By Heather Bell
RADFORD – The purpose, people, place and pride of the Highlander community were the central themes at the inauguration of Bret Danilowicz, eighth president of Radford University, held on McConnell Lawn Friday, Sept. 30.
Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera provided greetings for the ceremony and said she was struck by Danilowicz’s “excitement and positive energy” when first meeting him, adding he has shown himself to be a relationship builder and an experienced strategist.
“President Danilowicz is the right leader at the right time for Radford University,” she said.
Four speakers each focused on one of the four central themes of the ceremony.
Student Government Association President Justine McLaughlin said her time at Radford has given her purpose in her life and does the same for so many students and alumni.
Faculty Senate President Kurt Gingrich, Ph.D, spoke of the people of Radford from the Board of Visitors to faculty, staff, and students, and their importance to the success and mission of the university.
“Your burden is heavy, President Danilowicz, but you are not alone in carrying this weight,” said Gingrich. “All of the amazing people of Radford University will help you carry the burden… so Radford can help continue to fulfill its purpose.”
Radford Mayor David Horton, also a staff member at Radford University in the Office of Dean of the Artis College of Science and Technology, spoke of place during his address. He lauded Danilowicz for his clear support of not only the university but of the “growth and prosperity of the city” and New River Valley.
“Dr. Danilowicz has already begun to enhance the relationship between this institution, the city, the region, and beyond,” said Horton. “Together our future is bright and I’m excited for all the chapters of this story that are yet to be written.”
Radford University Alumni Association President Kevin Rogers centered his address on Highlander pride.
“Welcome to the most beautiful university in the state of Virginia, actually in the United States,” said Rogers, to hearty applause from the audience. “This place is sacred ground for many of us. It is where we met our best friends and, in some cases, our partners in life; our co-workers, our business partners, and even our soulmates.”
Board of Visitors Rector Debra McMahon, Ph.D., who served as the master of ceremonies for the inauguration, also officially installed Danilowicz as president, placing the official presidential medallion around his neck.
McMahon said she was immediately impressed by Danilowicz during the presidential search process and continues to be so.
“He is truly one of those people who is authentic,” she said. “He will tell you how it is, and tell you where the pain points are, but really celebrate the good things as well.”
Laura Belmonte, Ph.D., Dean of the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, has been a colleague of Danilowicz’s for years, since they were both employed at Oklahoma State University. Belmonte called Danilowicz her “dean, her friend, and one of her most cherished mentors. I’m thrilled he’s achieved his lifelong dream of a college presidency,” she said. “The Radford community is immensely fortunate that he will live that dream here.”
Danilowicz thanked his wife, five children, and his five parents, who were all on hand for their support of his dream. He pledged that while he wants to be a great president, he will always find a way to be a great husband and father as well.
Danilowicz also expressed excitement that Radford University has gone beyond being ranked regionally as a top university and has now been ranked nationally in some areas.
“Radford University is now on the national stage,” he said.
Danilowicz said although he has lived in many states and a few other countries, during the career path that led him to Radford, he can’t help but feel fate brought him to the home of the Highlanders and the strong Scots-Irish tradition.
His wife, he explained, moved to Scotland when she was two years old and lived there for years.
“When Kaye and I were married, only one instrument played at our wedding – the bagpipes,” he said. “We believe fate has seated bagpipes throughout our lives, to bring us here.”
Previous presidents of the university are Brian O. Hemphill, PhD (2016-2021), Penelope Ward Kyle, JD (2005-2016), Douglas Covington, PhD (1995-2005), Donald Newton Dedmon, PhD (1972-1994), Charles Knox Martin, Jr., PhD (1952-1972), David Wilbur Peters, PhD (1938-1951), and John Preston McConnell, Ph.D. (1911-1937).