Steve Turner Address
Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012
Center for the Performing Arts | Tahlequah, Okla.
Chancellor Johnson, Regent Matlock, Chief Baker, Chief Wickliffe, Dr. Deason Toyne, Ms. Chappelle, Mr. Teague, and Mr. Highers, thank you for being here today and for your kind words. To the Faculty Council, the Staff Council, the Student Government Association, and the Alumni Association, thank you for the nice gifts in honor of this day and our new beginning.
I wish to extend special thanks to Board of Regents of the Regional University System of Oklahoma, and former Regent Belva Howard who in June of this year completed 27 years of service, for giving me the opportunity to follow my dreams. I also want to welcome Sheridan McCaffree, the executive director for RUSO.
Until today there have been 18 presidents at NSU. Thirteen were formerly installed and five individuals served in acting or interim status. I am honored to join this list of accomplished leaders as the 19th president. The 17th president, Dr. Don Betz is here today. President Betz would you stand and be recognized for your service to NSU?
In attendance today is one of two individuals who guided me to completion of my doctorate from the University of Oklahoma in 1998. Dr. David Tan, my dissertation co-chair, is serving as the official delegate for the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Tan, please accept my sincere appreciation for your contributions in making this day possible for me and my family.
Thanks to all the delegates, friends, those that traveled so far, and our ECU and Ada family for joining us. Dr. Rugg, I want to thank you and the other members of Investiture Committee for your commitment to making this ceremony successful. In addition, I am so grateful to the Cabinet members and the direct reports at NSU who have been so thoughtful in their efforts to move our institution forward. I have been blessed throughout my years in higher education to be surrounded by great folks.
To the members of our families, Penny and I are thrilled that you are here. The most special recognition today goes to my immediate family: My wife Penny, and our oldest son Matt, daughter-in-law Kelley, and our youngest son Tim. They have sacrificed so much through the years in support of helping me accomplish my dreams. I love each of you and am so proud of who we are together.
I want to mention three individuals who have passed on yet they continue to have a profound effect in my life. East Central University Police Chief Ray Farmer saw things in me that I did not see in myself, Dr. Bill Cole, ECU’s sixth president who served from 1989 to 2006, was a great mentor and gave me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise, and lastly, my mom, Betty Turner who passed away four days after her 67th birthday on October 10, 2008. I know she would be happy today.
Chancellor Johnson, Chairman Matlock, members of the Board, distinguished guests: I accept the charge and commit to you to perform at the same level as the level of trust you have shown in appointing me president.
To the students, faculty and staff, I pledge to you that I will work tirelessly to provide opportunities for each of you to develop your full intellectual and human potential. We will labor together and help each other as we accomplish our mission by empowering students. The faculty are the heart and soul of this institution and our success in the past, and for generations to come, is predicated on the craft of teaching. The staff are usually the first point of contact with student and their families. We need to provide a quality education while being the best employer in Northeast Oklahoma. To that end, I am pleased to announce the creation of the President’s Ambassadors Network. Half of all the contributions to this fund at the NSU Foundation support professional development opportunities of our faculty and staff. I want to pause and say thank you to the faculty and staff for your service.
Today is a day to remember and celebrate our past and to look to the future with hope and aspiration of what is ahead. The music for today’s program tells the story of Northeastern State University.
In 1846 the Cherokee Legislature passed legislation that provided for the construction of a seminary for females and a male seminary. The female seminary was to be located at Park Hill. For our out-of-town guests, Park Hill is about 5 miles southeast of here. Early in the construction phase, a time capsule was interred with an inscription on the lid that read “Placed in the Corner Stone of Cherokee Female Seminary, 21st day of June, 1847”. The original Female Seminary was dedicated on May 7, 1851. History records the May seventh date was chosen by the people of the Cherokee Nation to commemorate the opening of both the female and male institutions. It was stated that “on this momentous day the Cherokees ignited the lamp of learning in the wilderness”.
The female seminary burned on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1887. A few days later, the cornerstone was located beneath the burned rubble and the capsule removed. It remained unopened. A decision was made to build a new female seminary in close proximity to a reliable water source. A site north of town was secured and the Cornerstone Ceremony for the new Cherokee Female Seminary was held on April 25, 1888. I will say more about the Corner Stone Ceremony in a moment. The 1847 capsule was placed unopened in the new cornerstone along with a second capsule containing items from 1888. As part of the 100th anniversary celebration in 1989, the capsules were opened. In the 1847 container was a Hymnal titled “Cherokee Hymns Compiled from Several Authors and Revised”, Seventh Edition with a copyright of 1844. It is remarkable that it was already in the seventh edition in 1844. The hymnal, written in Cherokee, symbolizes the original legislation passed in 1846 that provided for the first female seminary at Park Hill. In honor of these remarkable events in 1846 and 1851, the Cherokee National Youth Choir opened today’s program with the song "America the Beautiful". Today the voices of Cherokee National Youth Choir have been united with the voices of old in the songs of faith and inspiration. Mary Kay Henderson, the director of the choir told me that they continue to use the 1844 hymnal.
The Recessional today is "Auld Lang Syne." This song was used as the Recessional at the Cornerstone Ceremony of Seminary Hall on this campus in April 25, 1888. On this day approximately 1,500 Cherokee officials and area residents joined with members of the Masonic Lodge to lay the cornerstone. According to Dr. Brad Agnew, NSU Professor and historian, Seminary Hall was the largest building erected in Indian Territory at a cost of $60,000. It stands today as a testament to education. Seminary Hall, as we know it today, was dedicated on the 7th of May, 1889. The Cherokee Advocate reported this: “On Tuesday . . . the Cherokee Female Seminary, newly erected, was formally dedicated for use as a high school for Cherokee young ladies. The weather was just right – neither sunshine nor storm – and just enough wind to make it pleasant. Between two and three thousand people were present and were counted, among whom were representatives of every district in the nation, and of every class of our citizens. The precession was over a mile long. The Masons, Odd Fellows, Sunday Schools of Tahlequah and Eureka, the special choir of the occasion, and all the business houses of the city were represented – each detachment being led by a handsome banner, and all the preceded by the Tahlequah Brass Band”. As we leave this place today, we are reminded that students have been educated on this site for 123 years. In honor of the approximately 3,000 students who attended the Cherokee Female Seminary, we must move forward with a rich awareness of our heritage.
The processional for today is “Home” by Phillip Phillips. A few weeks ago the student body was given the opportunity to suggest a song for the processional. The suggestions were listed and duplicates removed resulting in a final list of 51 songs. The list was reduced to three songs and the students voted by a clear majority for “Home” indicating that the song captures the spirit of our future. The words say, "Hold on, to me as we go as we roll down this unfamiliar road, and although this wave is stringing us along, just know you’re not alone cause I’m going to make this place your home. Settle down, it’ll all be clear don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear, the trouble it might drag you down if you get lost, you can always be found, just know you’re not alone cause I’m going to make this place your home!" Students, I think this is a perfect song and it represents a new beginning as we strive to make NSU your home away from home. To the alumni, I pledge to you to keep this institution as a place you are proud to call home. Remember, home is where your story begins.
As part of this new beginning I want to announce a “Traditions” contest for our students. Dr. Harold and Mary Battenfield, and Darrel Sullenger, all alums of NSU, have provided a $1,000 prize to the student who comes up with the best idea for a new tradition at NSU. Traditions are a big part of the student experience and we want to hear from you. Dr. Laura Boren, vice president of student affairs is the point person for the contest.
Today, as you traveled here, you took any number of paths. You may have driven on
I-40, I-35, highways 377, 62, 82, 10, and 69. Some of you may have traveled on remnants
of the Main Street of America: Route 66. Regardless of the path you traveled, we arrived
at the same destination. We came to Tahlequah from many directions, and now, from
here the other part of your journey begins. Regardless of how you got here, this year’s
Homecoming themes reminds us: Oh the places you’ll go from NSU.
The early paths in this area were the rivers and streams. They were traveled by Native Americans, military personnel, traders and trappers, and missionaries. The first federally approved path in what became Oklahoma was the Santa Fe Trail. Congress approved the marking of the Santa Fe Trail in 1825. Other paths soon followed like those that connected Ft. Smith to Ft. Gibson. In 1831, Reverend Isaac McCoy, was commissioned by the Secretary of War to survey the boundaries of what would become the Cherokee Nation. He was assisted in 1833 by Nathan Boone, the son of Daniel Boone, in surveying Boundary Line A separating the Creek and Cherokee Nations.
The path for the Cherokee Nation, to what would become Tahlequah, was most difficult. The New Echota Treaty signed on December 29, 1835 forced thousands of Cherokee citizens from their homelands starting in 1838. They arrived here between January and March of 1839. Not only did these individuals lose their homes, 4,000 lost their lives on the difficult journey. The tragedy of the journey turned to triumph. Out of the wilderness, a thriving city and seat of government grew. Mayor Nichols, where once there was nothing but a vision of what could be, a City of First’s sprang up. In Tahlequah, through the Cherokee Female Seminary, we see the first commitment to women’s education and the first institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi. We see the oldest municipality established in Oklahoma in 1841 – 1843 when 160 acres were platted. The first newspaper printed in Indian Territory/Oklahoma called the "Cherokee Advocate" was printed in September 1844. True to its 1828 roots, the "Cherokee Advocate" went back to its original name “Cherokee Phoenix” in 2002 and it continues to be printed. The first telephone switchboard and first phone call in Oklahoma was made here in 1886. The first public schools were created here in 1845-46 and the first Masonic Lodge was opened in 1851.
On March 6, 1909, the Cherokee Female Seminary became Northeastern State Normal School. There were 108 students enrolled in year one. The 1909-1910 graduating class produced four bachelor’s degrees. For comparison, in 2012 we produced 1,514 bachelor’s degrees. Since becoming a public institution we have produced 64,132 bachelor’s degrees, 14, 869 master's degrees, and 704 professional degrees for a total of 79,705 degrees. Since our transition to a public institution, a campus in Muskogee was added in 1993 and a third campus in Broken Arrow came online in 2001. I want to thank President Roger Webb for his work to establish the Muskogee campus and President Larry Williams for his vision and drive to establish the Broken Arrow campus.
Today, I stand on the shoulders of giants. Northeastern State University is the beneficiary of supportive community partners who have made huge investments of land and finance. In Broken Arrow, we also benefitted from Tulsa County’s 2025 Campaign that resulted in $26 million for phase two. We are a great regional university with three access points. From what was one building at this site in 1889 situated on 40 acres, we now have three campuses with 75 buildings with a total of 1.9 million square feet sitting on 325 acres. In addition, we anticipate spending close to $50 million over the next two years on renovation and new construction projects at our three campuses. As we move forward let us pledge ourselves to provide a creative and attractive University that is both environmentally and fiscally sustainable.
In summary, today, as you traveled here, you took any number of paths. The same is true for our students. As Oklahoma’s fourth largest institution of higher education, our students come to NSU from 30 states and 48 countries. They come to us with the same desire to learn as did the original Seminarians in 1851. We must recommit ourselves to lighting the lamp of education in the wilderness. And yes, the rivers and streams in this area are still a big part of the NSU experience for our students just as they were in the early 1800s. Our students are part of a multi-cultural world and we must clearly map out our role in a global economy. Our job is to prepare them for the countless places they can go from here. Robert Frost’s poem, "The Road Not Taken" concludes with these words: ". . . .I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
Today is a special day! It is a day to celebrate all that is good and right at Northeastern State University. It is a special day because you chose to join us. Our celebration is good because we remember generations of individuals who cleared the paths that we continue to travel. Our celebration is right because today, we recommit ourselves to providing a quality education to the students we serve and those that we will serve.
Dr. Seuss said it best, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Thank you for sharing this part of the journey.