“Let Us Imagine a Community of Learning”: Dr. Mary Dana Hinton Is Inaugurated as Hollins’ 13th President

Hinton Inauguration

President Mary Dana Hinton invited the Hollins community to “believe that the essence of the liberal arts – the freeing of minds – demands the freeing and nurturing of imagination” during her installation as Hollins University’s 13th president on April 22.

With a theme of “Imagining a Community of Learning, Belonging, Love, and Justice,” Hinton, who took office in August 2020, was inaugurated before students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, trustees, and special guests in Jessie Ball duPont Chapel.

In her address, Hinton described “the intense calling toward imagination that I have been feeling. A calling I have been aware of my whole life. A calling that is a rekindled flame in my soul.” She noted that “robust imagination is not just the territory of children; it is not the stuff of make-believe. Imagination is kindled in unsuspecting moments, quiet places, and deep rituals. Imagination is the innermost, profound work of thinking about life through an unexplored lens. Of looking at one’s circumstances and being able to conceive something different. Often something more.”

Speaking of how fortunate she feels to have had “an education that unleashed my imagination,” Hinton explained, “My will for that education was a result of imagining something different. I imagined freedom; I imagined opportunity; I imagined unconditional love. And it was a liberal arts education that unlocked those imaginings for me. To me, the examination and manifestation of imaginings is what education is all about. So let us imagine a community of learning.”

Hinton called liberal arts education “the work – the action if you will – of the moral imagination, the creative energy and effort to understand or visualize the struggle of another and to then harness the effort to bring to fruition the needs or imaginings of another. It is seeing, valuing, and supporting the human potential of another.”

She acknowledged that her concept of the liberal arts conflicts with the conventional wisdom “that the liberal arts are for those who breathe the most rarefied of air. That to examine the big questions of life should be left to those for whom it is their legacy.” Countering that approach, she argued that “limiting and circumscribing how we think about education and who has access to it is a failure of imagination. That to shroud oneself in exclusion in the name of the liberal arts is to fundamentally misunderstand and misappropriate that very thing we claim to love.

Hinton Inauguration 2
President Hinton: “At Hollins, we must ensure every student has the opportunity to be successful. We must rebuke the perpetuation of inequity.”

“The liberal arts are for those whose minds imagine freedom, who imagine something different, who imagine something more. A liberal arts education is a call to imagine for the sake of creating and transforming. Creating and transforming self, creating and transforming community, and creating and transforming the world around us.

“This notion of imagination is, in many ways, baked into the very fabric of Hollins. When I ask this community – the Hollins community – to imagine with me, I ask that we live into our institutional calling.”

Emphasizing the crucial role of justice and equity, Hinton talked about what was required for Hollins to continue thriving. “We must ensure every student has the opportunity to be successful. We must rebuke the perpetuation of inequity. This is the exhausting work of imagination; the justice work of imagination; the joyful work of imagination. If you choose to take up the mantle of imagination with me – the work of learning and crafting justice and joy – we need to find the peace, the courage, and the compassion to sustain ourselves through this work.”

Hinton concluded by asking the audience to envision “the dawn of a new day” and uphold three guiding principles for the future:

“Imagine: You belong.

“Imagine: You are enough.

“Imagine. You are loved.”

She added, “Imagine all these things because you are fearfully and wonderfully made. And may you come forth this day to embrace everything you imagine with hope, purpose, and joy.”

Dr. Marjorie Hass, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, delivered the inauguration’s keynote speech. Introduced by President Emerita Nancy Oliver Gray, Hass praised the event as “a momentous day for this campus and for all of higher education. Hollins has a storied history of devotion to the intellectual progress of women and a commitment to creativity, self-expression, and problem solving. Beyond degrees and career preparation, a Hollins education aims at the spirit. Here students are helped to see that their insights, their words, and their actions matter. Hollins cultivates habits of mind such as humility, consistency, compassion, and respect.”

Hass stated that leaders with courage and grace such as Hinton will be essential in addressing the challenges and pressures that liberal arts colleges face both today and in the future. “The graceful leader shines her light on the things that matter. She makes a space for others to shine, to make good, and to make a gift of themselves. Everyone has a place at her table. She finds the best in us and she inspires us to give each other the benefit of the doubt and to give others more than they are strictly due.

“How fortunate we are to have Mary as our model and our friend.”

Other highlights of the inauguration ceremony included:

  • A land acknowledgement by Cecelia Long ’70, the first African-American graduate of Hollins and a former member of the school’s Board of Trustees. Long recognized the Tutelo/Monacan people, as well as other Indigenous peoples, whose land on which Hollins now resides.
  • A reading by former U.S. Poet Laureate and current member of the Hollins Board of Trustees Natasha Trethewey M.A. ’91.
  • Community greetings from Student Government Association President Leena Gurung ’22 (on behalf of students); Professor of Music and Chair of the Faculty Judith Cline (on behalf of faculty); Joe Vinson, custodian (on behalf of staff); Antoinette Hillian ’00, president of the Alumnae/i Association Board of Directors and member of the Hollins Board of Trustees (on behalf of alumnae/i); Hollins Magisterial District Representative Phil C. North (on behalf of Roanoke County); Sherman P. Lea Sr., mayor of Roanoke, and Patricia White-Boyd, vice mayor of Roanoke (on behalf of the City of Roanoke); and Betsy B. Carr ’68, member of the Virginia House of Delegates (on behalf of the commonwealth of Virginia).
  • Music by Helena Brown ’12, soprano, of New York’s Metropolitan Opera; and the Hollins University Choirs.

Watch the installation of Dr. Mary Dana Hinton as Hollins University’s 13th president in its entirety.