University of Richmond President Edward Ayers has been shaking a lot of hands lately. Now he's preparing to shake a few more.
During the course of the 2007-2008 school year, Ayers plans to visit 19 cities in 11 states and Washington, D.C. to introduce himself to alumni, students' families and friends of the university.
"My idea is that I'm going to go out and tell everybody about the fine things happening here at the University of Richmond," Ayers said.
He points to his new presidential status as a unique opportunity to reunite those who may have strayed from their association with the university.
"I would go anywhere that people would come to gather because I'll only be new once," Ayers said. "And I want to be able to use that novelty to get people to connect to the university."
Ayers has already held three presidential welcome sessions - two in Richmond and one in Nashville, Tenn.
According to Patricia Dann Loyde, president of the University of Richmond Alumni Association, many are showing up to see Ayers speak.
"We've had a great turnout ... and have been very pleased," Loyde said. "Each one of the Richmond events has been booked, so we've had to add a fourth one."
Loyde believes the personal nature of these welcome receptions is one of the main reasons that people have given such positive feedback.
"People like being able to ask questions of Dr. Ayers directly," she said. "They like [that] they can walk out saying they met him because they were able to shake his hand."
For Ayers, one of the most important parts of the whole process is introducing himself to almost everybody who sees him speak.
"I had one Wednesday night [September 19] at the Jepson [Alumni] Center. Three hundred people, and I shook just about everyone's hand," Ayers said. "It's tremendous to see the array of people ... who have had very different kinds of experiences."
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One of the most fascinating parts of the evening for Ayers was when an older alumnus introduced himself as a 1953 Richmond College graduate and pointed out the significance of that specific year for Ayers.
"It's fun to meet alums who graduated the year I was born. It gives you a sense of why this job is so interesting," Ayers noted. "To try to gather the affection and concern of people who span 60 years at the same institution, that's quite the responsibility."
Ayers believes that the alumni generally want the same thing: a caring community that maintains strong values. But he has noticed that certain groups of alumni do have unique concerns.
"The main group that I see who have a special concern are the Westhampton graduates who want to make sure that we honor the experience they had, here in the new coordinate college system," Ayers said.
According to Sarah Shear, assistant director of Alumni Relations, this is not the first time a new Richmond president has taken to the welcome circuit.
"We've had other presidents who joined the university do this as well," Shear said. "There was a tour for Dr. Cooper when he joined almost 10 years ago ... It is something customarily done with new presidents to introduce them to alumni, current parents and friends of the university."
For the rest of the fall semester, Ayers will stay fairly close by, along the East Coast, including speaking at different receptions in Virginia and other locations such as Atlanta, Ga., Washington, D.C., New York, N.Y. and Philadelphia, Pa.
During the spring, Ayers is scheduled to travel west to meet and greet the extended Richmond community at multiple locations in California, then later in Florida. In addition to these gatherings, he also plans to speak in Boston, Mass., Greenwich, Conn., Summit, N.J., and Chicago, Ill.
Outside of Virginia, the Washington, D.C. and New York City receptions are expected to host the largest crowds, Shear said.
Although the main draw of these events is the opportunity to meet Ayers, the alumni association also believes they present great opportunities to reconnect with alumni.
"The alumni association wants to make an effort ourselves to get back in touch with more of the alumni," Loyde said. "We think this is a good way to do that."
And according to Ayers, his obligation to students does not end when they graduate.
"The thing about alumni is what they really are, is former students," Ayers said. "All of this, it's really just an extension of the teaching mission. It's fun to see the difference that teaching makes, and people remember you 50 years out."
Ayers said he believed that the connection students make with their educational roots will last forever.
"How many things in your life do you care about for your whole life? Not many things," he said. "It reminds me of why being associated with the university is one of the best things in life. It's a life-long passion people generate"
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