A Powerful Magnet

Remarks on Accepting the Presidency

By Nathan O. Hatch

Wake Forest University

Good afternoon. Thank you, Murray, for those exceptionally kind words. I am deeply honored and humbled today to accept the presidency of Wake Forest University. I am grateful to the Board of Trustees, its chair Murray Greason and Vice Chair Glenn Orr, to the Presidential Search Committee, and to the Senior University Appointments Committee for the confidence they have expressed by this appointment. Those involved in the interview process represented the Wake Forest community in a splendid manner, and their hospitality has been abundant.

Julie and I look forward to moving to Winston-Salem and taking on the challenges of this great University, a place that has a rich history, a compelling mission, and a very bright future. I intend to be faithful to the powerful traditions that inspire this place and to do everything in my power to advance Wake Forest as a leading university, committed to nurturing mind and heart.

I want to pay a special thanks to my wife, Julie, who demonstrated the courage and pluck to pull up stakes from a place that we have long cherished. I look forward to your getting to know her. I am blessed to be married to a woman who, more than anyone I know, keeps her priorities aligned. Julie knows no pretense, reaches out to people with enormous empathy, and loves her family and friends extravagantly. Julie also knows how to be direct, particularly if she detects that her husband might seem too full of himself.

I can assure you, we would not be here if she did not also feel called to work as a partner in making Wake Forest an alma mater ever more worthy of the name.

Let me say something about why Julie and I decided to take up this challenge. What was the powerful magnet that dislodged us from the Golden Dome and the Fighting Irish?

First, I am impressed with Wake Forest’s steep academic ascent. In my heart, I am a faculty member and above all I will prize Wake Forest as a place of learning. The women and men of the Wake Forest faculty are its most important asset. Nurturing a great faculty will be a high privilege. I am delighted that there are selective graduate programs that build upon the University’s areas of strength. I enjoyed thoroughly a term as dean of the Graduate School at Notre Dame, which was also small in scope but intent on being superb.

Second, I am impressed that, even as Wake Forest has become a national university, it also has a keen sense of place. Wake Forest has expanded its reach yet it holds dear its origins in the town of Wake Forest, where liberal education, faith, and common purpose blended together in life-changing ways.

The people of Wake Forest continue to value their deep ties to Winston-Salem and to North Carolina. Being rooted and expansive at the same time gives Wake Forest a compelling identity.

Third, I love that this is a face-to-face community, one that prizes the direct, unmediated interaction of faculty and students. Wake Forest can fulfill the true promise of an alma mater, in John Henry Newman’s words, that she “should know her children one-by-one; not a mint, a foundry, or a treadmill.” In this spirit, Julie and I look forward to getting to know many Wake Forest students.

Fourth, I am delighted that Wake Forest has such dynamic professional schools. To be at the forefront of leadership training in medicine, law, business, and divinity is a high calling, indeed, given the crisis of leadership that we know in America today. I look forward to working with Dick Dean and Bill Applegate to learn the strategic opportunities of our wonderfully dynamic academic medical center and its powerful outreach in the health sciences and to Winston-Salem and this region of North Carolina.

Fifth, I love Wake Forest’s motto, Pro Humanitate, particularly its interest in nurturing students morally as well as intellectually. I relish that opportunities abound at Wake Forest for students to serve and to be challenged by the big questions: What can I know? In what can I believe? To what should I be committed? Wake Forest’s religious heritage, far from being a liability or an embarrassment, offers the opportunity of a holistic education, one that allows students to wrestle with the world’s most pressing issues.

Sixth, I look forward very much to being part of the Winston-Salem community. This has been a very interesting place since the time that the Moravians in the 1700s acquired a great tract of land from Lord Granville. This is an exciting time for economic development in the area and Wake Forest is, and must be, a key force in moving the city and the region forward. Toward this end, I look forward to working with Mayor Joines and leaders throughout the community, particularly the rich higher education community.

Coming to Wake Forest is a homecoming of sorts for someone whose families are deeply embedded in the Carolinas. My Grandfather Hatch was raised on a farm in Pittsboro, where generations of Hatches since the time of the American Revolution lived and are buried in the cemetery of the historic Hanks Chapel Christian Church. While my father grew up in the First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, my mother’s family were stalwarts at First Baptist. If my Grandmother Orr could be here today, she would give thanks that at least one of her Hatch grandchildren had re-crossed the aisle and found a home in a place with Baptist roots.

Becoming part of Wake Forest is also not difficult for someone who still hazards to play basketball several times a week—and who, in his youth, drank at no spring other than ACC basketball. In Columbia, South Carolina, I attended University High School on the campus of the University of South Carolina—then still a part of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Our gym was only half a block from USC’s Field House. I clearly remember going to see Bones McKinney coach that great Wake Forest team that included Billy Packer and Lenny Chapel. I also remember seeing Wake Forest’s heralded quarterback Norm Snead single-handedly dismantle a favored University of South Carolina squad.

Let me conclude by offering a few words of thanks. The first is to the Search Committee, especially to Murray and Joan Greason, to Glenn and Ruthlee Orr, and to all its members who were such great ambassadors of Wake Forest. Let me also express deep gratitude to Tom Hearn, who is truly the architect of modern Wake Forest as a distinguished national university. Thank you Tom for your superb leadership, for your incomparable service to the Wake Forest and Winston-Salem communities, and for your and Laura’s kindness to Julie and me. Tom, we look forward to being your neighbors.

Let me also give a word of thanks to the President’s Cabinet for all their superb efforts in a time of transition; and in advance, let me thank them for their willingness to show the ropes to a newcomer. I have much to learn about Wake Forest, and I look forward to collaborating with you in coming months to define where we are today, where we should be going, and how we are going to get there.

Once again, let me thank you, all of you, for the confidence that you have placed in me. I am honored and humbled to undertake this high calling. I pledge my full commitment to Wake Forest and to what we can achieve by working together.