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Mills prepares for inauguration

For the first time in 20 years, Mills College is inaugurating a new president, Alecia DeCoudreaux, on Friday, Sept. 23.

“We’re going onto our 160th year and we’re only on our 13th president,” said Renee Jadushlever, who is both Chief of Staff and Vice President of Operations. “It’s a very momentous occasion…a moment of change.”

President DeCoudreaux addresses the Mills community at her welcome ceremony on Jan. 20, 2011. She will officially be inaugurated on Thursday, Sept. 22.

The inauguration ceremony is not just an important and historical event for the college, according to DeCoudreaux, but a crucial time for the entire Mills community.

“Inauguration is an opportunity for the whole Mills community to gather. It’s an opportunity for the part of the Mills community that’s not here often or daily to come to campus and experience the community on campus,” DeCoudreaux said. “It’s an opportunity for students to witness history in the making because it has been 20 years (since the last inauguration).” 

Jadushlever, too, is excited about the prospect of inauguration.

“(Inauguration)’s a moment to reflect on the campus’s history and look at the juncture between the historical aspects and what you’re hoping for in the future. That’s sort of a demarcation point where you’re continuing the tradition of former presidents and supporting the mission of the College,” Jadushlever said. “Then (the new president) can have a vision that’s more encompassing or think of innovative ways to take the College in different directions or solidify what we have in the past.”

Jadushlever co-chaired with Provost Sandra Greer the Inauguration Committee, which has carefully planned all aspects of upcoming inauguration since February.

The installation begins Friday morning on Holmgren Meadow. Together, the Inauguration Committee constructed a ceremony time line of who’s speaking and what’s happening when.

“We have it timed out by the minute. We would actually know at 11:42 what’s supposed to be happening,” Jadushlever said. “We do the same thing at Commencement. It doesn’t always go (as planned) because a speaker goes a little too long, but we have it pretty well timed. It takes months and months of time to get that correct.”

From the beginning, Jadushlever hopes to make the ceremony a celebration.

“We are not going to be having the formal, common-circumstancy kind of music. The procession will be Latin American jazz, which is very lively. We’re trying to have some fun,” said Jadushlever, referring to the opening performance by Rebecca Mauleón, who graduated from Mills in ’89.

According to Jadushlever, the ceremony will continue to nod to the arts with musical interludes by the Oakland Jazz Choir and, during lunch, a special piece choreographed in DeCoudreaux’s honor by the Oakland Ballet.

The College will maintain traditions with an invocation by Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Reverend Laura Engelken, followed by Kathy Burke, the Mistress of Ceremonies and Head of the Board of Trustees, welcoming the community and introducing visitors and, of course, the inaugurated president. Burke will transfer the symbols of the College and declare DeCoudreaux president – just as presidents of the past have been inaugurated.

There will be four distinguished speakers after Burke installs the president, followed by five speakers from the Mills community

The community luncheon that follows is meant for all of the Mills community as an opportunity to come together.

Andrew Cvitanich, Director of Catering at Bon Appetit, hopes to incorporate the vision of President DeCoudreaux and the rest of the College through the menu and décor.

“On the guest tables, there will be living plants that are going to be planted in the Mills garden after the event,” Cvitanich said. “Mills College has such a great tradition of sustainability and the Botanical Garden and the farm, we were really looking for a reusable centerpiece that could commemorate President DeCoudreaux’s inauguration.”

Last will be a panel discussion, moderated by KGO reporter Lynn Jimenez, entitled Mobilizing Change: Educating a New Generation of Women Leaders.

“A lot of information falls on my desk, so I’m aware of the trends of business and finance – particularly in the trends and how they impact women. And as a woman, I see the changes that even my industry has undergone,” Jimenez said. “Mills is going to be taking the lead in how to help young women and young men deal with the demographic changes that are happening in our workforce.”

Inauguration is also an opportunity for DeCoudreaux to express her plans for the College.

One of DeCoudreaux’s biggest visions for the presidency is transparency, allowing the Mills community to know the logic behind the decision-making. DeCoudreaux has already begun by communicating with the students, as demonstrated by the freshwomen tea earlier in the semester. According to Jadushlever, DeCoudreaux talked to almost all of the 200 students present in just one hour.

“She’s a very gracious person. Sort of what you see is what you get,” Jadushlever said of DeCoudreaux. “Students were coming up to her, almost looking at her like she was a rockstar. She got this immediacy where you want to fall in and you want to know what she’s thinking.”

However, DeCoudreaux is quick to emphasize that she is still deciding what to focus on during her presidency.

“It’s very important for me, being new to Mills, being new to the academy, to listen to as many people as I can, to learn from them, to understand as much as possible before putting a vision in place,” DeCoudreaux said. “We’ve got a strategic plan in place that I’ve committed that I will implement the rest of this plan the best I can. And then we’ll create a new strategic plan.”

Regardless of what DeCoudreaux decides on, she will do so with Mills’ best interest in mind.

“I’ll do everything I can to benefit this College as best I can. My goal is to work as hard as possible and as well as possible to strengthen Mills,” DeCoudreaux said.

Many guests will accompany DeCoudreaux, from grade school friends and their daughters to her 85-year-old cousin, or as DeCoudreaux would call her, aunt. She hopes to share her love of Mills with all of those who attend.

“One of the things that I have valued about Mills from the moment I met members of the Presidential Search Committee to the first day I stepped on campus and, quite frankly, to this morning as I had a meeting that I did walking around the campus. (We decided that we didn’t need papers in front of us and we didn’t need a table to write, so we walked and talked.) Even this morning – when you walk around this campus and talk to people on campus – you get a sense that there’s a community here that’s engaged in learning and engaged in thinking about critical issues and who want to be doing that together, want to be doing that in a small environment,” DeCoudreaux said.