“May you have fair winds and following seas”: Community comes together to celebrate Don and Sandy Christian at their retirement

President Donald P. Christian and Sandy Christian were the guests of honor at three receptions held on campus this month, as faculty, staff, alumni and campus stakeholders gathered to offer gratitude and congratulations as the Christians prepare for retirement.

There were celebrations on May 4 & 5 with friends of the College and other external stakeholders and a culminating event for New Paltz faculty and staff (current and retired) on May 9. These programs gave friends and colleagues old and new an opportunity to share reflections, memories and thank-yous as President Christian’s tenure nears its final days. It also gave him one more opportunity to speak with the community, and reflect on the meaning of his decade-plus of service to SUNY New Paltz.

“I’m very grateful for the many opportunities that I’ve had during my 45-year career in higher education, including 12 years leading this fine institution, and I feel really privileged to have loved every stage of my career,” President Christian said. “I’m grateful for all that we, and I emphasize we, have accomplished during my time as president. I think you all know that I love this institution, and I valued the opportunity to serve as president. It’s now time to move on to the next phase of life, and I look forward to a slower pace. I have several times drawn parallels between a presidential transition and the passing of a baton in a relay race. I’m really pleased to be passing the leadership baton to Dr. Darrell Wheeler, and I’m going to do everything that I can to help him be successful.”

President Christian’s tenure will officially end on July 17, 2022.

Photos from the faculty and staff reception can be found here.

Video from the event, including full remarks from speakers, will be posted in this space soon.

A slideshow featuring moments and photos from President Christian’s life (including his pre-New Paltz activities!) played during the celebration events, and can be viewed here.

A more detailed history and timeline of President Christian’s career at New Paltz is available here.

Please scroll on for selected photos and brief excerpts from the speakers’ prepared remarks.


Four speakers and one emcee at the May 9 celebration. From left: Anne Balant, associate professor of communication disorders; Catherine Doherty, assistant professor of theatre arts; Shana Circe, ’02 ’08g, interim director of the Center for Student Engagement; L. David Eaton, former vice president for enrollment management; Rennie Scott-Childress, associate professor of history and presiding officer of the faculty.


“I have had the pleasure of working with four of the eight presidents of SUNY New Paltz, and the extreme good fortune of completing my career as a member of President Christian’s executive team … I can tell you from the perspective of a front-row seat that managing this institution is not always rainbows and ponies. Having watched many college presidents, I can tell you that they do a high-wire act without a safety net every day. Their decisions directly impact the well-being of the thousands of students, faculty and staff, and external constituents that rely on the health of the institution and its trajectory into the future. Donald P. Christian has performed his act marvelously well and has done so as a caring and compassionate person.”

L. David Eaton, former vice president for enrollment management


A recent injury did not stop Sandy Christian from joining the festivities. “I would like all of us here to acknowledge that this is Sandy’s retirement as well, and that she is duly recognized by us for her part in ensuring Don’s very substantial legacy at New Paltz,” L. David Eaton said.


“I thank my dear wife, Sandy, for her full support, her patience and her tolerance for the many times that the demands of the presidency completely dominated our lives, and for her eager engagement as First Lady with faculty, staff, students and friends of the College. I recognize that my career moves carried cost to her career, and I’m grateful for those sacrifices. I could not have done this work without her.”

President Donald P. Christian



“I know he meets hundreds and hundreds of people, and he kept remembering my name. I thought, ‘I’m pretty special.’ Genuinely, he made me feel so welcomed. But then it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t the special person. Don Christian was the special person. Being a president and a president’s partner, I can only imagine the amount of cocktail parties and dinners and luncheons and ceremonies both of you have attended. And with all of those time-consuming events, you found time to see our productions in the Theatre Arts Department. We cannot thank you enough. Please enjoy your retirement and know the Department of Theatre Arts will always have aisle seats waiting for you.”

Catherine Doherty, assistant professor of theatre arts


President Christian described Absolut A Cappella as his “favorite musical group – not just student group, but musical group,” and they were on hand to provide a farewell performance on May 9.


“In every single interaction we had, from formal speaking engagements with prospective students or alumni to one-on-one conversations about small policies or big changes, President Christian was always intently and quietly listening. Every time I worked with him, he was focused, and I knew he was actively and deeply listening to every word. I didn’t have to vie for his attention, because I already had it. He is a leader who showed me how to be calm and intentional in big and uncomfortable situations – a leader whose stoic presence was a foundation to rest upon in the tumult of higher education today.”

Shana Circe, ’02 ’08g, interim director of the Center for Student Engagement
and former director of alumni relations



“Don has been a strong supporter of shared faculty governance. He’s been rigorous in maintaining the livewire boundary between faculty and administration. He has shown great sensitivity in refusing to enter into clear areas of faculty responsibility, such as the curriculum. And it is in the area of addressing the unexpected where Don has truly excelled. Over the past decade, as Americans have become embroiled in a series of angry social debates about identity, community and the very nature of national association, Don has significantly altered the way we do things in New Paltz to ensure that our practices match our values.”

Rennie Scott-Childress, associate professor of history,
presiding officer of the faculty, and Diversity & Inclusion Council co-chair



“In his 2017 State of the College address, Don described the experience of capsizing in a canoe, when one of the paddlers attempted to slow down by clinging to a branch. He stated that ‘the best way to remain stable in fast-moving water is to paddle faster, at the least keeping up with the current. Trying to stop or slow down in fast current is often a recipe for disaster … Better than just keeping up in perilous waters is harnessing the forces moving us, so they can take us in the direction we wish to go, maybe faster than we thought possible.’ Don, you have paddled long and hard and kept us out ahead of the current, especially during the past two years. I’m confident that you will step out of the canoe gracefully without the slightest bobble, knowing that you have set SUNY New Paltz on a sound course. No doubt you will find other meaningful ways to share your abilities and experience, ways that will not require you to paddle quite so fast.”

Anne Balant, associate professor of communication disorders,
former presiding officer of the faculty, and parent of two SUNY New Paltz alumni