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  • Brendan Byrne

Tepp' Has Pep: President-elect Delivers Chapel Address

This article originally appeared in the March 6th, 2024 print edition. See a full recording of President-elect Tepper's speech below.

Dr. Steven Tepper, Hamilton's next president, speaks to community members on Thursday, February 29th. L-R: Search Committee student reps Quentin Messer '26 and Sophie Thompson '24, President David Wippman, Tepper, Search Committee chairs Linda Johnson '80 and Bob Delaney '79. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

On Thursday, February 29th, at 4 PM, Hamilton College 21st President-elect Steven Tepper delivered his first community address in the Chapel, brimming with ambitious ideas and a fresh sense of excitement for the College’s future.

Current President David Wippman, the Co-Chairs of the Presidential Search Committee, and student representatives on the search introduced Tepper. Linda Johnson ‘80 said of Tepper, “we have actually found a new president who exemplifies the values of the college. He is smart, creative, and believes deeply in the liberal arts.”

Bob Delaney ‘79 shared committee members’ comments like, “Steven has a vibrant and joyful spirit that is contagious when he steps into the room” and, “when you are talking to Steven, his attentiveness makes you feel as if you are the only one in the room.” He emphasized Tepper’s credentials, affirming “his work to bring creativity to college campuses, and his commitment to inclusion.”

Tepper spoke to a crowd of about a hundred community members. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

Tepper, who is leaving his role as Dean and Director of the Arizona State University Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, began his address by expressing gratitude for the search committee, Wippman, and the broader community’s warm welcome. He shined a special light on the student members of the committee: Student Government Alliance president Quentin Messer ‘26 and Sophie Thompson ‘24. Tepper said, “They left a major impression on me. I guess I would say that it was really through the two of you that Hamilton came alive to me in its full color, and all of its depth. Your curiosity is incredibly contagious.”

He segued into an anecdote of an interaction he had with a student outside of Dunham Residence Hall while exploring Hamilton’s campus. He also spoke of his son Sam, and how “when he was three years old, and we’d take him to the playground, he would walk up to every kid on the playground. and before he started playing he’d say ‘Hi, my name is Sam Tepper’ and shake their hand.”

Tepper dove into creativity, “that engine that ultimately lies behind every exhibit, every museum, every bit of culture, every bit of science, every bit of invention, innovation.” He gave an anecdote from his youth viewing the art of his peers. “I might have been talented, but I wasn't creative,” he said, but shared his lesson in realizing unconventional creativity. “I spent the rest of my life as a sociologist and a scholar trying to understand creativity in the context of workforces, and trying to figure out how to place it at the center of education, of community building, of democracy, of work.”

Messer and Thompson address the crowd, expressing confidence in Tepper's leadership. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

Tepper speaks. | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

Tepper elaborated on his intentions for leadership: “So I have ideas. You have ideas, but ideas that exist in our head are not what visions are made from, right? Visions are built from the exchange of those ideas, the refining of those ideas, the prioritization of those ideas, the testing of those ideas.” He expanded that “I do like provocations, to think with.”

His ‘what if?’ questions came next: “what if we make Hamilton a democracy makerspace where we actively practice and build the muscle for renewing our civic life, where we approach the most contentious issues of our time, not primarily from a position of outrage, but from a place of inquiry, and learning?” and, “What if we don't use technology for fast and efficient learning, but instead use it for slow and deep and sticky learning?”

Before bracing the audience, he asked, “What if we’re known for failure?” and said, “a courageous learner is a learner who can adapt when their ideas don’t work out.” Tepper broached community development, personal differences and pluralism at a college, and the intersection between disciplines to “go beyond fluency, to prepare the master communicators, or Hamilton graduates who can communicate across every discipline imaginable.”

Tepper imagined a future where “we got rid of all the microaggressions, all the signs and symbols of oppression, all of the exclusions that come along with power” and where “every learner and every member of this community could advance and evolve their remarkable brains – liberated from prejudice.”

He ended his speech with a message to the community: “I'm ready to learn. I am so open to your ideas, I love ideas and never want to close them off too soon.” Before expressing his thanks to the community, the trustees, and President Wippman for the success Hamilton has achieved, he asked: “Is anyone else this cold?”

Tepper speaks with Staff Reporter Brendan Byrne '26 (left) and Editor-in-Chief Eric Santomauro-Stenzel '24 (right). | Gabriel Bit-Babik '25 for Monitor

Before proceeding to a reception in the Bristol Hub, Tepper told the Monitor that in his “own reading about social movements, there’s thin and thick political participation.” He said “the muscles it takes to be in a democracy take more work” than “thin” social media engagement. “What do you have to practice to be good at democracy? Let’s figure that out.”

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