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Hendrix Inaugurates 13th President


CONWAY, Ark. (April 23, 2024) — Hendrix College formally installed its 13th President, Dr. Karen Petersen, during Alumni Weekend 2024. The inauguration ceremony, held inside Staples Auditorium due to weather the morning of April 20, celebrated the College’s history and hope for the future.  

Petersen’s inaugural address, “Our History of Excellence: A Foundation for the Future” referenced author Wendell Berry and featured key lessons taken from James Lester’s centennial history of the College.  

“Leading an institution is both a humbling experience and a privilege, particularly an institution like Hendrix College, which for nearly 150 years has changed the lives of not only individuals but generations of families,” she said. 

Read the full text of President Petersen’s inaugural address  

The ceremony began with greetings, well wishes, and inspiring messages from Hendrix alumni, Board of Trustees members, community leaders, faculty, staff, and students.  

Janiya Ashford, a junior Health-science major from Sherwood, Arkansas, greeted the audience on behalf of the Hendrix student body. Ashford, who served as President of the Student Senate this academic year, has worked closely with President Petersen this year. 

“It is a unique experience to get to know a new President,” said Ashford. “Despite differences of age and background, we were both women leaders in our first year of a new role. And we both shared a desire to make this place we love even better.” 

Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry brought greetings from The City of Colleges. He shared that President Petersen reached out to him during her first week in office and asked to meet with him. 

“Few communities can claim to have one of the country’s leading liberal arts colleges in their backyard,” said Castleberry. “Even fewer can call themselves partners.  

“When I think of Hendrix and Conway, I think of our shared history and shared values,” said Mayor Castleberry, noting many longtime friends with Hendrix connections, who have contributed positively to the community, the state, and the country. Hendrix College has helped shape Conway into the amazing community it is today, and we are grateful.” 

Hendrix Professor of History Dr. Sasha Pfau brought greetings from the Hendrix faculty.  

“Dr. Petersen has a deep commitment to the Liberal Arts and a personal understanding of the ways that this kind of educational experience can be transformative,” said Pfau. “She brings that commitment to the value of a residential liberal arts experience alongside a curiosity that encourages us to ask ourselves why we do what we do, to help us envision the future of Hendrix College.” 

As a medieval historian, she shared the European roots of the regalia and rituals of modern colleges and universities and reminded the audience that higher education was once a privileged space. 

"In participating in these rituals and wearing these robes we are almost all actively claiming space and belonging in a system that would not originally have accepted us,” she said. “Today, a liberal arts education is open to a much wider range of people, and the transformative potential of such learning is not limited based on gender or religion ... Dr. Petersen knows how important a liberal arts education can be and is committed to ensuring that Hendrix College continues to provide such a transformative education, not just to the privileged who might expect their lives to lead them to rich velvets and silks, but to everyone.” 

Walter Pryor, a 1987 Hendrix graduate and vice chair of the Board of Trustees, welcomed the audience on behalf of the Board of Trustees. Pryor served on the Presidential Search Committee that led to the hiring of President Petersen. 

“We saw in Dr. Petersen, an educator committed to the highest ideals of the College,” said  “Therefore, it has come as no surprise that she has engaged enthusiastically with alumni, students, faculty, staff, supporters and other stakeholders with a clear understanding of the challenges ahead of us and a steadfast faith in our ability to meet them.” 

“She has identified the most pressing issues facing Hendrix and has solicited input and support from across the campus community,” he added. “And she has done so with a posture of integrity, a commitment to inclusivity, a sense of confidence, and a spirit of optimism for our future.” 

Rev. Roy Smith, a 1977 Hendrix graduate and member of the Board of Trustees, presented Petersen with the Presidential Chain of Office, featuring the names of the 13 Hendrix Presidents, including Dr. Ann Die Hasselmo, who attended the ceremony.  

Hank Neely, a 1983 Hendrix graduate and chair of the Board of Trustees, led the formal investiture of President Petersen.  

“The board is gratified by her respect for the foundation of excellence for which Hendrix is known,” said Neely. “She has never failed to show her appreciation for the College’s history, and we cannot be more excited for our future under her leadership.”  

About Hendrix College 

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges and celebrated among the country’s leading liberal arts colleges for academic quality, engaged learning opportunities and career preparation, vibrant campus life, and value. The Hendrix College Warriors compete in 21 NCAA Division III sports. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. Learn more at   

“… Through engagement that links the classroom with the world, and a commitment to diversity, inclusion, justice, and sustainable living, the Hendrix community inspires students to lead lives of accomplishment, integrity, service, and joy.” —Hendrix College Statement of Purpose