Song Richardson: Ignite Students’ Potential and Create a More Just World
In all of her roles – civil-rights lawyer, criminal-defense lawyer, death-penalty lawyer, teacher, and scholar – L. Song Richardson has “always been willing to stand alone for what is just and what is right, even when — or especially when — it’s difficult,” she said at her Aug. 29 inauguration as Colorado College’s 14th president.
Richardson, who began her presidency in July 2021, was drawn to CC because of its bold and courageous drive to live out values that match her own.
“We are a place that thinks differently,” she said. “We dream big, and we do difficult things.”
She noted three monumental things that Colorado College has achieved:
- Created the Block Plan 52 years ago – not because it’s easy, but because it is a transformational way to teach and learn
- Initiated the first college antiracism commitment five years ago, before the killing of George Floyd sparked a national reckoning on race
- In 2020 became the first higher education institution in the Rocky Mountain region and the eighth in North America to reach carbon neutrality
Now more than ever, she said, when faced with great challenges such as climate change, systemic racism, political polarization, and equity gaps, the world needs bold, courageous, and values-driven Colorado College and its graduates.
In her first year President Richardson immersed herself in hearing the thoughts of students, faculty, staff, alumni, higher-education leaders, and community members. At her inauguration she shared her vision for CC to build on its legacy to “ignite our students’ potential and create a more just world.”
The event, held at the Fine Arts Center theatre and also livestreamed, was attended by former presidents Kathryn Mohrman and Richard F. Celeste, as well as former acting presidents, presidents from other institutions, alumni, faculty, staff, students, community leaders, and family and close friends of President Richardson.
In his welcome, CC Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Keller ’91 P ’23 noted, “During the search for our 14th president, Song impressed me and all of us so much with how she talked about the college’s values, and our antiracism commitment, our desire to ensure the liberal arts’ relevancy into the 21st century. She is strong, she is committed, and she understands fully that higher education needs forthright leadership and vision for these times. That’s why she believes in us, and we in her.”
Ashley Cornelius, poet laureate for the Pikes Peak region, wrote and presented the inaugural poem with themes of inclusion, social justice, promise, and a sense of change. In her introduction she noted that Richardson is the first woman of color to be president at CC.
“That is a legacy that is lifechanging, that is monumental. Where someone who looks like me, who looks like our community, is leading the charge for this incredible institution,” Cornelius said.
In her inaugural address, President Richardson shared her broad goals for Colorado College.
After four years on the Block Plan, CC graduates have a “superpower” because they can integrate information, innovate, and achieve more quickly and nimbly than others, she said.
“The world needs to know about them,” she said. “They think differently, they learn differently, and they can do anything they set their minds to.”
Richardson pledged to raise awareness of the college and said, “We will no longer be a hidden gem.”
“I want CC to be a place where crucial conversations about the most important issues facing our world occur,” she said. “A place where different opinions are welcomed and challenged and debated, a place where we can explore our beliefs, change other people’s minds, or more importantly, change our own.”
CC access programs including Colorado Pledge, Bridge Scholars, and Stroud Scholars are making good progress, but the college must do more, Richardson said.
“CC is committed to not only expanding access to who comes here but also ensuring once our students are here that they have the opportunity to take advantage of everything we offer here regardless of their financial means,” she said.
“Our people are the greatest asset we have,” Richardson said. “I am committed to ensuring that Colorado College becomes a best college to work for in the country.”
Inauguration festivities began with a BIPOC Presidents’ Roundtable for staff and faculty. Sonya Malunda, president of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, Vincent D. Rougeau, president of College of the Holy Cross, and President Richardson discussed the liberal arts, antiracism, leadership, and the impact of “first” presidents of color (Richardson is the first woman of color to lead CC; Senior Vice President Mike Edmonds, as acting co-president before her, was the college’s first president of color). CC Board of Trustees Vice Chair Ryan Haygood ’97 moderated the conversation.
On Sunday, Aug. 28, community members got a whirlwind taste of CC. Faculty taught “speed seminars” on current topics, such as how the Federal Reserve sets interest rates, the implications of Colorado River water shortages, heredity and diseases, the Ukraine war, and personal storytelling. Community members enjoyed art exhibits at the Fine Arts Center, tried hands-on art activities at Bemis School of Art, climbed the Ritt Kellogg Climbing Wall, took sports clinics, and skated at Ed Robson Arena.
President Richardson’s love of music (she is a classically trained pianist who performed twice with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and won numerous major piano competitions) was underscored in the festivities.
At the inauguration ceremony, musical performances were presented by Shove Memorial Chapel organist Eric Wicks, singer Chidera Ikpeamarom ’22, Pianist and Lecturer/Artist-in-Residence and Associate Chair of the Department of Music Susan Grace, and singer Jaiel Mitchell ’18. The inaugural fanfare, “Jubilation,” was composed by Professor of Music Ofer Ben-Amots and performed by Grace, Benjamin Paille on trumpet, and Ricky Sweum on baritone saxophone.
On the afternoon of inauguration day, the campus community enjoyed ice cream on Tava Quad and danced to music by student bands Tenderheart and Sallie and the Swamp Goblins. The events were capped off that evening with a live documentary performance of “A Thousand Thoughts” by the Kronos Quartet and Sam Green.
The following day William D. “Bro” Adams ’72 spoke at a faculty lunch about the importance of the liberal arts and connections between disciplines. His book “Getting Ready” encourages drawing from the pandemic’s lessons about science, history, culture, and technology — as well as harsh truths about politics, systemic racism, economic inequality, and the fragile nature of democracy — to prepare students for work, civic participation, and meaningful lives.
The inauguration events brought together academics, the arts, thoughtful discourse, and aspiration. Participants explored the promise of a liberal arts education at Colorado College, and of guiding students to find their potential and innovate on the greatest issues of our time.
CC has proven that it is impactful and values-driven, and that fits the 14th president of Colorado College perfectly.
“I have always been willing to stand alone for what is right and just,” President Richardson said in closing her inaugural address. “But now I don’t have to, because I found CC.”
Song Richardson’s Timeline
- Grows up on U.S. Army bases, and wins first place in nine major piano competitions, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition
- Earns her Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard College and her Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School
- Works in the legal field as Assistant Counsel, Capital Punishment/Criminal Justice Project at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.
- Is Assistant Public Defender, Racial Justice Project, The Defender Association
- Becomes partner at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender
- Works in academia as Visiting, Assistant, and Associate Professor, DePaul University College of Law
- Is Associate Professor, American University, Washington College of Law
- Is Professor, University of Iowa College of Law
- Becomes Dean and Chancellor’s Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
- Joins the board of the “Who We Are Project,” a chronicle of racism in America
- Garners the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association Legacy Award for extraordinary impact in the legal community
- Becomes Colorado College’s 14th president
“When I first started my company, I didn’t know if people wanted my product. You have to iterate on that product. We locked ourselves into a Block Plan, where we would build a feature for three-and-a-half weeks; then take a week off. I realized the Block Plan has taught me a lot about resilience and how to learn. My learning curve is so much more exponential than my peers, just by the nature of having gone through those iterative measures.”
Lilly Chen ’19, Colorado College Board of Trustees member
“What excites me most about President Richardson’s vision is her ability to foster hard conversations among the campus community on topics of community engagement and becoming an antiracist institution. Greater access and opportunity mean we are casting a wide net for who we invite into this community, but it also means we’re not trying to have those people fit into our current definition of the community. We need to change and broaden what it means to be Colorado College and make space for a diverse community of faculty, staff, students.”
Murphy Brasuel ’96, P’20, associate professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Colorado College
“Though I didn’t grow up knowing any lawyers, my transformative experience at Colorado College inspired and prepared me to become one. For too many, however, Colorado College, and the world-class liberal arts education it offers, is one of America’s best kept secrets. Growing up in Denver, I didn’t learn about Colorado College until late in my senior year in high school. I almost missed this opportunity—and I often think about those who have. That’s why President Song Richardson’s vision for substantially raising the profile of Colorado College is so necessary and compelling. Her leadership will provide access to a new generation of students like me from Denver, Pueblo and across the country. I couldn’t be more excited to work with her.”
Ryan Haygood ’97, CC Board of Trustees vice-chair