March 17, 2003 – The first woman to be named president of the University of the Virgin Islands formally assumed her office Sunday night at an inauguration ceremony on the UVI St. Thomas campus.
Dr. LaVerne E. Ragster, valedictorian of the Charlotte Amalie High School Class of 1969, took over as president of UVI last August. But she stood center stage at the Reichhold Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday to be officially pronounced the university's fourth president in 41 years and successor to Dr. Orville Kean.
"I'm here today to begin a new chapter in my life," Ragster said, thanking UVI faculty, staff, trustees and volunteers for their efforts in support of the university. She urged Virgin Islanders both in academia and in the community at large to help the school play a greater role in social and economic development at home and abroad. It's a mission, she said, that can be achieved through a three-pronged strategy of instruction, research and public service.
Ragster also offered a glimpse at the challenges UVI faces in trying to achieve those goals. "First we have to look at the fact that we have increased competition from other higher education institutions and distance learning in the territory," she said. "We have a necessity to integrate today's technology — the Internet — with future technology into all phases of the university. There is a decrease in public funding happening at the same time that there is the rising cost in education."
The importance of the role of higher education institutions in the economic development of the communities they serve has stepped up one more level, she said. That means that UVI "is paying attention to the fact that we have a lot of very stringent conditions in which to function,"she said.
Before an audience of about 400 people including UVI faculty and administrators, Ragster donned regalia in the school colors of blue and white and a velvet tam symbolizing her doctoral status. Auguste Rimpel, chair of the UVI board of trustees, then bestowed on her a chain and bronze medallion bearing the UVI seal.
Most of the three-hour ceremony consisted of a host of speakers praising Ragster, the granddaughter of educator Emmanuel Benjamin Oliver, after whom an elementary school on St. Thomas is named. Among them was Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who fondly recalled handing Ragster her high school diploma. "We always knew you were very bright," he said.
Others singing her praises included Territorial Court Judge Audrey Thomas, Ragster's classmate; Delegate Donna M. Christensen; Senate President David Jones; and South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn. Former St. Croix Administrator Rupert Ross, a cousin to Ragster, offered congratulation on behalf of her family.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.