More than 300 faculty, staff and students mingled
outside the Dobbs Center with new President Jim Wagner and his family
Wednesday afternoon, July 30. It was Wagner’s first public
appearance on campus after being introduced as the University’s
19th president at a press conference earlier in the day.
Ben Johnson, chair of the Board of Trustees (BOT) and of the Presidential
Search Committee, which selected Wagner after sifting through more
than 150 names, presented Wagner to warm applause.
“I can’t tell you how special that is,” said Wagner,
who was described as personable and approachable by everyone who
met him that day. “Actually, I will tell you. It feels special
because the real excitement of coming here is who and what Emory
is. You are who and what Emory is—the faculty, staff and students.”
If Wagner was nervous or uncomfortable, it didn’t show. Following
a nasty morning storm, the afternoon was hot and muggy, yet Wagner
never stopped smiling, never took off his blue blazer and not a
single bead of sweat was visible on his face.
He shook hands and chatted with anybody within arm’s length.
The vast majority of attendees had only heard about the event that
morning when they read a campuswide e-mail sent out by University
Secretary Gary Hauk the previous evening (accompanied by a notice
on the home page) inviting everyone to greet the new president—but
not naming him. For many who came out, the first time they heard
Wagner’s name was when Johnson spoke it.
In his brief comments, Wagner issued a challenge to the members
of his new community. “Emory has a calling to be more,”
he said. “Not just a leader, but a leader of leaders. Is this
a place where students and faculty want to come, and where staff
are proud to work? The way we will make progress is by striking
the right balance between continuity and change.”
Those on hand took advantage of the opportunity to give Wagner a
few suggestions as he takes office. “Make sure you are good
to the staff,; that’s very important,” said Maggie Stephens,
office manager in sociology and an Emory employee for more than
30 years, on what she said to Wagner upon meeting him. “And
I invited him to come over to Tarbutton [Hall] to meet everyone
in political science and sociology.”
The defining emotions of the event were excitement, happiness and
gratitude. “I feel wonderfully privileged to be asked to serve
Emory in the capacity of the 19th president,” said Wagner,
who was accompanied by his wife, Debbie, and daughters Kimberly
and Christine. The events of the day were a mini-family reunion
of sorts—Wagner’s parents, Bob and Bernice, live in
Stone Mountain and sat up front, as well.
Debbie and Christine, who will be a senior in high school this fall,
will live in Cleveland until the end of the school year. Kimberly
is a rising junior at Miami University (Ohio) and will return for
the fall semester later this month. The new president said he will
be doing a lot of commuting at the beginning of his term.
The Dobbs Center meet and greet was the midpoint of what was a full
day for Wagner, who arrived in Atlanta with his family the previous
morning. Earlier in the day, at the Emory Conference Center, the
BOT met and officially named Wagner as Emory’s new president,
and Wagner attended the second half of that meeting, which was followed
by a press conference at the conference center.
“The enthusiasm at Emory today can’t be measured,”
said Johnson upon introducing Wagner in the center’s club
room—his first public appearance as president. “I’ve
never been convinced of anything more in my life than Jim Wagner
being the best president Emory University could have.”
Meeting with the media was one of Wagner’s important tasks
during the day. After the conference came lunch—one of Wagner’s
meal companions was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter.
Then he sat with Emory Wheel editor Arielle Kass for 45
minutes. Following the interviews, the wider community was turned
loose at the Dobbs Center. Then came a reception at the conference
center with members of the administrative council and their spouses.
Dinner with the trustees and their spouses closed the evening. President
Wagner and his family flew Thursday morning to Cleveland —their
home for just a bit longer.