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Middlesex Community College celebrates inauguration of President Phil Sisson

MCC Celebrating Our Future. New president Phil Sisson holds up a book about MCC’s history.  SUN/Julia Malakie
MCC Celebrating Our Future. New president Phil Sisson holds up a book about MCC’s history. SUN/Julia Malakie
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LOWELL — Rain may have forced the ceremony to inaugurate Phil Sisson as the fifth president of Middlesex Community College to switch from an outdoor affair at the Bedford campus to indoors at Lowell Memorial Auditorium at the last minute, but as Sisson pointed out, thriving in change is something the college is known for.

Sisson hailed the Friday celebration as an opportunity to reflect on what the college was, is and will be in the future.

“It’s an invitation for all of us to reflect on what Middlesex Community College has accomplished these last 50 years, and how together, we will dig deep to meet the challenges of the future, and there will be many,” Sisson said. “But Middlesex, we’re not resistant to change — we are resilient in change, and that is what makes us an exceptional institution.”

He thanked the MCC board of trustees for entrusting him to lead the college. In his 11 years at MCC, Sisson said he’s come to love the institution and its special community, and he is honored to serve as its fifth president.

He outlined his vision for MCC, based on the six pillars of its logo, asking all members of the college community to help him work toward his goals to remember and reflect, restore and rebuild, refocus and rebrand, reaffirm and rededicate, reexamine and revise, and reimagine and redesign in a number of areas for the betterment of all touched by the institution.

“I promise you, our best days are yet to come,” Sisson said.

Board of trustees Chairman James Campbell said he was proud of the board for selecting Sisson, whom he described as “uniquely qualified to lead us into the next half century.”

“President Sisson has an ambitious agenda to lead Middlesex into a new era of excellence, and I’m honored to be able to work with him in that endeavor,” Campbell said.

The “four-fer” event, as Sisson called it, also included a 51st anniversary party for the college, a fundraiser for a new race-equity scholarship and the awarding of emeritus status to 23 former staff, faculty and administrators who made significant contributions to the institution, including former President Carole Cowan.

“In typical Middlesex fashion, we are overachievers and we have always been,” Sisson said.

Cowan, who joined by Zoom from her home in Florida, took a walk down memory lane recounting all of the biggest moments of the college, going back to its very beginning exactly 51 years ago. She reflected on the “entrepreneurial spirit” that drove MCC to become “the most comprehensive community college in the state.”

She said she had the “good fortune” of hiring Sisson as provost, and she knows the commitment she made to academic excellence as president will continue under his leadership.

“He comes to you very well prepared for the position, and with the commitment to be every student’s personal representative in helping them achieve their academic goals,” Cowan said. “He is a great leader today, and he will continue to lead with great passion and integrity, for Middlesex’s students, its future and the future of our region.”

Also joining by Zoom was Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago, who said he first came to know Sisson when Sisson served on the search committee that first brought Santiago to Massachusetts in 2013 as the state Department of Higher Education’s chief academic officer.

Santiago said he was struck by Sisson’s deep knowledge of MCC and “the critical role that community colleges play in opening doors of opportunity for students facing obstacles to college access and success,” and the way he could bring people together to work for the common good.

“Middlesex Community College can, and should lead during these difficult times. It can keep the doors of opportunity open, and it can provide the necessary supports for students to gain access, to be retained and to reach gradation and fulfilling work that serves their families and communities,” Santiago said. “Middlesex Community College has served as an exemplar in a number of these areas, and as President Sisson begins his term, I know that the institution will continue to support this community by ensuring all of its students, particularly the least supported and least represented, will fulfill their goals and aspirations.”

He also gave a nod to Sisson’s sense of humor, which was fully on display at the festive occasion. In one instance, Sisson explained how a Facebook mix-up led to many people thinking Friday was his birthday, when it was actually that of the college.

“I am not gonna fight it, because that makes me 51, and I can assure you, I am not,” Sisson said, drawing laughs from the the crowd. He also led attendees in singing “Happy Birthday” to MCC.

Following the speaking portion of the event, attendees were treated to performances by Indras Artistic Creations, a Cambodian music and dance group, and The Spittin Vinnies, a band featuring MCC chemistry Professor John Savage.