Purple academic regalia once worn by now-UL System President Dr. Jim Henderson loomed stage left, longing for its new wearer.
Flower arrangements topped college pennants behind the orchestra and lined the bottom of the podium center stage, setting the mood for a joyous occasion, which the orchestra commenced with the “British Eighth” march.
If you intended to keep a tally of every “fork ’em,” both spoken and mimed, on stage at Friday’s coronation-esque ceremony, you probably gave up within 30 minutes.
These observations can all be associated with one characteristic: pride.
An immeasurable sense of pride filled the Fine Arts Auditorium in the A.A. Fredericks Arts Center as students, faculty, staff, administrators, legislators, community members and others gathered in honor of Dr. Chris Maggio, who was formally invested as the 19th president of Northwestern State University Sept. 15.
That pride was not only in Maggio’s achievements; it was also a result of reflection on progress made at NSU since its genesis in 1886, exemplified by an all-time high enrollment: 10,572.
Four welcome speakers shared anecdotes, touching on the Maggio family’s long-standing presence at NSU and in Natchitoches. Among them were Monty Chicola, Alumni Association president, and Dr. Thomas Reynolds, Faculty Senate president and associate professor of English.
“I can think of no one at this university more firmly rooted in Natchitoches and NSU than Dr. Maggio,” Reynolds said. “His years of service have helped NSU survive through tough times and thrive in better times. We as a faculty look forward to working with Dr. Maggio for many years to come.”
Chicola acted one side of a phone call he said was common in a “Day in the life of Monty,” much to the audience’s amusement. On a more serious note, he highlighted Maggio’s relationship with the student body and his run for the presidency.
“He had to compete against people from all over the nation, and Chris was at the front of the pack,” Chicola said.
Guest speaker Gary Fields was an upperclassman when Maggio started his undergraduate years at NSU and said he was “prepared to not like him” but couldn’t.
“I was just so glad he had the good decency to be a couple of years younger than me so I could get out of here before he owned the place,” he joked.
“My school will be greater because Chris is at the big house on the lake,” Fields said, referring to the President’s Residence. “I know with every fiber of his being and every fiber of Jennifer’s being and every drop of their blood, they will be pushing for Northwestern – and I’m not talking about that little puny school up in Illinois; I’m talking about the Northwestern State University.”
In his Presidential Address, Maggio said the ceremony was a celebration of NSU: its students, history and tradition. He shared the story of his grandfather’s settling in Natchitoches and dreaming his children would one day get an education at the school that sat “in the shadow of his home” – a dream that would soon come to fruition with seven of his 11 children receiving degrees from NSU.
“All of us accept the responsibility to keep this university’s fires burning brightly here and around the world, for it’s the duty of each generation to build a better society than the one which we were born into,” Maggio said. “We must assure that thousands of individuals not yet born will have the opportunity to gather at this university, to sit in our classrooms and to earn a diploma and graduate Northwestern State University as productive alumni and citizens.”