In a historic, three-day event, SUNY New Paltz hosted the inauguration ceremony for its ninth president, President Darrell P. Wheeler, from April 19 to April 21.
“Today is a day of celebration. Tomorrow is a new way of beginning,” President Wheeler said in his inaugural address.
The celebration began with lunch and a collaborative forum highlighting student-faculty research and creativity on April 19, followed by an inaugural festival later that day. The official investiture ceremony took place on April 20, followed by a community reception. The celebration concluded with campus tours, a panel led by President Wheeler about the school’s regional impact and a thank you brunch on April 21.
The highlight of the inauguration event, the investiture ceremony, was a two-hour assembly that ushered in a new era of SUNY New Paltz. Students, faculty, alumni, New Paltz residents, friends and family all gathered together in the Athletics and Wellness Center (AWC) to celebrate the new presidency.
Associate professor and acting associate dean of the School of Education, Devon Duhaney, served as the Master of Ceremonies. The oldest living former president of SUNY New Paltz, Alice Chandler, gave a welcome address over video.
Duhaney introduced a variety of faculty, elected officials, students, campus constituencies and friends who spoke on this historic moment. Among the speakers were New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers, president of the Stockbridge-Indians Munsee Band of the Mohican Shannon Holsey and President Wheeler’s mentee and chief city auditor of Albany Dorcey L. Applyrs.
“He is a leader who is extremely intelligent, yet leads with heart. Understands and embraces diversity, equity and inclusion not because it’s the new buzzword, but because he personifies it. He is a leader who sees you and makes decisions with you in mind,” Applyrs said.
In a tearful speech from President Wheeler’s sister, Carla, she commemorated this historic occasion with love and admiration.
“My heart is full, and my eyes are not dry,” she said.
The ceremony also featured musical performances from fourth-years Hailey Brown and Cherian Abraham, third-years Jennifer Poroye and Sion Kukichi, Hudson Valley Baroque, Hudson Valley Brass and Absolut A Cappella.
“[The inauguration] is an opportunity for us to highlight why we exist at the university,” President Wheeler in an interview with The Oracle. “It really is about the deep history of the institution and a community celebration of the transfer of power from one president to the other.”
SUNY New Paltz exists, according to Wheeler, to deliver academic excellence and to add value to the citizens of the community. These principles are deeply important in his work as president.
“I’ve been here for eight or nine months now, and each and every day we strive for new ways to double down on those two pillars of the mission,” Wheeler said. “We’ll continue to look for ways to advance academic excellence and to be a value added to the citizens of the state and the region.”
President Wheeler also emphasized the importance of diversity and activism in the university. He expressed his dedication in ensuring that students and faculty have the necessary skills to explore the difficult issues of everyday life.
“How do we help our students and faculty feel confident, not always comfortable but confident, that they have the requisite knowledge and skills to take on heavy lift challenges? How do we create an environment where it is normal and brave enough in terms of space to explore these very difficult issues?” Wheeler said. “Are we helping to make sure all voices can be heard and respected?”
His goals for the future of the school include staying focused and flexible in order to ensure the success of the institution.
“It’s really important to stay focused on the reasons that have been stated that we exist. That as an institution that strives to provide really good curricular opportunities, strong preparedness for completing your credentialing and great launch into career pathways — we have to continue looking, are we doing a good job of it?” Wheeler said.
Wheeler is known around campus for making himself part of the student community and taking advantage of different opportunities to connect with students. The importance of this, Wheeler told The Oracle, is to make sure he understands the community he leads.
“It’s important for me to be in what we call ‘in context’ with our students — to have a strong understanding of what it is they’re experiencing. I’ll never experience what you experienced as a student, but I can sure spend good time listening to you and walking with you,” Wheeler said.
President Wheeler began his role at SUNY New Paltz in July 2022, after being appointed by the campus Board of Trustees earlier that year in May. He came into the campus with over 30 years of experience in teaching, research and community partnership.
He serves on the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, the Executive Management Committee of HIV Prevention Trials Network and the Board of Directors for the National Association of Social Workers Assurance Service Incorporated. He also co-chairs the HIV Prevention Trial Network Scholars Program.
In his speech, Wheeler asked for donations to his Presidential Fund for Innovation in Public Higher Education. The Fund gives financial awards to individuals and teams at SUNY New Paltz who represent a commitment to creativity and innovation. Donations can be made on the SUNY New Paltz website.
“I ask that when you leave this space that you hold the joy of this moment, the pride that you have in this day. Keep us in your hearts, in your prayers, in your consultations, and wish us well into a bright and phenomenal future,” Wheeler said in the closing of his address.