Feature | Long Read
An Unhurried Moment:
The Inauguration of Cindy Jebb
By Lisa Ambrose, Director of Communications & Public Relations | Winter 2023
A cue was given. A melody began. A processional entered the Spectator Lobby of the Bradley Center, aptly named for the event about to occur: The Inauguration of President Cindy R. Jebb, Ramapo College’s fifth in its 53-year young history. Hundreds of guests from near and far watched a sea of colorful regalia donned by faculty, staff, and delegates from colleges and universities near and far filled the floor. They would also witness history in the making: The installation of the College’s first woman president.
As the sun shined outside on autumnal October 14, the vision of Ramapo College shined on the dais through the words of those invited by President Jebb to address the crowd– speakers representing campus constituencies, colleagues and friends. Professor Ken McMurdy, who is also president of the Faculty Assembly, served as grand marshal, and signaled the start of the inauguration by holding up the mace, which is a symbol of authority and embraced as a ceremonial object by colleges and universities.
Chief Dwaine Perry delivers the invocation
Ramapo College sits on the traditional and ancestral land of the Ramapo Munsee Lenape peoples. Mahwah means “meeting place” and our name, Ramapo, is derived from the Lenape language, meaning “sweet water.” Appreciating this history allows us to connect with it. It was fitting for Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapo Munsee Lenape Nation to deliver the invocation. “Let integrity now be our badge of honor allowing Ramapo to wield the most powerful of effects: kindness.” Chief Perry is a Vietnam War veteran, an environmental and human rights activist, and his leadership helped establish the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp near campus.
Two of Jebb’s presidential predecessors, President Peter P. Mercer and President Robert A. Scott, witnessed the historic event from the front row. Gesturing to them, Jebb vowed, “I will work hard to build on your and your predecessors’ enduring legacies.” President Mercer served the College from July 2005 through June 2021, the longest tenure of all five presidents, and is for whom the newest building on campus, the Peter P. Mercer Learning Commons, is named. President Scott served from June 1985 through June 2000 for whom the College’s Student Center is named. During his term at Ramapo, Scott helped create the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, and Ramapo was designated as New Jersey’s public liberal arts college.
President Cindy Jebb poses with two Ramapo College presidential predecessors, President President Peter P. Mercer (left) and President Robert A. Scott (right)
Throughout her first year as president, Jebb regularly underscored the importance of inclusivity and community. The inauguration reflected that, especially through student participation. More than 30 clubs, organizations, and teams were represented by students in the processional, wearing their jerseys, letters and Ramapo maroon. Members of the Ramapo College Veteran Students Organization and affiliated ROTC programs performed the Posting of the Colors. Immediate past president of the Student Government Association, Anjali Patel ’22, led the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem was performed by Ramapo College student ensemble, CantaNOVA. Student Government Association President Paolo Miyashiro Bedoya ’23 spoke about Jebb’s investment in students, demonstrated by her campus omnipresence, “Whether she is moving in first-year students, cheering on our student-athletes, or participating in club events, President Jebb has immersed herself into our community and has repeatedly demonstrated that she cares. With every smile, fistbump, word of encouragement, and act of kindness, she has dedicated her time to getting to know our students and ensuring that our experience is the best that it could be.” Student Trustee Jakub Zak ’23, who served on the presidential search committee, echoed the sentiment, “President Jebb doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk by always being engaged and present at various Ramapo events. Seeing her presence brings smiles to students. This is exactly what students need to hear and see to become the leaders who will serve our society in the 21st century.”
Keith Dawkins ’94 represented alumni as an invited speaker
Additional speakers included representatives from faculty, staff, alumni, and The Honorable Philip D. Murphy, Governor of New Jersey, who delivered his congratulations via video, expressing enthusiastic confidence that, ”Dr. Jebb’s vast experience will bring a fresh and unique perspective to her role as president,” adding that the role of a college is “to ensure that each class and generation that leaves its campus is not just better prepared to succeed in the jobs and economy of tomorrow than the ones which preceded it, but better prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship, and Dr. Jebb is already demonstrating this.” This was Murphy’s second address to the Ramapo community since Jebb’s tenure began. In September 2021 he visited campus for the ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Peter P. Mercer Learning Commons, in which the beloved George T. Potter Library, named after the College’s founding president, resides.
Following an angelic performance of the Alma Mater by Lindsay Ruggiero ’24, two keynote speakers took to the podium to share their respect and admiration for President Jebb. Trusted friend and former colleague Major General Diana M. Holland, Commander, Mississippi Valley Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, delivered remarks that shared insight into Cindy Jebb the person. The Honorable Jack Reed, United States Senator for Rhode Island and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, provided an impressive list of Jebb’s accomplishments, proving why Ramapo is in the right hands at the right time. “She is a trailblazer who continues to pay forward the opportunities that she has seized throughout her career by investing her dedication, talent and intellect into the…students, faculty, and staff who have had the good fortune to come into her orbit. She has left an indelible mark on many, and she brings that same ethos, energy, and empathy to Ramapo College. And here, in particular, is where the vision of Ramapo College and the vision of President Jebb are aligned in a way that will benefit so many students, faculty, and community members. Ramapo, as the premier public liberal arts college in New Jersey, plays a special role preparing students to be successful leaders in a changing world.”
Major General Diana M. Holland
Senator Jack Reed
As Senator Reed spoke, the West Point Glee Club, in full dress gray uniforms, assembled on the risers to perform “Mansions of the Lord,” accompanied by the Ramapo College Concert Band. The inclusion of West Point cadets paid homage to the past while celebrating the present. Prior to her appointment at Ramapo, Jebb retired from the U.S. Army after 39 years of service at the rank of brigadier general and her post as the 14th and first woman dean of the Academic Board at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Board of Trustees Chairperson Susan A. Vallario commenced the installation of President Jebb. Vallario, who also chaired the presidential search committee, has been a longtime strong supporter of and advocate for Ramapo College. She noted how Jebb is only the fifth president of the College, which is testimony to the long tenures of those who preceded her and their commitment to the College. She then placed the Chain of Office on President Jebb’s shoulders. The Chain bears the official seal of Ramapo College and represents the history of presidential leadership of the College. It is worn during official ceremonies, such as the inauguration of a new president and Commencement, as part of the president’s academic regalia. The chain includes the names of Ramapo’s four past presidents. The inauguration marked the first time President Jebb would wear the Chain of Office.
Board of Trustees Chairperson Susan A. Vallario places the Chain of Office on President Jebb’s shoulders
A thunderous and heartfelt applause shook the rafters and slowly gave way to a hush as President Jebb took to the podium to address the audience, which included not only Ramapo College students, faculty, staff, alumni, retirees, and friends, but 35 delegates from colleges and universities in New Jersey such as the College of New Jersey, and William Paterson, Montclair State, Kean, Stockton universities, as well as from Harvard, Yale, New York, and Columbia universities and Middlebury, Lafayette, and Dickinson colleges. The inaugural address began, and it is where attendees were publicly introduced to Team Jebb by the president: Husband Joel, children, Ben, Alex, and Olivia, affectionately known as “The Jebblets,” her mother Ellen, brother Rob (both present), as well as her mother’s dear friend Ele. Jebb waved to the camera streaming the event live as she also expressed her love and gratitude for her daughter-in-law Heather, grandson Carter, and sister Jan.
President Jebb poses for a selfie with university and college presidents and delegates
Throughout her address, President Jebb’s commitment to the College was undeniably clear. Before concluding, she shared a personal story about her West Point ring, which she wore when she graduated, got married, and traveled throughout the world. “Over the years, the stone has incurred many chips, until it finally fell out somewhere in Michie Stadium during a football game in fall of 2020. I am happy to report that I now have a Ramapo maroon stone in it.”
The audience leapt to its feet for a standing ovation, peppered with cheers and whistles. Eyes and ears were then drawn to the risers to enjoy the song “Sea to Shining Sea,” performed by both Ramapo and West Point students– symbolic of how communities come together in harmony, both figuratively and literally. This was a day of honor and celebration, not only for Jebb, but for the College as a whole.
And celebrate they did! Outside of the Bill Bradley Sports and Recreation Center, the grassy knoll read “Congratulations President Jebb” in maroon paint. Cherry Lane, normally a bustling thoroughfare of commuter students heading to and from the parking lot and the Roadrunner Express shuttle bus taking students to the mall or train station, was closed for guests to stroll along, mingle with acquaintances old and new, and take selfies together. Lounge furniture was arranged under pergolas draped with white chiffon that swayed with the warm breeze Octobers are known to sometimes bring. Food stations lined the walkway with cuisines representing the countries in which President Jebb served during her service in the military including South Korea, Germany, and Iraq. A non-alcoholic beverage named “Cindy Cider” was served for guests to sip as they listened to music and encore performances by CantaNOVA, the Ramapo College Concert Band, and the West Point Glee Club while the sun set behind the Ramapo Mountains.
President Jebb said, “We are at the right place, at the right time, with the right people; it is the people who matter.” And although those words reference the larger vision upon which Ramapo College has embarked to realize, on October 14, those words also described the feeling of the day’s events. Ramapo College is destined to ascend boldly, and will do so while keeping top-of-mind the now unofficial motto Jebb coined when she joined the community in 2021: Be bold, be kind, be good teammates.
Following are excerpts from President Jebb’s address. To listen to the full address, visit ramapo.edu/inauguration
On Leadership Development
“We embrace the liberal arts as foundational for developing ethical leaders who serve as change agents across New Jersey and beyond. It is our liberal arts education that is designed, again, to teach how to think, not what to think. That is to think like an economist, an historian, a scientist, etc. We focus on experiential and interdisciplinary learning and intercultural and international understanding to generate the outcomes we seek in leaders.”
On Ramapo's Present
“We are the only institution in the tri-state area to have a Vice President for Student Well-being. We are making investments in counseling services to support our students, with a focus on supporting our growing population of first generation students. We are building well-being days into the next academic calendar. We are creating more opportunities through which persons can become mentors, and through which mentees can seek support. We are reassessing spaces on our campus with an eye towards strengthening safety and inclusion. We are delivering programs and events that focus on the importance of belongingness and intersectionality. And we have launched innovative programs to help address the teacher shortage; created additional paths for our non-traditional students to access a Ramapo education; and our nursing and social work programs are working in collaboration with numerous partners to address on-going health crises.”
On Ramapo's Future
“We cannot be intimidated by the amplified extreme rhetoric around us; we must create meaningful opportunities to model empathy and practice civil discourse. It is higher education’s duty, Ramapo’s duty, to engage students in different ways of thinking, different ideas, and different lived experiences—all integral to our liberal arts mission. Our democratic society requires its members to trust one another, which can only happen through relationship-building, meaningful discourse, and opportunities to learn. If there were ever a time to make strategic investments, it is now…For the Ramapo team, the sky is the limit as we approach hard problems with our all-hands-on-deck culture, centered by our values and guided by our mission…Our graduates will do the things they thought they could not do, and as an institution so will we.”