Converse Inauguration 2023: Hopkins at the Helm
On Friday, April 21, 2023, Converse University celebrated the investiture of its twelfth president, Dr. Boone J. Hopkins, in the Zimmerli Performance Center at Twichell Auditorium.
All week, the Converse campus had been bustling with activities leading up to the inauguration and detailed event preparations.
Festivities kicked off on Wednesday, April 19, as members from Converse and the Spartanburg community attended the Community Partner Reception at OneSpartanburg. This event was an opportunity to show appreciation to local organizations that have meaningful partnerships with Converse University.
This event also celebrated the launch of a new official Converse beer. Divine 1889 was created through the Rockers Brewing Company of Spartanburg. The unique label was designed by Isabella Eraula ’24 as part of a collaboration with Converse’s Art 126 graphic design class. Eraula is an Art Therapy and Psychology double major.
View photos from the Community Partner Reception.
Thursday evening was a light-hearted event for Converse faculty, staff, and special guests as they gathered on campus for a fun-filled “roast” of Dr. Hopkins. Bowties and bubbly filled Wilson Hall as colleagues and friends roasted and toasted in celebration with President Hopkins.
On the morning of Friday, April 21, at 10:30 am, faculty, staff, students, and delegates from nearly 50 colleges and universities across the country processed out of Wilson Hall in honor of both the Inauguration and Founder’s Day.
The procession filed into Zimmerli Performance Center at Twichell Auditorium, where the Converse Symphony Orchestra, led by Interim Director Eric Scheider, and University Organist Dr. Brennan Szafron, performed Locklair’s “Phoenix,” a fitting nod to the symbolism of hope and restoration felt at the inauguration.
Sandra Shearouse Morelli ’78, Chair of the Board of Trustees, formally welcomed the full house of guests and acknowledged this significant moment in Converse’s history. She recognized three very special guests and past presidents of Converse: Dr. Sandra Thomas (served 1994-1998), Nancy Oliver Gray (served 1999-2005), and Dr. Elizabeth Fleming (served 2005-2016).
Morelli thanked all of Converse’s steadfast supporters and spoke about how their support remains essential to Converse’s vision of advancing a culture of belonging and collaboration.
“I am truly excited about the University’s positive momentum and for what the future holds for our vibrant campus,” Morelli said. “We have found a very special leader in Dr. Hopkins, who like those before him, brings the passion, vision, and commitment needed for this next chapter in Converse’s story.”
Past President Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Fleming said it was her honor to welcome Dr. Hopkins as Converse’s 12th president, She reminded him of Sir Isaac Newton’s quote from 1675: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Fleming advised Dr. Hopkins to learn from the mountain of experience that previous Converse presidents have provided.
Fleming said, “We were not always right. We made mistakes. But we have been supersized in our commitment to Converse, pouring ourselves into this place, its people, and especially to raising up others. Seek insights from our previous work. Borrow as necessary, and make it your own. Pay attention to the history, but do not be bound by it. You can take us further.”
Fleming then acknowledged Dr. Hopkins’ theatrical past and said, “We look forward to your fancy footwork as president!”
The Honorable Max T. Hyde, Jr. Representative, Thirty-Second District of South Carolina, spoke to the need for creative thinkers and the advantages of a liberal arts education to help unite the community and the country. “[Dr. Hopkins] is steeped in the liberal arts tradition, and he can communicate the relevance of the liberal arts today and for the future,” Hyde said.
Hyde said Hopkins is the right leader at the right time, and Hyde acknowledged the immense support that Hopkins’ wife, Dr. Chandra Owenby Hopkins (Dean of Converse College for Women) also brings to Converse.
The Honorable Jerome Rice, Mayor of the City of Spartanburg, sported a “Boone-style bow tie,” noting that he and Hopkins have a mutual love for this unique style.
“For more than 130 years, Converse University has been an integral part of the success of Spartanburg.”Honorable Jerome Rice, Mayor of the City of Spartanburg
“Dr. Hopkins takes the reins at Converse at a time of historic growth and renewed optimism in our city,” Rice said. Rice talked about the history of Converse — especially fitting as the inauguration landed on the same day as the birthday of Converse’s founder, Dexter Edgar Converse.
Rice reminded attendees that the work we all do now will echo throughout the Spartanburg community for decades to come. He also spoke to the positive effect Dr. Hopkins’ leadership will have on Converse University’s legacy, both on- and off-campus, as his presidency will help write Spartanburg’s next chapter.
“For more than 130 years, Converse University has been an integral part of the success of Spartanburg,” Rice said. “Our people have been enormously enriched by both the presence of this wonderful institution and the marks its graduates have left on our city for generations.”
One of the most highly anticipated speakers was Hopkins’ mother, Dr. Marsha Roberts Hopkins. She proudly stated that she was representing their family not only in Spartanburg but from their hometown of Gainesville, GA, as well.
“Life with Boone has never been boring”, she shared, as the audience laughed wholeheartedly. “We watched him compete fiercely in academic bowls, in football games, and wrestling matches. He learned to tap dance and to perform a stunt fall over a balcony!”
She even spilled the tea on her son’s love of bow ties, saying, “He always enjoyed dressing up. The bowties and that big grin appeared early and often!”
Dr. Hopkins’ mother became emotional as she spoke about the love Chandra and their children, Owen and Jack, have brought to the entire Hopkins family.
She reminded her son to “Always respect the honor of having this amazing opportunity. Remember your heritage and the people and experiences that helped prepare you for this role. Build upon the strong, deep foundation created by the traditions and individuals associated with this very special place.”
“Build upon the strong, deep foundation created by the traditions and individuals associated with this very special place.”Dr. Marsha Roberts Hopkins
Margaret Moore, President of the Faculty Senate, and Associate Professor of Physical Education at Converse, spoke to this new chapter in the history of Converse University with Dr. Hopkins leading the charge.
Moore has served under six presidents and four interim presidents during her five decades at Converse. “We are a vibrant community that spans many generations,” Moore said. “It is our commitment to the vision of our founder, Dexter Edgar Converse, that has helped guide and shape Converse into the institution that we love and hold so dear. I look forward to Dr. Hopkins’ leadership and the continued growth and progress that will take place under his guidance.”
Lexi Stoneburner, Director of New Student Experiences & Transitions, and Staff Council Interim President talked about an experience she had about a year ago in the very venue they were in for the ceremony today, Twichell Auditorium.
“I was sitting in Twichell, anxious to see and hear who our next President would be,” Stoneburner shared. “President Hopkins’ name was announced, and the room went wild with applause. I was so relieved and excited at that moment because I knew that Converse was in incredibly capable hands.”
Stoneburner talked about the incredible qualities Hopkins exudes as a compassionate leader. “He is a leader who wants to be where the students, staff, and faculty are and join the party or conversation.”
She spoke about the bright future that both President Hopkins, and Dr. Chandra Owenby Hopkins bring to Converse and the immense dedication and wholehearted investment they bring to its future.
Samantha Nicholson Larkins ’12 (Alumni Association Past President 2020-2022) welcomed the new leadership on behalf of Converse’s Alumni Association. Larkins spoke about the many fellow alumni she has met over the years who exude the distinct confidence of a Converse graduate.
“[Dr. Hopkins] has been a part of the Converse family as faculty for over a decade and understands the sense of belonging Converse provides.”Samantha Nicholson Larkins ’12
Larkins said she has the utmost confidence in President Hopkins’ leadership and vision for Converse. “His presidency aligns with one of the most critical times in our institution’s history,” Larkins said. “He has been a part of the Converse family as faculty for over a decade and understands the sense of belonging Converse provides. He is someone who recognizes the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and creates that sense of belonging.”
The importance of a liberal arts education was a topic Larkins echoed. “A liberal arts education creates social responsibility and transferable skills,” she said. “I am certain that President Hopkins shares a vision to maintain an atmosphere of innovation. We will always be a place to empower students to “see clearly, decide wisely, and act justly.”
Student Government Association President Angela Brobson ’23 offered her perspective on the many transitions Dr. Hopkins has supported students through over the past few years, from the Converse model change to the pandemic. Brobson said, “He has worn many hats, or should I say bow ties, at Converse with roles such as professor, Dean of the School of the Arts, Interim Provost, and now, as President.”
Brobson talked about the relevance of Hopkins’ installation ceremony being held on Founder’s Day. “You are entrusted with the students’ pasts, present, and futures,” she said, speaking directly to Dr. Hopkins. “We know Converse’s legacy is in good hands, and please know the students are behind you with our time, resources, and actions.”
Dr. David Berry (Professor of Musicology and Composition), Professor Rick Mulkey (Director of the Creative Writing Program and Director of MFA), and Dr. Scott Robbins (Professor of Musicology and Composition) were commissioned to create artistic compositions in celebration of Dr. Hopkins’ Inauguration as Converse’s 12th President.
Professor Mulkey wrote “The Gardener” in January 2023. In February 2023, Professors of Music Dr. David Berry and Dr. Scott Robbins both used “The Gardener” as inspiration for their piano pieces, titled “Flowering Trumpets” and “Life Toward Light,” respectively.
“Flowering Trumpets,” composed by Dr. David Berry, was performed by Assistant Professor of Piano Dr. Steven Graff. Visiting Instructor of Theatre Jenna Elser, read Professor Mulkey’s poem, “The Gardener.” Dr. Graff also performed “Life Toward Light,” composed by Dr. Scott Robbins.
From “The Gardener” by Rick Mulkey:
need only keep to his patient labor and not nettle
himself with losses. For eventually that constant care
leads every bloom to launch its life toward light.
Morelli then invited not only Dr. Hopkins to the stage but also his wife and two children, for the investiture of the President.
Provost Dr. Joe Wilferth presented Hopkins with the Converse medallion, its weight a reminder of the great significance of the Office of the President in the life and future of Converse. The link bearing President Hopkins’ name was donated by Carter Willard Smith ’88, and joins the names of each of Converse’s past presidents to remind us of the strength of tradition that helps guide leaders through the years.
Grand Marshal, Dr. Patricia S. Foy, Professor of Music Education, had the honor of presenting Dr. Hopkins with the Converse Mace, a symbol of the governing authority of the University. The Mace bears the names of Converse’s academic departments in its spiral elements, symbolizing the central educational mission of Converse and the essential connection between the president and the faculty.
The auditorium shook, momentarily even affecting the live stream, from the standing ovation Hopkins received as he was formally inaugurated as Converse’s 12th President. Hopkins beamed proudly and said, “How do you take the podium with a heart so full?”
He then greeted the guests saying, “Welcome to our Converse,” reminding the audience that Converse exists not because of one person, but thanks to all those united.
“Pouring belief into others is what Converse is all about,” Dr. Hopkins said, speaking to the day in April 2012 when he was being interviewed for a position by Converse’s then-President, Betsy Fleming. He thanked Fleming for seeing qualities in him that he may not have seen at the time.
President Hopkins then took a moment to acknowledge his “friend, mentor, and the consummate champion of Converse,” Dr. Jeffrey H. Barker, Converse’s 11th president. “On this 21st day of April it has been exactly 21 months since we lost our incredible teacher and friend, and we all live in the shining light of his leadership and care for this campus,” Dr. Hopkins said solemnly.
“Pouring belief into others is what Converse is all about.”President Boone J. Hopkins
Dr. Hopkins expressed gratitude for his family, especially to his mother, his wife Chandra, and his two sons. He spoke to the current challenging times, reminding all that we “are doing the best we can by carrying a light forward into the future.” He spoke to the challenges Converse’s previous presidents faced, how they persevered and carried hope into the future generations of Converse students.
“Converse has and will continue to deliver on our mission to educate students to be transformative leaders who can and will live boldly in our Founder’s Ideal: to see clearly, decide wisely, and act justly,” President Hopkins said.
He reminded guests that the day was not just about the inauguration but also a celebration as Converse marked Founder’s Day, when the campus reflects on the foresight of its founder, Dexter Edgar Converse. Dexter Edgar Converse, a father like Dr. Hopkins, wanted his daughter to access a world-class education right here in Spartanburg.
“Today,” President Hopkins said, “we remain steadfast in our commitment to the mission and vision of Converse – to learn and grow not only essential skills, intellectual depth, and knowledge, but compassion and empathy.”
Student Government Association President Jasmyn Williams ’24 told President Hopkins that his “passion, dedication, and ever joyful energy is truly unmatched, and has brought solace to many during these past few years of uncertainty and change.”
The Converse student body then presented its gift to the campus in honor of this momentous occasion — a new outdoor gathering space with swings and a fire pit to provide additional opportunities for students to connect and embrace all that Converse has to offer. Williams then presented an additional gift to Hopkins — a personal marshmallow roasting kit.
Guests sang Converse’s alma mater, and then Anna Patterson ’24, President of Religious Life Council, gave the benediction.
Dr. Foy raised the mace and led the procession out of Twichell, where guests mingled and enjoyed lunch on the lawn, complete with the traditional Founder’s Day treat of strawberries and cream, in front of Zimmerli Performance Center, Wilson Hall and Johnson Plaza.
Watch the inauguration ceremony on the Converse YouTube channel.
But the festivities didn’t end there! There was no shortage of entertainment that night as Converse students, faculty, alumni, and staff put on their dancing shoes to “Paint the Town Purple,” where guests celebrated the next chapter in our University’s vibrant future in Hannah Gymnasium in Weisiger Center.
President Boone Hopkins and Dr. Chandra Owenby Hopkins entered the evening event, welcomed by sparks and resounding applause. They took the dance floor for the first couple’s dance followed by Soul Train Dance Line, which students quickly joined.
The celebration shared by the Converse community at “Paint the Town Purple” capped off three days of events for this significant moment in Converse University history.