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A Brief History of Emerson Presidential Inaugurations

Jay Bernhardt will be inaugurated as the 13th president of Emerson College in an official Investiture ceremony in the Cutler Majestic Theatre on March 22.

Dr. Jay Bernhardt speaks from a lectern
President Jay Bernhardt’s first Picture Yourself event for prospective students. Photo/Rian Nelson ’25

Like his predecessor, the Investiture will follow several days of events that highlight an eclectic array of events that highlight what makes Emerson, well, Emerson.  

Looking Back at Last 45 Years of Emerson Inaugurations

The history of American college presidential inaugurations dates back several centuries, before the formation of the United States of America. But there probably wasn’t a comedy showcase at Harvard’s installation of John Leverett in 1707.

Investitures often involve a processional and a recessional, musical performances, delegates from select higher education institutions, greetings from representatives of the community to the president, presentation of regalia and medallion, and an inaugural address by the president. This year’s investiture includes all those aspects and more.

This time around at Emerson, inauguration events are very 2024 topics, and include artificial intelligence, the College’s Gender-Affirming Voice and Communication Program, the Emerson Prison Initiative, and a gallery that affirms the rights of students of all cultures to exist.

Lee in Lion's Den
Lee Pelton, 12th president of Emerson College.

In September 2012, there were two days of events for the inauguration of President Lee Pelton (2011-2021). One panel discussed the roles of arts and communication in solving local and global problems, with an eye on how media influences societies and culture. Pelton led a discussion with the ProArts Consortium presidents of how colleges devoted to the arts and communication can contribute to a world in which cultural complexity is the norm and civic leadership is a must.

In 2012, like previous inaugurations, there was a showcase featuring student performances. That was before Emerson added a Comedic Arts major, so this year’s stand-up comedy showcase is a new addition.

Woman shaking man's hand
Former Emerson President Jackie Liebergott with Pete Chvany at his retirement celebration in 2010. (Courtesy of the Emerson College Archives and Special Collections)

In 1993, Jacqueline “Jackie” Liebergott (1992-2011) was installed at the Emerson Majestic Theatre (it wasn’t yet called the Cutler Majestic Theatre) as Emerson’s 11th president, and first woman leader. There were three days of events, including a performance of The Birds by Performing Arts students, and a lecture led by the Division of Communication Disorders (predecessor of our modern Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders).

It’s normal for inauguration of college presidents to take place after they’ve been in the position for several months. Or even years, in the case of John Zacharis, who started in the position in 1989, but was inaugurated in June 1991 in the Emerson Majestic Theatre.  

Allen Koenig, who served as the college’s 9th president from 1979-1989, was inaugurated in November 1979 in Boston’s Old South Church.

Information about previous Emerson College inaugurations was provided by the Emerson Archives & Special Collections.

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