New Provost: ‘You had me at hello’

Deacon Blog


Wake Foresters cannot help but be thrilled by the appointment of Rogan Kersh (’86) as the new provost. He’s an alumnus who grew up in Brevard, N.C., and understands the spirit of this place, having gained initiatory insights from President James Ralph Scales on a February day in 1982, and on through his campus days as an undergraduate.

Rogan Kersh (’86), Wake Forest’s new provost

In the years after Wake Forest, he became a Luce Scholar and studied in Tokyo, earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from Yale and went on to hold academic posts as a political scientist. Since 2006 he has been associate dean at New York University. In the fall issue of Wake Forest Magazine, he told Lisa Kline Mowry (’82) that he remembered Wake Forest as “bucolic, green, communal.”

Goodbye, concrete. Hello again, Reynolda Gardens.

Three decades ago Kersh was an ambitious but nervous high school student  aspiring to obtain one of the top scholarships available in the state. He was interviewing for a Morehead Scholarship at the University of North Carolina. At Wake Forest he joined the first group of high school seniors seeking Reynolds Scholarships. He describes that experience beautifully in an essay “My Own Personal Wake Forest” in Edwin G. Wilson’s (’43) “The History of Wake Forest University Volume V/1967-1983.”

He writes about arriving late to the Autumn Room in Reynolda Hall to join his 14 fellow-finalists. He was late because of a symphonic competition. He clattered in, “trailing my father’s old suitcase,” interrupting President Scales’ opening remarks. Instead of expressing irritation, Scales gave him “a kindly, welcoming smile, just long enough to reassure me but not mark the moment as disruptive.” The president went back to his talk, expressing his hope that the students “would come to embrace ‘your own personal Wake Forest.'” Kersh said the finalists shared with each other later that they had all had the same experience. Scales turned them from “a collection of nerve-wracked high schoolers into young men and women worthy of Wake Forest.”

I’ll let him take it from there:

“That at once powerful and gentle touch was sustained throughout the Reynolds interview weekend. Tom Phillips’s constant encouraging good cheer, Ed and Emily Wilson generously opening their home to the lot of us for dinner, Peggy Smith guiding us patiently through Reynolda House’s stunning American art collection, Jim Barefield pointing out the high notes of  WFU semester in Venice — on an immense map, displayed upside down (he blamed the map-holders — who, as a pair of hearty Wake juniors, seemed to us impossibly suave and sophisticated): all these encounters felt more like a family gathering than a scholarly inquisition.

“Driving home to the Western North Carolina mountains, fond visions of Deacon-hood danced in my head. I had a Morehead Scholarship interview a week later in Chapel Hill; Wake Forest’s Dean Tom Mullen, another warmly welcoming familiar figure during the Reynolds interviews, suggested I stop by and say hello on the trip back from UNC. He and Bill Starling, the much-beloved admissions director, were standing on the Reynolda Hall steps as I pulled up. From somewhere Dean Mullen produced a clutch of farm-fresh eggs, further cementing my impression of Wake Forest as the most wonderfully intimate, personable institution of higher learning imaginable. We talked a half-hour, in that painterly late-afternoon Winston-Salem sunlight. ‘We hope you’ll join us in the fall,’ Mullen said by way of parting; it seemed more a benediction than a recruitment pitch.’

“And so I did, to my lifelong benefit. For me the deal was sealed with Mr. Scales’s smile — my version of ‘you had me at hello.’ The rest of the weekend, and indeed the four incomparably memorable years that followed, were an extended confirmation of that essential warmth, understanding, and instillation of confidence. Thus began my own, yes, ‘personal Wake Forest.'”

Welcome back, Rogan Kersh. Take it from me, your ‘personal Wake Forest’ remains as bucolic and charming as ever. It’s ready for your next chapter.

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