RCC holds ceremony to inaugurate new college president

Wolde-Ab Isaac honored before friends, family and members of the Riverside community

Written by: Jackie Mora

One of the oldest traditions in academia, the Investiture Ceremony honoring the inauguration of Riverside City College President Wolde-Ab Isaac, took place Oct. 12 from 9-10:30 a.m. in the Landis Auditorium.

Celebrate: RCC’s new president, Wolde-Ab Isaac, shakes the hand of Irving Hendricks former RCCD interim chancellor, at the Presidential Investiture held in Landis Auditorium on Oct. 12. Photo courtesy of RCC.edu

Celebrate: RCC’s new president, Wolde-Ab Isaac, shakes the hand of Irving Hendricks former RCCD interim chancellor, at the Presidential Investiture held in Landis Auditorium on Oct. 12.
(Photo courtesy of RCC.edu)

“On such a historical day of celebration I am proud, honored and humbled to be installed as the 11th president of this great institution,” Isaac said.

One of the oldest traditions in academia, the Investiture Ceremony honoring the inauguration of President Isaac, took place Oct. 12 from 9-10:30 a.m. in the Landis Auditorium.

The ceremony commenced with a performance by the RCC Wind Ensemble, led by conductor Kevin A. Mayse. The lighting of the Lamp of Learning by Ryan Rudolph, student trustee followed. Rakhee Uma, vice president of the associated students of RCC led attendees in the pledge of allegiance.

Among those in attendance, were Mayor Rusty Bailey, Riverside Community College District Chancellor Michael L. Burke and RCCD Board of Trustees President Virginia Blumenthal. Family members, including the president’s three sons Zeru, Simon and Yisak and his youngest sister Mehret, sat in the front row at the ceremony.

Longtime friend and comrade, former Ambassador of the state of Eritrea to the Russian Federation H.E. Teclai Minnadie, traveled from Europe for the occasion.

Students were curious, enthusiastic and in good spirits about the ceremony.

“I’m excited, I can’t wait and seeing everyone dressed up in their regalia is really intimidating,” said a smiling David Huxley, RCC student and Interclub Council representative.

One student was encouraged by her politics instructor to attend the event.

“My politics teacher is very interested in this inauguration and he asked us (students) to come to this after we took our quiz today,” said Emily Lawless, RCC student. “I think it will be interesting to see how something like this happens, it’s going to be a cool experience and I’m excited.”

Introductions were led by Virginia McKee-Leone, acting vice president of Academic Affairs.

Speakers positively reflected upon their hopes for RCC’s future now that Isaac is president.

“I learn from him every time we are together,” Bailey said. “He is humble, he is focused and most importantly, compassionate to the unique needs that face young people in our region.”

Bailey offered his service to President Isaac and thanked him for his commitment to this great endeavor. “Riverside is and will be a better community because of you,” Bailey said. “May God bless you in your pursuits as president and may God continue to bless RCC.”

Once more, Isaac’s trademark commitment to the students was recognized.

“Every single time we have a conversation, I’m struck with his solid thinking, his determined commitment to quality and his abiding concern for the health and the welfare of the students,” said Kim Wilcox, chancellor of the University of California Riverside. “It’s always about the students.”

One speaker reminisced about writing and working on several unique grants over a decade and a half ago. The grants involved faculty collaboration, curriculum development and technology transfer with the University of Asmara in  Eritrea, East Africa,where Isaac served as president.

“I remember the numerous faculty interactions, events, dinners,” said Mark Lehr professor of computer science and engineering. “And once having a little too much fun, thus becoming somewhat incapacitated.” Laughs from the crowd ensued. “Thankful that a concerned and grim faced Dr. Wolde-Ab brought a doctor to the hotel room,” Lehr said. “I have never thought of Dr. Wolde-Ab as being anything but a president and now he is officially our president.”

Before accepting the interim-president assignment, Isaac was vice president of academic affairs at RCC for a year and a half.

Dariush Haghighat, president of the faculty association for RCCD,shared his relief upon hearing the news of Isaac’s application for vice presidency. Haghighat was vacationing halfway around the world when he received the phone call from one of his colleagues.

“That night I slept like a baby,” Haghighat said. “Taking comfort in the fact that after so many years of wrestling and agonizing with all the impostors who had played musical chairs with various leadership positions at RCC, our institution finally had a real chance to bring aboard one of the most decorated, accomplished, sophisticated and genuinely committed leaders in the higher education world that we could wish for.”

Isaac is not only praised by his colleagues for his incredible academic achievements, but also for his strength of character.

“I trust him implicitly because I know that his honor, his integrity are his greatest treasure,” said Michael Burke, chancellor of RCCD. “I know that he will only and always do the right thing. I know he will take the high road. He will honor the fundamental decency of everyone at RCC. “

Virginia Blumenthal, president of the RCCD Board of Trustees quoted British historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay.

“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he were never found out,” Blumenthal said. “Well, Dr. Isaac your character has been found out.”

“It is your dedication, compassion and belief and as a proven example of how access to education results in access to quality of life,”Blumenthal said. “Dr.Isaac you have changed our world with your work, your dedication and your grace.”

Keynote speaker, Salvatore G. Rotella, chancellor emeritus, spoke of Isaac with high academic esteem and as a dear friend.

He touched on the instability of the presidency. In 2004 to take on the newly created post of chancellor of the system, Rotella left the role of RCC president.

“There were seven presidents in 84 years and 6 in the last ten,” Rotella said.

Rotella grew up in Eritrea, Africa where Isaac was born and raised.

“Dedication to family and a passion for education have distinguished Dr. Wolde-Ab since early in his life,” Rotella said.

Isaac was the oldest of seven siblings and made sure that each one of them got an education.

“I am very proud of my brother; he is like a second father … ,” said Mehret Isaac,sister of Isaac. “He was the one who encouraged me to go to school. He paid for me actually to come here to the U.S. and go to college. So yes, today is a big day, I’m very proud of him and I’m very, very fortunate that I have a brother who encourages me, who inspires me and he is always there for me. He has my back all the time.”

Following Rotella’s speech, Blumenthal and Burke officially inaugurated Isaac by adorning him with a ceremonial sash.

President Isaac began his address by thanking  the many people who had been involved in making the ceremony possible, including all of the music professors and the performers for their ”fascinating music that has added glamour and class to this occasion.”

Isaac shared his gratitude and told attendees about his journey to presidency.

“I am very deeply humbled because I know that the long and complex journey that has brought me to this point is not mine alone,” Isaac said. “As Chancellor Rotella stated, I was born in one of the poorest nations in the world.“

Isaac’s father completed the first three years of elementary education while his mother never attended school. He was not only the first born of his siblings, but also the first in his family to go to college.

Although the family struggled economically, he said his parents provided immeasurable love and support to him.

“The primary drivers were my parents and my teachers who believed in me and encouraged me to go on to the next level,” Isaac said.

He shared how his parents would be proud of him. His father is deceased and his mother is 91 years old, therefore age and distance prevented her from attending.

Isaac discussed his involvement in rebuilding the university of his homeland of Eritrea, Africa in 1993, after the catastrophic war had ended and left it in ashes.

“Having been on the receiving end for most of my young adult life, to find myself in a position of giving and seeing so many young men and women empowered through education is incredibly rewarding,” Isaac said “It is the single most rewarding experience in my life.”

Isaac spoke from his experience of the importance of monetary contributions to a college,but in his final analysis “dramatic changes and remarkable achievements are made by people of conviction.”

“In a world where we are deafened by news of war, famine, terrorism and drugs it’s easy to forget that we are surrounded by great people of good will who are ready to help us empower and transform people through education,” Isaac said.

He is already working on creating new successful pathways for students beginning from K-12 to RCC and on to a university as seamless and as smooth as possible by creating more opportunities and restructuring and strengthening existing school systems. He said his goal is to “tear down walls of isolation and enhance communication and collaboration.”

He believes his gigantic endeavor will succeed because “We have the people of conviction who are determined to bring change to the community,” Isaac said.

A performance by the RCC Chamber Singers, led by conductor John Byun, followed the presidential address. All guests stood while the chamber singers led the singing of RCC’s alma mater. The RCC Wind Ensemble concluded the ceremony with a final performance.

A reception took place in the Landis Foyer featuring music by the RCC Jazz Combo, while guests welcomed and congratulated RCC’s new president.

“I am from Morocco, so it’s very nice to be present in the investiture of Dr. Isaac, a fellow African citizen. It was such a nice celebration,” said Fath-Allah Oudghiri, San Bernardino Community College District director of facilities planning and construction. “What a fantastic story, how lucky Southern California is to have such a diverse population and this is a great example of how immigrants bring in a lot of value to American society and unfortunately that story is not told so much.”

Among the crowd of smiling guests at the reception was Isaac’s son, Simon Isaac,who is following his father’s lead by choosing to major in chemistry at University of California Riverside.

“I thought it was great, this was a very good experience for me to see him, he is my number one role model,” said Simon. “I look up to him and I know I won’t be anything close to the man that he is, but it’s in the path that I want to go.”