A young Tracy Gapinski’s earliest memory of Illinois Valley Community College was watching her mother graduate from the nursing program. On Thursday, it was her mother’s turn to watch Tracy (Gapinski) Morris take center stage and be installed as the college’s 11th president.
The investiture ceremony that saluted the college’s legacy and future also brought Morris full circle. Between that first graduation and her selection as president this year, she returned to IVCC again and again. She graduated from IVCC in 2001, returned to a career there, and always stayed in touch even while commuting to work at two other community colleges.
On Thursday, before an audience of 200-plus family, IVCC employees and visiting academics from Illinois Central College, Joliet Junior College and seven other institutions, Board of Trustees President Everett Solon placed a brass medallion – known as a chain of command – around Morris’s neck. The symbol is engraved with the school entrance’s soaring roofline and will be worn at graduation and other ceremonies.
Speakers congratulated and advised the new leader, who is the first IVCC alumna to hold the office. Clyne Namuo, JJC’s 10th president and a friend and mentor, advised, “Don’t hit the ground running, don’t hit the ground walking, don’t hit the ground crawling. Hit the ground listening. You have two ears and one mouth – consider that ratio as your leadership.”
In a nod to Morris’s penchant for selfies, he added, “And with your two thumbs, you can selfie your way!”
He concluded: “Thank the family that is sharing you with all of the community and campus. And as much energy as you have and are willing to give the College, don’t feel bad about taking time” for responsibilities outside the presidency.”
English/Journalism instructor Lori Cinotte observed Morris already is following Namuo’s advice. In her five months on campus, “she’s been everywhere! I don’t think there’s a corner she hasn’t visited or a person she hasn’t met.”
Prior to the ceremony, Cinotte gathered dozens of words and phrases describing Morris from family, friends and colleagues. Caring and compassion led the list, and “when you merge that with her enthusiasm and her passion, you can see where IVCC is heading!”
Morris “has always been a staunch student advocate. She’s there for students and they know it,” Cinotte added.
Referring to Morris’s tenure at ICC and JJC, Cinotte called it “a journey that brought a new set of words and allowed her to grow and achieve, listen, learn and grow strong and ready” to pilot IVCC into its second century.
“Sometimes, the right person arrives at the right time. Her time is now and together we have the words that serve as the foundation upon which Dr. Morris will build her legacy.” Employing another phrase from her stock to describe Morris’s drive, Cinotte turned to Morris and invited her to “get ‘er done!”
IVCC’s first female president, Jean Goodnow, was one of Morris’ earliest mentors. She observed that, as the child of a single parent and first-generation college student, Morris is uniquely qualified to understand students’ trials in juggling the demands of college and life responsibilities.
“I’m delighted to say that Tracy has come home,” Goodnow added to audience applause. “I hope she will inspire you and stretch you and make IVCC a diverse community college that continues to give back to the community.”
Morris said she was inspired by her mother’s achievements and absorbed the lessons of role models through the years. They included instructors like Ed Krolak, who “never let me get by with ‘I don’t know’ as an answer” and Harold Bauswell, who let her know he cared when she was absent from class. They also included supervisors and colleagues who pressed her to higher academic and professional aspirations and convinced her that only by leaving IVCC to work at other colleges would she refine her skills and polish her presidential potential.
She credited the love and support of family, friends and colleagues. When she made the difficult decision to leave IVCC for ICC, co-workers gave her a four-leaf clover piece as a parting gift that “I still wear when I need a boost.”
Morris noted the investiture is the first of 100 events planned over the upcoming year to celebrate the college’s centennial and embrace the next century. Morris continues to champion innovation and advancement in programs and services, and observed, “the energy here is contagious!”
IVCC’s impact runs as deep throughout the community as in Morris’s own family, she said, noting the industries, schools, businesses and organizations filled with IVCC graduates.
“Community colleges are changing lives every day and I couldn’t be prouder to be president of the college that changed my life.”