Being the first woman president at Cal State Bakersfield is not just about setting a precedent, according to CSU Chancellor Timothy White. It is consequential for future generations.
"Not long ago, Lynnette (Zelezny) was grocery shopping in town ... proudly wearing her CSUB Roadrunner lapel pin," White said. "She was in line next to a mother accompanied by her young daughter."
Noticing the pin, the mother asked Zelezny if she worked at the university and what her job was. Zelezny said she was the university president, White said.
"The little girl’s eyes widened a bit at this. Lynnette then took off the Roadrunner pin and handed it to the girl as a gift," he continued. "They said their goodbyes and parted ways, but not before Lynnette heard the girl proudly proclaim: 'One day, I’m going to be a university president.'”
Celebrating the power of university leaders and seeing ways they can inspire others is why it is important to support them, White said. The hundreds that attended CSUB President Zelezny's investiture Friday did just that.
The event, deemed the "biggest ceremony ever" held on CSUB's campus, celebrated the university's success and Zelezny's first year as president. Kicking off the ceremony was a processional led by a youth mariachi band from Migrant Education Region 21 Bakersfield City School District and Region 5 Kern High School District.
Featuring CSUB students, faculty and staff, elected officials, friends and family, speakers all shared how she stays true to her investiture's theme: Rise.
"Rising together is what is happening in this great city, what's happening at CSUB," said Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh. "This gift to us is a collaborator, a big thinker, someone who inspires us all. We rise together."
Goh issued a proclamation making May 3, 2019, President Lynnette Zelezny Day.
House Minority Leader and CSUB alumnus Rep. Kevin McCarthy joked that he has lived in Bakersfield his entire life but never got a day named after him.
Despite the "jealousy," the congressman praised Zelezny for working to make "the future ... better than tomorrow" every day on campus, and promised he would be "here any moment you need us."
"I pride myself on being a 'Runner, and there have been many majority leaders in Congress, but only one from California, and that one was a Runner," he added, speaking about his previous role in the House of Representatives.
Assemblymen Rudy Salas and Vince Fong, and state Sen. Melissa Hurtado were also in attendance.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, the only one from the Central Valley, shared a poem he wrote for the investiture, "Song to Rise." He recognized different facets of the community: Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Dolores Huerta and the Bakersfield Sound.
"I kept getting shout outs in his poem," said Huerta, a civil rights icon, after the investiture. "Every time he said, 'Si se puede,' my name would follow."
Before he formally "invested" the powers of the presidency onto Zelezny, White joked about how some people thought the investiture was like a royal coronation.
"I'd like the Queen Mom to come up," he said, met with laughter from the audience.
After receiving the president's medallion, Zelezny shared several points of pride from her first year at CSUB: multiple accreditations and ribbon cuttings, national recognition for affordability, social mobility and master’s degrees programs and a growing student population. She also addressed there is more work to do to benefit students and the community.
"There is hard work ahead of us, but we will rise to the challenge," she said. "Let us all commit ourselves to continuing to work together and let us always remember why we do what we do: our students."
"If there is one thing I know for sure: it is truly our time to rise at CSU Bakersfield," she added.
The investiture ended with the Bakersfield Children Center Choir performing "This Little Light of Mine" with Zelezny.
Linda Lara, who is pursuing her MBA at CSUB, said the investiture was a "can't miss" event, especially since it was honoring the first woman leader of the university.
"Getting to see our first female president finishing up her first year at CSUB and getting to see what she has planned for the university I think is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Lara said.
Community member Steve Barlow said he believes Zelezny "is going to do awesome things here."
The Taste of Bakersfield immediately followed the event, featuring live entertainment and vendors such as Countyside Market and Restaurant, Fresco Mexican Grill and Nashville Hot Chicken.