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A Day in the Life of Colorado College's 12th President: Richard F. Celeste
A Day in the Life of Colorado College's 12th President: Richard F. Celeste
A Day in the Life of CC's
12th President: Richard F. Celeste
(Click here to read Everyone's Just Two…Three…Four Degrees of Separation from Celeste.)
By Ann Christensen
Photos by Tom Kimmell
President Celeste President Dick Celeste strides into Armstrong Hall's administrative offices, leaving an invisible contrail of focused energy that sweeps three other people into the inner sanctum. Within four minutes, he's taken note of each one's concerns, answered two e-mails, moved four items from In to Out, returned a phone call.
Yet there's no sense of hurry. The office is calm and dimly lit; brick-red walls are hung mostly with photos of pols: Celeste chatting with Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell. A table hosts pictures of wife Jacqueline and youngest son Sam. On the bookshelves, biographies of Charles Lindbergh and Thomas Jefferson sit near books about growth strategy and costumes and textiles of Royal India.
Celeste leaves the office. Now there's a definite sense of hurry - Celeste's stroll leaves an average person breathless. "This is where I make up time," he says, although he repeatedly stops to hold open doors for other people. Loping through the quad, he greets by name at least half the people he meets - faculty, aides, students, janitors. He follows up on recent conversations: Are the fluorescent lights fixed in your classroom? How did your physics test go? He expresses appreciation constantly, even for complaints: "Thanks for bringing that to my attention."
Walking into a Business Policy and Strategy class, Celeste takes in the circle of sleepy eyes, acknowledges students he's met previously, starts with a couple of disarming jokes.
President Celeste Guest teacher Van Skilling '55 timed this visit to coincide with the class's study of Tata, an Indian multinational firm. When a student asks for advice on moving into foreign markets, Celeste said, "The real challenge is finding a good partner and being a good partner."
The students listen closely. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is the case study they've just read. Naturally, Celeste knows the Tata family personally, describes them as highly ethical.
Today, says Celeste, about half the Fortune 500 companies do mission-critical work in India. Your competition, he tells the business students, is not Kansas City. It's Singapore, Bangalore, and Beijing.
Back at Celeste's office, Alumni Director Karrie Williams reviews the Homecoming schedule; they discuss protocol for introductions. Williams tells him, "We have over 2000 people registered, the highest ever. Everyone wants to meet you."
Scans a department briefing binder, laughs out loud at his e-mail, whips through the In and Out boxes again. Calls maintenance: "Can I mention a few things that came out of office hours last week?" Takes a call, declines a board position: "I'm 100 percent involved in running this institution."
Celeste springs across the quad, scarcely slowing to scoop up a nickel in the grass. Touring the math department with Chair Kathy Merrill, he focuses on identifying which computer lab inadequacies will be resolved by next year's move into the new Tutt Science Center.
Then, sitting around a table with the math faculty, he asks, "What excites you?" The younger members talk about their specific interests and the rigor of the curriculum; the veterans talk about the small-liberal-arts-college freedom to cross mathematical fields of interest, to teach a variety of classes.
Then he switches to one of his favorite topics. "What would happen," he asks, "if we recruited top high school math students, like we do hockey players? What if we hook up a dozen really special math students with this department?"
Back at the office, Celeste writes responses on a stack of documents, each topped by a blank Post-it. "Beth!" Beth Brooks '80, daughter of former dean Glen Brooks, and director of the president's office enters, pen in hand. "I thought your dad promised me a honeymoon!" They sort through a fat gray folder of mail together. Celeste scans three newspapers while he makes more calls, answers more e-mails.
There's still no hurry. Celeste moves with the unselfconscious aplomb of a man used to making major decisions every minute. Work flows smoothly under the ministrations of his assistant Pam Buick, who in five months has learned how the geography of Celeste's desk corresponds to the topography of his attention: the "right-now" zone, the two "ongoing" piles, the "prep-me-for-today" stack.
Romance languages Chair Clara Lomas shows Celeste around a warren of crowded offices, then convenes the staff in the lounge, which has a distinctly European charisma even before people with mellifluous accents introduce themselves. "I've read the memo," Celeste says. "Now I'm interested in learning beyond the memo." The heartbeat of the room quickens. Lomas pitches a language dorm, citing a waiting list and a flooding problem at the Spanish House. "Stewart House too!" exclaims Celeste.
Celeste floats a question: "One challenge in the early days of the Block Plan was foreign languages. Tell me how it works now." Kathy Bizzarro laughs. "You take your vitamins, you work out! Today it's the present tense, tomorrow it's the future tense. It's the Marine boot camp of foreign language instruction."
Celeste asks, "What if we recruited students for the Romance languages? What if we looked for kids who have graduated from International Baccalaureate high schools, who have an interest in learning multiple languages?"
Kathy Bizzarro nearly jumps out of her seat. "We'll need a dorm!" she exults.
Celeste asks the group to think on a strategic scale. "What do we want to be in five years? Do we want to say 90 percent of our students have studied abroad? What's important?"
Back at his office, Celeste shows Bonnie Stapleton into a chair in front of the desk, then takes one alongside. "I hate to talk to people across a desk," he says. They discuss her part-time status as debate coach, the hours she actually works. "There are quite a few people around here who don't watch a clock," he notes.
President Celeste Stapleton tells him the debate team's got a great shot at nationals. When Celeste mentions recruiting, Stapleton says that comparable schools offer debate scholarships. Celeste tells her, "I want us to think about a strategy of selective excellence. What if we had 10-15 top debaters in each incoming class? Would that help other students develop leadership skills?" Stapleton reacts as though he's read her mind. "That's a great place for us to go, because we can have competitive success and pedagogical service as well."
Celeste concludes, "If you find yourself putting your vision of a top debate program at Colorado College on paper, what it looks like, how it fits into the rest of the campus, I'd love for you to share that with me."
Buick returns with appointment options for Celeste's next trip to New York, where he'll meet with CC art students and do some fundraising.
Wife Jacqueline Lundquist pops in. "So you're leaving me tomorrow? I'd have been nicer to you over the weekend if I'd known that." They print schedules, review, coordinate, nuzzle, like long-time business partners who've suddenly grown sweet on each other. She sips his Diet Coke. They discuss plans: "Taos for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas - Hawaii? Durango? Probably not India this year." Celeste masters the office copier. "Ta-da!" he says, imitating his five-year-old.
Ann Van Horn '85, participating in a leadership project, interviews Celeste about political savvy. "My own sense of political savvy," he says, "would be sufficient exposure to the political process to be able to understand the mechanics and the unwritten rules of the game, and most of all to understand the importance of personal relationships in making the process work."
Van Horn asks, "How will political savvy help you in the hierarchy that exists here?" Celeste mulls this over. "One of the things you learn in politics is that you can't please everybody, but people will respect decisions made in a way they can understand, with openness and transparency. Another thing you learn is that some issues require a quick decision. I'll make that decision and we'll move forward. But there are decisions you can't make without building a constituency, like a strategic plan."
"Politics," he says with a grin, "is the process of getting people together around a common goal. Political savvy is how you get them together."
President Celeste Celeste pops over to the Worner Center to check out the new workout facility. Music pounds, students gorge on pizza.
Hoisting free weights, Celeste uses them as a vehicle to start a conversation with students, one or several at a time, jocks to dreadlocks, activists to internationals, geeks to Greeks, about everything from fair-labor politics to each student's classes. He pokes, he hugs, he hoists those weights a few more times, he departs. Even the students he didn't speak with seem impressed.
The gathering at Stewart House is underway when Celeste enters. Son Sam, waiting on the steps, says "You're just in time for the party," just as he says to every other guest, though he has a special story from kindergarten for his dad.
President Celeste The party is a thank-you, perhaps the 200th time today Celeste has said those words, but more elaborate. On the concrete back porch, in front of a magnificent Pikes Peak sunset, he thanks Lief Carter and everyone who helped put together the 9/11 symposium. "A lot of people got it right in the end - they saw our commitment to being an institution of free speech and preserving civility."
Nonetheless, Carter says, "I think the next symposium will be on Italian Renaissance art." Celeste quips, "Is the Pope the keynote speaker?" Laughter, more conversation, glasses clinking. Celeste checks his e-mail in his home office one last time. Watching affectionately, Jacqueline says, "Brilliance abounds." Political savvy, too.
Click here to see photos and more from the inauguration of President Richard Celeste in October 2002.