Dr. George F. “Jody” Harpster has remarked many times that when he arrived at Shippensburg University in 1972 to begin work on his master’s degree, he immediately felt at home, like a member of the family.

Harpster officially became the head of that family today, as he was inaugurated as Shippensburg’s 16th president. Nearly 1,000 people attended the convocation in the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center.

Harpster, who previously was interim president, was chosen as president by the Board of Governors (BOG) of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education in January following a nationwide search.

“It is with humility and pride that I accept the trust that all of you have placed in me to lead this outstanding institution as the 16th president of Shippensburg University,” Harpster said after reciting the oath of office administered by Guido Pichini, chair of the BOG.

Harpster returned to the theme of family during his remarks. At a student gathering he attended last year, he said, “every student talked about our university as a family. As an alum myself, I can confirm that those words were not just idle talk. Ask alumni from one or 10 or 50 years ago and the answer is always the same. Family is a key element of what defines this university.”

Like Harpster before them, many of Shippensburg’s current students are the first in their own families to attend college. “Fully 35 percent of our students are first-generation college students. I can say firsthand how important institutions like Shippensburg are to the hopes and dreams of so many students. The American dream is alive and well here at Shippensburg University. We change young people’s lives in very positive and direct ways. We help dreams come true.”

Harpster pledged to continue working to provide students with an educational experience and extracurricular opportunities that will prepare them for life after Shippensburg. “The future promises rapid, sometimes tumultuous change — in society and in the workplace. You can be sure that Ship students will be challenged intellectually and personally in many profound ways that will enable them to face those changes.”

A native of Tyrone, Harpster has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Juniata College. After completing his master’s degree in counseling and college student personnel administration at Shippensburg in 1974, Harpster earned his doctorate in adult and higher education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He spent more than a decade working in various student affairs positions at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte before returning to Shippensburg in 1995 as vice president for student affairs.

He later was named executive vice president for external affairs and government relations. He also served as interim president from June 2005, when Dr. Anthony Ceddia retired, to February 2007, when Dr. William N. Ruud was appointed.

Ceddia served as president for 24 years, the longest tenure in the university’s history. Now president emeritus, he was pleased to see the man he brought on board 20 years ago officially take the helm. “Jody is a good man every day and consistently a good leader,” he said. “He can be trusted to do the right thing even when no one is looking.”

Ceddia added that the inauguration of a new leader “is a time to reaffirm and celebrate the mission and vision of the university. Here at Shippensburg, that focus always has been on the students.”