Highline celebrates Dr. Bermingham

By Madelyn R. Brown - Staff Reporter

Recently retired Highline President Dr. Jack Bermingham was remembered by past and present employees for his promotion of student diversity. 

Friends and colleagues gathered in the Mr. Townsend room in Building 8 to give Dr. Bermingham their well-wishes on his retirement on Thursday, Nov. 16.

Dr. Bermingham, who retired for health reasons in July, was honored by a crowd of more than 200 faculty, staff and administrators. 

Many people from the audience had a few words to say to their former colleague, including Toni Castro, vice president of Student Services. 

"Thank you, beloved president, historian, scholar, visionary, multicultural global leader, and humanitarian," she said. Because of Dr. Bermingham's efforts, "We celebrate being one of the most diverse colleges." 

This diversity is embodied in the awards the college has received throughout the years. 

According to the Highline website, Highline received the 2014 Award for Excellence for Advancing Diversity, as well as the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. 

"It's important to recognize that you're leaving this institution a very different place than what it was," said Castro. "Your support of multicultural affairs and social justice is a reflection of…you." 

"You were the people's president," she said. "You led with your heart [and your] compassion, with [your] eyes on the prize: our students." 

Nods of agreement rippled throughout the crowd. 

Dr. Jeff Wagnitz, interim president of Highline, said he felt fortunate to have worked with Dr. Bermingham.  

"Oh, these many decades ago, and I was not working for him [Dr. Bermingham] at the time, but he should have been able to predict that I would be in the future," said Dr. Wagnitz.

"I had actually sworn off the administration: never again, won't do it, can't do it, ever will do it, he said. "And Jack called me one day and said, 'How about a job here as an administrator?' and magically, I'm still here." 

"And I want to just say that I have so much appreciated working for him," said Dr. Wagnitz. "It was a blast." 

As he walked off the stage, Debrena Gandy, president of the Board of Trustees, took his place at the podium. 

"Be it resolved that the Board of Trustees, on behalf of themselves, and the administration of Highline College, express their heartfelt appreciation and high regard for Dr. Bermingham's service to the school," she said. 

"The Board of Trustees' wishes to grant the title of President Emeritus to Dr. Bermingham in recognition of his legacy to the college," said Gandy. 

With an award in-hand, Dr. Wagnitz invited Dr. Bermingham to join him on stage. 

A thunderous applause met Dr. Jack Bermingham as he made his way to the podium. 

"Thank you for those kind words and this tremendous honor," he said. 

"It's really difficult sometimes," said Dr. Bermingham, "when you inherit a college that has really good personal relationships across employ groups, because your greatest fear is screwing that up." 

Cheerful laughter filled the room as current and past employees nodded along. 

"I want to say how much, over the years at the college, I've appreciated the amazing collaboration between the administration and the staff," he said. "And most certainly between the administration and faculty." 

The cooperation between these groups are most likely not as successful "at many institutions of any kind, including higher education," he said. 

"And I want to thank a lot of people across our institution who gave me a little bit of an extra break in making sure they didn't misinterpret something that I had said that might have sounded edgy, or rough, or just completely incorrect," Dr. Bermingham said. 

"I thank you for your forgiveness, for your generosity of spirit, and for your sense of seeing that we're not just a slice of the world, but [that] we're part of a larger world," he said. "And the opportunity to embrace it, we all hope, has not just impacted [us] here, but impacted our region, and impacted our nation in terms of pulling people together." 

"Thank you so much," said Dr. Bermingham. 

Before his final goodbye, Dr. Bermingham had a few parting words for the students of Highline College.

"I hope that students appreciate the great opportunities [available to them] at Highline," he said. "Especially the diversity and inclusion that the school offers." 


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