INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- A new era began at West Virginia State University Saturday morning, when Brian Hemphill was officially inaugurated as the school's 10th president.
"It was a moment that I'll cherish for the rest of my life," Hemphill said. "I'll never forget it."
Hemphill was surprised that his emotions got the best of him. He has been on the job for a year. Still, he choked up with tears while thanking his family and the school's faculty.
"I never dreamed I would find such a beautiful place to call home, a safe community to raise my family," Hemphill said. "The mountains of West Virginia are truly majestic, but I will tell you that it is the people who have captured my heart and the hearts of my family."
In front of about 400 people Hemphill promised to put students first and lead the university to new heights while embracing its rich history. Hemphill served for eight years at Northern Illinois University, where he was vice president for student affairs & enrollment and an associate professor before coming to West Virginia State.
Before his work at NIU, he was associate vice chancellor and dean of students at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, associate dean of students at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, assistant dean of students at Cornell College and coordinator of minority recruitment and retention at Iowa State University.
Hemphill said he will focus on student recruitment, retention and degree-completion rates, enhancing and expanding academic program offerings, alumni engagement and improving campus infrastructure.
"Energy is everywhere, the pride is palpable, the optimism is genuine and it is all very well placed," said Paul Hill, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission chancellor. "Already under President Hemphill's visionary leadership this university -- which is steeped in tradition that is always to be treasured -- is evolving and moving forward into a campus marked by kinship and diversity, strong academics and robust research, new opportunities, and at the center of all this is an unmistakable focus on students."
The historically black university was founded in 1891 as a land-grant university to provide higher education opportunities for all West Virginians. Hemphill said access to education must remain a top priority.