Poem’s meaning supports chancellor’s inaugural message to students

By Shenandoah Briere | Apr 20, 2018
Photo by: Tailyn Clark Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and UMass President Marty Meehan installs Robert E. Johnson as UMass Dartmouth's new chancellor.

Before University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Chancellor Robert E. Johnson left the podium on April 20, he recited, with a twist, Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”

“Just like moons and like suns with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, we at UMassD say still I rise,” Johnson said.

It wasn’t the only poem Johnson used during his inaugural address as the university's 10th chancellor on April 20, but it was the one which moved the audience to its feet.

During the two-hour event, Johnson was honored by faculty, the university community, and family members alike.

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan put it simply during his speech: Johnson was the right person for the job.

“I believe this is an institution not only with a lot of pride, but with incredible potential, and with Robert Johnson at the helm I believe UMass Dartmouth is well prepared to navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities that are ahead,” Meehan said.

Johnson’s 30-minute speech centered on three key points: offering a private college educational experience at a public cost, the need to prepare students for the ever-changing world, and how students will create the future.

In his speech, he asked students to keep believing, because if they are willing to fight for success, he will be right there beside them.

“If you will fight for your dreams, we will fight for you,” he said.

Johnson touted success the university has had in recent years and how officials are moving the university forward, such as through continued research efforts. He focused on how today’s students are the leaders and creators of tomorrow.

“We must not just teach graduates to qualify for the jobs of the future – we must teach them to create the jobs of the future,” Johnson said.

Johnson said students must learn to have agile mindsets, which will allow them to adapt to the complexities of the world.

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise,” Johnson said. “Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”

Divina Grossman, the university's last permanent chancellor, stepped down in December 2015. Peyton Helm served as interim chancellor until Johnson was named to the post in March 2017.

Student Mildred Walker sings the national anthem. (Photo by: Shenandoah Briere)
Representative William R. Keating greets the audience. (Photo by: Shenandoah Briere)
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