As students flocked to college campuses the past few weeks, some for the first time, the man who is charged with leading Lycoming College began what will be his last year at the helm.
Dr. James E. Douthat, college president for the past 23 years, plans to retire from his post June 30, 2013.
As he walked onto campus recently for the first day of classes, it became the first of many lasts he will experience.
Dr. James E. Douthat speaks at the recent convocation for new students at Lycoming College.
"Basically we're now going into the time where there are one last times, but I think that's true of everybody at every job so I don't think there's anything particularly unique about it," Douthat said.
Douthat has seen plenty of change during his career in education. Although most students commonly use technology to complete assignments, Douthat remembers a time when a card catalogue was a student's most-trusted ally in research.
"Williamsport has changed a lot in the past five years, much less in the last 23 years," he said.
But this change is different for Douthat, although he hasn't given himself much time to reflect as he focuses on a new semester.
"It is a seven-day-a-week business in the sense of committee meetings occur on weekends, alumni meetings and many events are on weekends, homecoming, football games, trustee meetings," he said. "It's kind of hard to have reflective thoughts when you're moving into the next day and you've got to do something. So I suspect what I'll miss, positively or negatively, is the pace. The pace is in one way invigorating and in other ways it's that you have very little of your own time."
The change of pace may be a welcomed one in Douthat's retirement, as his schedule will suddenly be wide open.
"I think what I'm most looking forward to is the first three weeks. Taking time off, reading books that I haven't had the chance to read. Sometime in that three weeks I'll decide what happens in the fourth week," he said with a laugh.
But before Douthat gets to that point, he said, there's a job to do. This year is not about his last year, but for many, their first year.
"One of the realities is that a vast majority of the campus is going to be involved in creating their experience at Lycoming, certainly our students, certainly our faculty. So I see it as a transition and I would guess that most people will hopefully see it as a very normal year as they go about their business as faculty and students and staff and do what they're supposed to be doing," Douthat said.
So while still focusing on this year, at some point Douthat is sure that he will be overcome with memories and feelings of the past 23 year. But just not yet.
"I haven't been struck with that nostalgia just yet and I'm sure I will be and my guess is that will probably be event specific but I don't know what it is. Will it be the last homecoming? Will it be the last Christmas service? Will it be graduation? Maybe it will be packing up the house but I don't know which event it will be," he explained.
Graduation is the best day as a president, Douthat said. He said getting to be a part of one of the biggest accomplishments in a person's life means a lot to him.
"I think probably the most exciting parts are watching that launch for students and in many cases one of the advantages of being here for 23 years (is) you get to see what they did in their 20s, what they did in their 30s, what they did in their 40s," he said.
But he knows that when a student graduates, they are not only helping themselves.
"It's not just launching the individual, it's launching the individual to go out and improve the society in some way," Douthat said.
But as he goes into the next stage of his life, Douthat hopes that the college continues to have the same values and goals as it has in the past 200 years, "preparing students for their next stage in life," with a good education.
He also hopes that the college will continue to adapt and accept not just the change in presidency but in everything.
"I think the most important thing for the institution is, does it have the flexibility and capability and talent from the people who are there to respond to that change in a way that moves it forward? So if I've done a decent job, I've left the institution with the base on which they can respond to that change and move forward," he said.