A special occasion: Link inaugurated as Allegheny’s twenty-second president


Hilary Link and her family stand on stage during Dr. Mary Feeley’s speech at Link’s inauguration on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in Shafer auditorium.

“Since (the inauguration of Timothy Alden), the college has been led by individuals of integrity and passion,” said Chair of the Board of Trustees Mary Feeley, ’78. “Now, President Hilary Link embarks on a new chapter of leadership and service to this great college.” 

The inauguration of Hilary Link as the 22nd president of Allegheny College took place on Friday, Oct. 18 in Shafer Auditorium. The ceremony began with a procession comprised of international flag bearers, student delegates, the alumni council, torchbearers, delegates from other institutions, faculty and staff and trustees.

Following the procession, College Chaplain Jane Ellen Nickell requested that audience members silence their phones before standing for the invocation. 

“As we come from many traditions, I ask you to pause for a moment and consider your own source of goodness and truth before I offer our invocation,” Nickell said. “On this day, when we inaugurate a new era at Allegheny College, we invoke the legacy of all who have shaped this school’s distinguished history and acknowledge that everything we do builds on their good work.” 

Nickell asked for support from the Allegheny community, friends and honored guests before welcoming Feeley to the podium. 

In addition to welcoming Link, Feeley also welcomed three former presidents of the college — President Emeritus James H. Mullen Jr., President Emeritus Richard J. Cook and President Emeritus Daniel F. Sullivan. 

“Congratulations to the entire Allegheny community on this historic day and to President Hilary Link,” Feeley said. “I have no doubt that (Link) will carry on the best traditions of Allegheny and will create new traditions.” 

City Manager of Meadville Andrew Walker, ’00, took the podium following Feeley. 

“Dr. Link, our hope for you is that you will carry on the tradition of leadership and excellence that continues to define this institution and puts Meadville on the map,” Walker said. “We hope that Allegheny College, under your guiding hand, will continue to level this hill and empower the students and faculty to see and experience the world through everything Meadville has to offer.” 

Walker thanked Link for the opportunity to formally welcome her to Meadville before introducing Director of Gift Planning and 2012 Robert T. Sherman Distinguished Service Award Recipient Melissa Mencotti. 

“It is my great honor to stand here today,  representing the college’s staff and administrators, to tell you that my 279 colleages and I are eager to work with (Link) to implement (Link’s) visions and goals for the college,” Mencotti said. “We face the future from a position of strength, with much to be proud of and so we look forward to (her) leadership and guidance as we work together in service to Allegheny.” 

President of Allegheny College’s Alumni Council Gregory Ward, ’94, began his speech by asking all alumni in the auditorium to stand. 

“We, the alumni of Allegheny, pledge our support to this remarkable college,” Ward said. “President Link, we stand ready to support you as you lead Allegheny in its third century. We will work tirelessly in partnership with you and today’s faculty, staff and students to provide the very best education found anywhere in the world.” 

Ward also stated that the alumni will continue to “carry the torch for Allegheny” so that the college may continue to change lives.

President of Allegheny Student Government Jason Ferrante, ’20, was next to congratulate President Link. Ferrante recalled the role women have played in Allegheny’s history of the college during his speech.

In 1870, three women were admitted into the incoming class by the all male board of trustees, according to Ferrante.

“(The admission of women) was the first step that the college took towards equity for all,” Ferrante said. “Since its inception, Allegheny has been an institution led by presidents who until now have all been men, but in July, that all changed. Today, we celebrate Dr. Link and the promise of her leadership.”

Although many were saddened to hear about the retirement of Mullen in June 2019, Ferrante said it was also an extremely exciting time for the college.

“We had the choice for all to help us decide the future of the college,” Ferrante said. “It was a time for all of us to use our voices to guide the next chapter in Allegheny’s history.” 

Ferrante concluded by offering a formal welcome to President Link on behalf of the student body.

“Welcome President Link,” Ferrante said. “(The students) are very excited to begin this journey.” 

Professor of Political Science and International Studies Shannan Mattiace joined Ferrante in welcoming Link. Mattiace then used her few minutes to explore the important role Allegheny and other liberal arts colleges play in democracy. 

“Americans tend to exaggerate our exceptionality as a country,” Mattiace said. “One way we are truly exceptional is the model of the liberal arts college.”

Mattiace spoke of Allegheny’s role in cultivating democratic values. 

“From Allegheny’s founding in 1815, we’ve been in the practice of educating our students in civic responsibility — guiding them in the knowledge and ability to make thoughtful and ethical judgements on social issues,” Mattiace said. “We are proud of our long tradition of cultivating values that support democracy, even as our ideas of democracy have changed over the years since our founding. … May the values and beliefs that support and sustain our mission and our democracy continue to endure in the years to come.” 

Professor of English at West Point Elizabeth Samet, a close friend of Link’s, was the last speaker welcomed to the podium prior to Link’s installation. 

“My friendship with President Link dates all the way back to the seventh grade,” Samet said. Samet recalled spending evenings on the phone with Link, puzzled about the Latin syntax of the “Aeneid.” 

“It is only right to confess to you now that she was always far less puzzled than I was,” Samet joked. “Had you told me in seventh grade that I would one day be an English professor at a military academy, addressing the Allegheny College community on the occasion of my classmate’s inauguration as its president, I would not have believed you. Even if I had, I could not have known how to read the map from there to here. Neither I suspect could your president, but as anyone can see, she is exactly where she needs to be.” 

Associate Professor of Music James Niblock, ’97, led the inauguration choir in Non é tempo by Marco Cara before Feeley welcomed Link to the podium. 

“Hilary, the board of trustees unanimously selected you 22nd president of Allegheny College,” Feeley said. “We know that you will not let our faith or confidence waver. As for virtue, we know you will ensure that Alleghenians continue to stand up for what is right.”

Link’s spouse, Jeffrey, and two of their sons, Alexander and Zachary, joined her on stage to help her change her hood during her invocation. Link’s oldest son Jason could not join them for the inauguration. However, during her remarks, Link mentioned that Jason was “hopefully watching (the livestream) in Rome.” Although it took a few tries to get correct, Jeffrey helped Link change the hood on her academic dress. 

“I’ll tell you (the hoods) are hard, especially along with the hat,” Feeley said. 

Once Link’s hood was officially changed, she took the podium for her first remarks as an inaugurated president. 

“I can’t tell you how emotional it is for me to be here with you all, in large part because so many people have gathered to celebrate this historic moment for the college,” Link said. “This wonderful, special moment is Allegheny’s and it is mine, but it also belongs to all of you.” 

Link began by thanking the members of the inauguration committee, her husband and sons, extended family and dear friends who traveled from across the state, country and world to join her. 

“There are people here from every chapter of my life,” Link said.  “You have all been part of this journey, and if I am here today, it is in some large part because of you.” 

Among those who could not physically attend the inauguration was Link’s mother, who could not travel due to illness. 

“(My mother) is hopefully able to rejoice in the thrill of her daughter being named the first female president of this great institution,” Link said. “(My mother) and my father, who is here, deserve so much credit for raising me to believe I could achieve whatever I wanted, even as an undergraduate double major in art history and Italian.” 

Link mentioned that she wished she had had the foresight to respond to everyone who asked her what in the world she was going to do with her degree. 

“What can you do with a degree in the humanities or liberal arts in general from a great school, like Stanford in my case or Allegheny?” Link questioned. “Pretty much anything you want.” 

Allegheny matters more than ever because it provides students with the interdisciplinary education they will be needed to solve complex global problems, according to Link.

“In 2013, my family and I left New York on a life changing adventure,” Link said. “We did not have a fixed sense of term limits for the move. We vaguely said we would know when it was the right moment to return. I think we figured that one out.” 

However, Link argued that one does not need to get in an airplane, car or bus to gain an understanding of who we really are or our place with respect to others. Instead, people must be humble and open enough to see things from differentiating viewpoints. 

“Academic institutions like (Allegheny) have an obligation to not be a walled world where we are all the same and feel safe,” Link said. “We owe it to our students to give them the tools and the strength of self to interact with, confront and be the other, and hopefully to find some way to connect with or even just coexist with those who might even oppose who they are and what they believe.” 

Link cites her reading, studies and immersion in the Italian culture as her “bridge to elsewhere” that changed her.

“A liberal education is about gaining the power and wisdom, generosity and freedom to connect,” Link said. “This sense of connection is ultimately what brought me to this role and this gem of an institution. Let me close with this — Allegheny is a gem of an institution, but it doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. As someone who has spent her entire career in higher education, I can assure you in the most unbiased way that the teaching, research, mentorship, advising, support and connecting this college provides and fosters is second to none.”

Link explained that her inauguration is a chance for Allegheny to tell a slightly different story — a story that celebrates the college’s history while also embracing a future that is more intertwined with the community, more embracing of difference, more interdisciplinary and more global. 

The inauguration choir and ceremonial brass performed the alma mater prior to the closing of the ceremony. 

Before the recessional, Rabbi Leslie Gutterman led the audience in prayer.

“Since (Link) was a teenager, (she) has been distinguished by kindness, empathy, intellectual curiosity, modesty and determination to achieve her goals,” Gutterman said. “These gifts of spirit combined with Hilary Link’s humor, sensitivity and love of learning will add luster to her new responsibilities and so we pray.”