clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Rearview Mirror: In a Passing Moment

In which we look at the handoff of the presidency from Bud Peterson to Ángel Cabrera

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Georgia Tech’s newest president, Ángel Cabrera.
Google Images/Georgia Tech News Center

Having reached the week where the presidency of Paul Weber turns to that of Edwin Harrison in the Rearview Mirror schedule, it seemed especially fitting to take a look at the similar transition between Bud Peterson and brand-new Institute president, Ángel Cabrera. In the tradition of Weber, though he was just an interim president, and Marion L. Brittain, we get to live in the interesting historical high water mark of having two once-and-future presidents roaming around the Flats.

Regular readers of this column have probably noticed that we’ve really been all over the map lately, from a special on buildings, which, in turn, inspired another, though different, special on buildings, to editorializing about the Kessler Campanile, to managing to sneak in a few weeks about the typical subject matter, that being a couple weeks of Georgia Tech football. We haven’t gotten an update as to the latest on the dawn of the Edwin Harrison years in nearly two months. But, as you’re probably aware of, Tech makes a transition so similar that, well, I couldn’t possibly let the timeliness of it slip away without making some mention of it. So, we’ll get to Harrison next week.

I’ll admit that I though yesterday was a normal day, albeit a busy one. From Machine Design in the morning to Energy Economics at night, there’s really not a lot of time to stop and take in the finer details on a day that, all things considered, was relatively historic, even if it, thankfully, passed with more of a positive rustle than anything. And that’s kind of the remarkable part. Whether students, faculty, or staff, there was a murmur of change on the air, but, otherwise it was relatively quiet. Not that anyone expected commotion around the accession of the latest man to the presidency of Georgia Tech.

I touched on this a few months ago, but the instillation of Ángel Cabrera as president is a seminal moment in Georgia Tech history. Though we can’t yet tell what exactly will happen in the future, something will change because of this development. That’s just how the world works. The story of Georgia Tech, though literally written by Marion L. Brittain in his biography of the Institute, is figuratively channeled through the men who have held its highest office. Fortunately, I’m of the mind that this change is a good one.

What makes this transition all the more compelling, though, are the circumstances in which they take place. Rarely have presidents been able to shepherd their school directly into the waiting hands of their successor. Even Paul Weber, one of my consummate examples, never shed his interim title. When Edwin Harrison assumed the role of president, Weber returned to his administrative post, where he continued to serve the school for many years. When Blake Van Leer’s name was called to lead the then-Georgia Institute of Technology, Brittain was allowed to fade into the background, becoming the only man to ever officially hold the working title of President Emeritus. Sure, there have been other presidents that have gone on to have long and fruitful careers, perhaps most prominently Kenneth Matheson at Drexel and, of course, G. Wayne Clough as head honcho of the Smithsonian Institution after his stint as president of his alma mater.

That’s part of the cache here, though, too. Alma mater. Cabrera comes to office having not just been around campus before - unlike Harrison who assumed leadership of a school on the brink of integration having visited all of twice, both in the two weeks preceding his announcement or Rev. Isaac Hopkins, who midwifed the place from abstract legal document to functioning school - but graduated. With two degrees. He’s married to a Tech graduate. His son just followed in his parents’ footsteps. Don’t even mention the Georgia Tech Advisory Board stuff - that’s important, but, in my opinion, peanuts compared to having lived the experience of being a student, and an international graduate student at that, and a parent of an out-of-state student. He’s lived what much of the readership of this column has lived, in some form or another. And now he’s in charge. I think that’s refreshing.

This isn’t to discount the work of his predecessor, either. Bud Peterson and his wife Val served with distinction in their time leading Tech. And I, for one, am glad he’s sticking around. The two of them had a way with students that always came off as so genuine. It says a lot about the quality of the institution when leaders commit to a place - when they want to stay. Peterson’s legacy isn’t finished at Tech. He’ll still be a researcher and professor, and I think that’s a reasonable thing for someone to decide when they reach a certain tenure or state. By all means, good on him to do it on his time. To paraphrase a profile I read earlier today, he may not have been a Southerner when he showed up - relatable, heaven knows I wasn’t either - but he’s a Tech man through and through. Brittain retired and didn’t just write any book about Tech, no, he wrote the best. Because, ultimately, that was his call to the school he served. With Peterson an engineer by trade, it seems more fitting he’d give back in the form of adding to the already-massive wealth of knowledge the school he presided over for more than a decade has contributed to the greater body of progress. President Peterson, thank you for your service.

I suppose this column could have made more sense to write after the Institute Address the newcomer Cabrera will give today happens, but I kind of like the anticipation. It seems as if the new era will begin in earnest then. Though I will promise we’ll be back to the usual narrative-rather-than-editorial style next week, regardless of what the new president says.

I think about the eras of Tech a lot, as its resident student historian, a title I perhaps lay sole claim to by default, and it’s befitting that the football home opener is Saturday. Georgia Tech, for better or for worse is defined by football far more than it is by any other single sport. The Olympics hold a candle by bringing much of what we now take for granted, like, say the Campanile or our glut of upperclassman on-campus apartments, into existence, but nothing ties the Tech of yore to the Tech of tomorrow like Tech football. Tech is a school of many traditions, ranging from the Mini 500 to putting pennies on Sideways’ grave, from Sunday afternoon baseball to the Ramblin’ Reck. And Saturday, for the vast majority of Tech students and alumni, the next era of Georgia Tech football begins. Geoff Collins and Ángel Cabrera, hired to do two vastly different jobs seven months apart, begin their identical mission to make Georgia Tech the very best in every possible way in earnest this week. And while I didn’t intend for this to take a left turn into a rallying cry for football, I think that’s fitting.

We should strive for the advancement of Tech in all facets. From first year retention to research grants, from varsity and club sports excellence to culture and management. Georgia Tech is built on a tremendous legacy. Several years ago, Ángel Cabrera shaped that as a graduate and doctoral student. This site has already spilled enough ink on Geoff Collins for you to know exactly what he did his first and second stints at Tech, too.

Today we anticipate an address but also the glorious meeting of toe and leather. Tech is built by great men and women from students to staff, professors to presidents, and athletic directors to athletes. And now, we get to live at the dawn of the next great age of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Again, I tease here, but I’m looking at eras and transitions like this with a little more scrutiny of late. I can’t wait to be able to announce the project I’ve been working on the past couple months. It’s monumental. But, until then, see you next week at Rearview Mirror.

A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column.

If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.