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"An Emotional, Symbolic Center As Well"

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Leaders have an awfully big job, whether or not they choose to accept it. Asked whether she’d been surprised at any aspect of becoming president of Swarthmore College, Valerie Smith told The New York Times last Sunday,

I knew intellectually that I would need to be on pretty much all the time, especially in a small college in a small town. The neighbors want to get to know you, and that’s really important and great.

But what I did not expect is that role of the president in a small, liberal arts college is often sort of an emotional, symbolic center as well.

That means that when unexpected things happen in the community, people want me to say or write something that is intellectually appropriate but also heartfelt. They really want to know that the emotional center is authentic.

I’m not sure I appreciated that before I started. I don’t mind it at all, though. It requires me to be my better or higher self.