Smith inaugurated as SUNY Potsdam's 18th president

Posted 4/19/24

POTSDAM -- It was a day of celebration at SUNY Potsdam as SUNY officials inaugurated Dr. Suazanne Smith, the 18th president in the 208-year-history of the university.

On hand for the event was …

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Smith inaugurated as SUNY Potsdam's 18th president


POTSDAM -- It was a day of celebration at SUNY Potsdam as SUNY officials inaugurated Dr. Suazanne Smith, the 18th president in the 208-year-history of the university.

On hand for the event was SUNY Chancellor John B. King Jr.,  as well as Interim Provost Alan Hersker, Peter Galloway, alumni association president, Potsdam Town Supervisor Marty Miller and a number of other school and community representatives.

In her address to students, faculty, alumni and numerous family members in attendance, Smith spoke of her hopes for the future and plans to bring the university back to prominence.

"As you know, I haven't had the easiest first year in this presidency, but I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by an incredible President's Council who work hard, laugh a lot and do everything in their power to ensure the success of our students and our campus.

Smith also touched on her lifelong interest in collecting teddy bears, saying Winnie the Pooh was her favorite for the life lessons that can be gleaned from the many stories.

"I have often said that when I get to know people, I classify them as one of the characters from Winnie the Pooh, and it's true. I love Pooh because he teaches us about friendship and support as shown in this reading, how to treat people with kindness, that we should come together as a community to celebrate and mourn, and that we should surround ourselves with a variety of people who are each unique and different but who as a whole provide everyone with a sense of belonging," she said.

Smith said it is those lessons that she hopes to instill in others on the journey forward as president of the university.

Smith was complimentary of SUNY officials, especially King Jr. for his devotion to ensuring SUNY Potsdam has a bright future ahead.

Described by many as empathetic, loyal and caring, Smith was celebrated for her devotion to the university in a trying time, while bringing a comfortable and familial touch to the school.

Smith's four dogs were also mentioned on multiple occasions as "a familiar sight for students who may miss some of the comforts of home."

"Those of you that know Brett and I also know we love dogs, as evidenced by having four of them in our house. I admit that having three puppies eight to 12 weeks old all at the same time was a bit much, but now that they're older, they, along with our older dog, bring so much laughter and love into our lives, as well as to the students who have come to our house for dinner," she said.

King Jr. commented that Smith's inauguration is a special one for him, as her selection as president at SUNY Potsdam was his first appointment to such a role as chancellor.

He went on further, detailing his connection to Smith through their various meetings over the last year and a half, saying she was the right person to help the university weather the storm.

"When we consider what is necessary for the university to succeed for the next 208 years, we realize we need Suzanne Smith," King Jr. said.

King Jr. spoke to Smith's personality and experience as some of the many reasons that SUNY officials were drawn to her and feel she was the proper candidate to lead the university forward.

While the current situation at the university is worrisome, King Jr. said he knows that with Smith at the helm the university will be well on its way to another 208 successful years.

Faculty Senate Chair Dr. Greg Gardner had similar thoughts, saying that during his time with Smith he found her to be a leader of strength, honor and compassion. "You accepted the role of our president at a time when you knew we were facing turmoil and difficult change on our campus, and it speaks clearly to your strength of character that you chose to assume the tremendous responsibilities of your position," he said.

Demonstrating her impact she has had on previous students, a handful of Smith's students from Georgia Southwestern State University were also in attendance.

Smith came to SUNY Potsdam from Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Ga., where she had served as provost and vice president for academic affairs since 2018.

Smith was further praised for her humility and compassion towards others, including students and physical plant employees to state officials.

CSEA Local President Lynne Durant commented that Smith truly believes that every member of campus contributes to the student experience, embodying the sentiment herself.

"She took the time to meet with all of our physical plant staff and listen to their issues and their hopes for the college. Suzanne sat down in the break room of our grounds department and took the time to listen to what they needed, to ensure that our campus grounds were maintained and provided a good first impression for our potential students," Durant said.

One of those students was Student Government Association President Kylie Wilkins who said Smith has welcomed nearly a quarter of all students into her home just from student groups and organizations she has met with.

"Every time I am with President Smith and she is introducing herself to someone she's never met, she always introduces herself as Suzanne. Most campus leaders I know on different campuses will always introduce themselves by their title first and their name second. It takes a special kind of person to be humble enough to start by introducing the human behind the position first," she said.

"It's fitting that after collecting bears for so many years I can finally say 'go bears.' It is as if my younger self was trying to manifest this all those years ago," Smith said.

Much like her hopes to make Potsdam feel like home for future generations of students, Smith said she and her husband fell in love with Potsdam nearly at first sight.

"We loved the people, the downtown, the location, and yes, even the snow. We felt like this was a place where we could feel at home. Thank you for your part in making us feel at home. We are honored and proud to be Potsdam Bears," she concluded.