’s logo: rays of the rising sun from Trinity’s seal.

“President Vanessa Beasley joins Trinity as we enter the national stage, publicly doubling down on our liberal arts identity and shedding our comfort in being a hidden gem,” Mustain said. “We’ve decided we’re done hiding, which makes the selection of our 20th president, our storyteller-in-chief, especially important.”

After the investiture ceremony, crowds gathered by the Magic Stones for a reception. Among this crowd was Danna Ramirez, first-year anthropology major, who came to network with attendees along with other students in her Latinx Leadership class. She also attended the event to support Beasley, as she admires Beasley’s investment in students.

“I went to the MLK march, and she was there. I wouldn’t have thought she wanted to go because why would she need to go? But she went because she wanted to,” Ramirez said. “She’s proud of us, which is my major ‘yay’ moment.”

Beasley did attend the MLK march just last month and was thankful that it wasn’t as cold as the marches she attended in Nashville during her time at Vanderbilt University. She said marching with Trinity faculty, staff and students were one of the many moments since last August when she felt like she found her people.

“The genuine kindness and generosity towards each other that characterizes this community, that also feels like home,” Beasley said. “That’s who I want to be. I aspire to always being as generous as possible and always being as kind as possible.”

Besides her personal goals of living authentically and treating everyone kindly, Beasley’s job as president comes with institutional goals. When she arrived at Trinity, the university was eagerly awaiting the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings after the school’s reclassification in the national liberal arts category. In September, Trinity ranked in the top third.

This initial focus on the echelon made Beasley and other university leadership start considering Trinity’s future in a new way. The theme of her inauguration, “Imagination Ignited,” invited the community to tap into their creativity and dream collectively.

“Maybe it’s time to start thinking of ourselves less as headed toward somewhere, but what if we were there now and building it as we go?” Beasley said. “That would take energy. That would take imagination.”

While Beasley has been able to hear from numerous faculty, staff and alumni about their hopes, she said she wishes she had more time to sit down with students. In both her inaugural speech and her interview with the Trinitonian, she touched on how every student is worthy of being on Trinity’s campus and the power of their imaginations.

“What do you dream about? What do you want this education to do for you?” Beasley said. “That’s not the same question as ‘why did you come here?’ because the decisions that many of us made — myself included — at 17, 18, about where to go to college, what we want out of it once we’re there can sometimes feel a little different.”

When it comes to her decisions as president, in scholarship or in teaching, Beasley said she aims to be the person her younger self needed. As a first-generation student herself and the mother of two children with different educational needs, she values every student’s journey and how Trinity can play a part in each one.

“If you believe in the transformative power of education, you should be ready to help other people receive that,” Beasley said. “That’s my own commitment, and I believe we have a lot of members of our community who have that commitment as well. It’s exciting, and I’m grateful.”

When asked what all the hustle and bustle outside her office door was really about, President Beasley laughed and acknowledged that while nothing changes after the inauguration, it’s a point of reflection, celebration and imagination. Despite the emphasis on the individual that such an event brings, she addressed students in particular.

“Do not feel like this is for somebody else,” Beasley said. “This is for you. This is for students.”