Fort Hays State University celebrated the inauguration of its 10th president this weekend, but Tisa Mason insisted the celebration is for the whole university.
“Today is a formality, but it is not a celebration of me,” Mason said during her address at Friday morning’s inauguration ceremony. “It is a celebration of us — an inauguration not of a person, but of an institution. Today is our opportunity to pause and reflect on the things that make Fort Hays State University so special: Our spirit of hard work. Our remarkable community. And our enduring legacy of innovation.”
Mason’s remarks centered on the day’s theme of “Unlocking Untapped Potential,” but also on journey — the theme of the FHSU Foundation’s capital campaign — and family.
Mason spoke of her own journey, including her previous tenure at FHSU as vice president of student affairs from 2008 to 2014.
“For six and a half years, Fort Hays State challenged me and supported me, showing me over and over again the power of hard work and commitment, the value in personal investment, the importance of true community, and the transformative change that happens through innovation,” she said.
She acknowledged her parents, who were in the audience, and her husband, Bill, who changed his own career plans “so I could do the work I was called to do,” she said.
“I hope a small part of you recognizes that this is your day too,” she said.
Mason incorporated three videos in her address, focusing on the connection with the community, helping students define their own success and the legacy of innovation.
Following Friday’s ceremony, the celebration continued on the quad, where a free lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs waited. Chinese students performed a dragon dance through the crowd while others tried their hand at lawn versions of games like checkers, Connect Four and Jenga.
Through it all, Mason stood under a tent in the quad for a receiving line of well-wishers from the campus and community, speaking to each person and sometimes posing for pictures.
Many of the attributes Mason highlighted about the university apply to her as well, according to some who attended Friday’s events.
“What I get from Dr. Mason is that she’s super-personable and she cares about the students, which is essential to why we’re all here,” said Nuchelle Chance, a faculty development training specialist in the Department of Teaching Innovation and Learning Technologies.
“What I like is her attention to detail and the focus on a personalized education for each student,” Marearl Denning said.
Both Denning and her husband, Jim, a state representative from Overland Park, graduated from FHSU in 1980. They sat among the ceremony’s special guests including other state legislators, Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann and city and county officials.
Yu Suke, an exchange student from Japan, said he was honored to represent Japan and be part of the Tiger family in the presentation of flags representing international students at the beginning of the ceremony.
“I feel a strong connection with students, faculty members and not only the university but also Hays people,” he said.
He had applied with the student exchange program for a school in California, but FHSU was chosen for him. He said he’s glad for that.
“Here is a small city, but that’s why I can get involved. If I were in California, maybe I can’t,” he said.
Involvement was also part of the weekend celebration, as Mason asked for a service project to be included. On Saturday, she and her husband and parents will don gloves and hats to help other volunteers package more than 30,000 meals in the annual SWIPEOut Hunger Event at Forsyth Library.
The FHSU Global Leadership Project works with El Dorado-based Numana Inc. to prepare the packages for the nonprofit’s hunger relief programs around the world.
Saturday is also FHSU family day, and students and their families can take part in events including a fishing derby, tailgating downtown and outside Lewis Field Stadium, and the FHSU-Washburn University football game, in which Mason and her husband will arrive by motorcycle to present the game ball.
An exhibit of letters and certificates of congratulations for Mason at Forsyth Library will remain on display through FHSU Homecoming, Sept. 27 to 29.