At his introduction to the campus community in Fulton on Friday morning, Akande pledged to lead the 164-year-old school “from success to significance” on a broad scale.
“Significance is where we want to be and where we will be,” he said, “because greatness at this institution is not just a requirement. It is part of our DNA.”
Akande, 52, will succeed George Forsythe, who is retiring after 10 years at Westminster; he has been president since 2008. He praised Akande as someone who “comes to us with a commitment to the vision and the principles of this college.”
Addressing a cheering crowd, Akande recalled coming to the United States from his native Nigeria to attend college in Plainview, Texas, 35 years ago. “I was scared to death,” he said. “How could I possibly succeed in this new and different land?”
He said he would use the skills and the knowledge he acquired to “help others to accomplish their goals and help them to dream with their eyes wide open.”
Pledging to keep Westminster affordable and accessible, Akande said he is “deeply committed to honoring this college’s tradition to the liberal arts, teaching excellence and learning in an intimate environment.”
In a reference to what may be Westminster’s best-known fact, that Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at the Fulton campus in March 1946, Akande added:
“This is an iconic institution with a significant history, a place where the world’s most influential leaders come to seek knowledge and express themselves about our future.”
He also said he would work to get to know the college’s students, faculty, staff and alumni to make sure that Westminster moves as far as it can and that together, he could help “unlock the potential that we all know resides within this college.”
“We will forge our future together,” Akande said. “There is an old African saying that if you want to go fast, you’re going to have to go alone. But if you want to go far, then we must go together.”
Urging anyone who is considering college to take a close look at coming to Fulton, Akande said:
“At the end of your stay at Westminster, you will be prepared to be able to fulfill your dreams to embrace the opportunities that life will present. You will be prepared to make a difference.”
Akande has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Oklahoma and has done post-doctoral work at Harvard and Oxford universities. He has been a frequent guest on “St. Louis on the Air” on St. Louis Public Radio, including an appearance earlier this week when he discussed the rescue of Nigerian girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram.
In addition to commenting frequently on business and other areas, Akande has been active in other public events, including last year's fund-raising "Dancing with the St. Louis Stars."
Earlier this year, Akande was one of four finalists for the job as president of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau but was not the school's final choice.
At the announcement at Westminster, which has a large population of international students, Akande noted that his younger sister had worked at the college for many years and was a good ambassador for the school. Noting what he called his reputation as a “networking fool,” he said he plans to become well known in Fulton.
“Networking is not about getting to know people because you are going to ask them for favors,” he said. “Networking is about developing friendships that will last forever.”
And, he said, he plans to introduce the mid-Missouri community to the joys of spicy food from his native Nigeria. “I don’t leave home without my pepper shaker,” Akande said.
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