Taking the reins of leadership during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Stetson University’s 10th
president formally accepted the school’s charter 16 months later.
The pandemic postponed the inauguration of 56-year-old Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, until Saturday’s homecoming weekend, and the weather forced the celebration indoors rather than on Stetson Green.
But the former Dean of the College Emeritus and Professor of Education at Vassar College wanted to make it clear the day was not about him. “Today is about focusing our collective energies to help our students to learn, to grow, to reach
their full potential as informed citizens of local communities and the world,” Dr. Roellke said. “Today is about equipping our
students with the skills and dispositions required to lead society judiciously to good ends. Again today, it's
about Stetson University and not about your 10th president.”
A tarp covered the hardwood of the athletic court of the Edmunds Center, providing a comfortable backdrop for Dr. Roellke, a basketball and baseball player as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University.
“I spent a good portion of my life and a good deal of my education actually was earned on basketball courts like these,” he said. “I must say this is a little bit more daunting than being at the free throw line with six seconds to go and down a point, because the scope of this responsibility is so enormous.”
Dr. Roellke called it the greatest honor and privilege of his life.
Stetson Board of Trustees member Yvonne Chang served on the search committee that interviewed
Dr. Roellke and as Mistress of Ceremonies. She told the estimated 250 masked members of Roellke’s family,
dignitaries, guests and well-wishers spread out in the stands and those watching via the internet, that he was the one who checked all of the boxes.
“We soon realized as a committee that he was indeed that very unique unicorn that we were seeking,” Ms. Chang said. “That very unique leader that would lead us triumphantly forward as a Stetson community.”
Dr. Roellke made a previous request to have his family take part in the inauguration ceremony. His wife, Dr.
Kim Roellke, a veterinarian, and daughters Emma, Julia and Liv took turns telling tales of why he will be a
great Stetson president. Like the time Emma was two and fell down a couple of stairs and bumped her head on the concrete. Her dad intentionally took a tumble down the same steps and bumped his head on the concrete to make sure she would be OK.
The crowd laughed at the thought, which included Dr. Roellke’s 91-year old mother, Elizabeth Roellke, and his nephew Cadet Master Sgt. James Roellke, who recently enrolled at Stetson, and led the ROTC Color Guard for the inauguration. Numerous Stetson faculty, staff and alumni took turns sending well wishes and expressing their delight to see the impact Dr. Roellke has had on campus, particularly as he led the school through the pandemic. Those who could not attend, sent their best in video recordings played intermittently throughout the ceremony.
In her recorded address, Dr. Catharine “Cappy Bond Hill, the keynote speaker and president emerita of Vassar College, professed the pairing of Stetson and Dr. Roellke was a perfect fit.
“In an early interview with your new president, he mentioned that the people he had met, who study and work at Stetson, were kind, engaging thoughtful and hungry to make a difference. And that convinced him that Stetson is going to be a great place for him. Again, that is not surprising since all these attributes describe your new
president perfectly,” Dr. Hill said.
Dr. Roellke revealed that during his interview for the office, he was asked what he would want his Stetson
University legacy to be. He simply said he wanted to be remembered as a kind and empathetic leader who listened and immersed himself in the community and that he left Stetson in a better place than when he started.
After the ceremony, he said starting his tenure with a once in a lifetime pandemic gave him a chance to get his kindness legacy off to a good start.
“That’s bottom line stuff,” Dr. Roellke said. “And I’ve been fond of saying, ‘You know, let’s make kindness as contagious as this darn virus,’
you know? And I think it’s a mantra that I think the community has picked up on."