President Valerie Smith Finds Herself at Home at Swarthmore

Valerie Smith

Delaware County Daily Times: Valerie Smith set to become 1st African American to head Swarthmore College

Valerie Smith had never been to Swarthmore College before last November, but the new president of the internationally acclaimed liberal arts school soon came to find the atmosphere to be a bit like old home week.

A former instructor of English and African-American studies, Smith discovered she had taught Swarthmore Associate Professor of Political Science Ben Berger when he was a student at Princeton University, where she most recently served as dean of the college.

Eric Wagner, the soccer coach, his father was my professor at Bates. I knew him when he was a little boy. I babysat for him and his siblings,” said Smith, who earned her undergraduate degree from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. “It’s a small world.”

The world seems to be coming to the 59-year-old Brooklyn native this weekend for her installation as the 15th president of the 151-year-old college. Named to the post on Feb. 21, Smith has been in office since July 1, but she will be officially installed 3:30 p.m. Saturday amid a [two]-day celebration dubbed “Changing Lives, Changing the World.”

Guests will include dozens of delegates from U.S. colleges and universities, some of Smith’s former students, a good friend of hers from the United Kingdom and many of Smith’s family members including siblings, nieces, nephews and her parents, Reeves and Josephine Smith of Long Island, themselves retired educators.

“A big piece of this is to see so many people who mean so much to me. It is very moving,” said Smith, who earned a doctorate from the University of Virginia.

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The author of more than 40 articles and three books on African-American literature, culture, film and photography, Smith said she is beholden to such trailblazers as Ruth Simmons who became the first black president of an Ivy League institution when she assumed the helm at Brown University in 2001 and Johnnetta Cole who was the first African-American female president of Spelman College.

“They opened doors for me and I’m hopefully opening doors for others,” said Smith.

Read the full article at the Delaware County Daily Times

Read more coverage of President Smith's inauguration at The Philadelphia Inquirer and KYW Newsradio. Additionally, an excerpt from President Smith's inaugural address was published in the Inquirer.