At high noon yesterday at Baltimore's College of Notre Dame, the tower clock started chiming to celebrate the inauguration of the new president, Mary Pat Seurkamp, resplendent in a bright blue robe.
The 51-year-old Seurkamp (pronounced "sircamp") is the first laywoman to become president of the 102-year-old college in North Baltimore.
No one on the Roman Catholic women's college faculty could have ordered better weather for the pomp and circumstance. Marching in the academic procession behind professors were Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and the archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal William H. Keeler.
In a stirring inaugural address before hundreds of people -- mostly women, from teen-agers to octogenarians -- Seurkamp paid tribute to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who, she said, "in an age when women were not educated, founded us."
But her focus was clearly on the future and the relevance of liberal arts education in the global community of the next century.
Far from creating a sheltered environment for women, Seurkamp said, the college's mission is to train minds to engage and change the world around them with a "belief in your ability to make a difference [and] a commitment to promoting human dignity."
She also called for more visible community service by students. "We must discover the ways in which we as a college community can be anchor, leader and contributor to our Baltimore City neighborhood," Seurkamp said.
The audience, which included more than 50 members of Seurkamp's family, including her husband, two daughters and son, cheered her with a standing ovation when the presidential medallion was draped around her neck by Jane Burke, chairwoman of the board of trustees.
Another trustee, Judge Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman, Class of 1962, told the crowd that in the nine months Seurkamp presided over Notre Dame before yesterday's ceremony, "her winning personality captured us."
A musical interlude featured a quartet performing "Alpha," a piece commissioned for the event and composed by faculty member Anthony Stark.
Before his benediction, Keeler congratulated the beaming Seurkamp on her "creativity" in integrating several family members into the academic parade by having them represent their alma maters.
Amid the solemnity, the occasion was seasoned with light moments. Robert H. Chambers III, head of Western Maryland College, noted that a college president is sometimes known as "only a dean who has lost his faculties."
Concluding, Chambers invoked Ralph Waldo Emerson's letter to Walt Whitman upon reading "Leaves of Grass." Emerson wrote: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career."