Today marks Hite’s last day on the job as he retires from the college after 17 years, making him the longest-serving president in its history.
On Thursday night, well-wishers from the college, the community and other parts of the state filled the Venue Creekside for a dinner during which they shared their best memories of his career and their appreciation for what he had accomplished.
State Sen. Mike Bell was the first to speak, and he said it was a “blessing” to have someone like Hite to consult with on educational issues in an official capacity. On top of that, Bell explained how he himself was once a Cleveland State student who ended his college career one credit shy of graduating. He later took another course to satisfy the requirement, but did not officially graduate. After he shared that with Hite, he said Hite made sure he got his diploma. He said Hite had been a help to him both as a state legislator and as a peer.
“That’s the kind of caring person he’s been to all of us,” Bell said.
Gary Farlow, president and CEO of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, praised Hite’s commitment not only to bettering the college but to bettering Cleveland.
He said Hite had served on the Chamber’s board of directors and credited him for such achievements as making the 2009 announcement that Wacker Chemie was coming to the area and assisting with the Chamber’s economic development plans.
“He has been an integral part ... He was the one who initiated the strategic plan we came up with,” Farlow said.
Tom Griscom of the Tennessee Board of Regents spoke about how Hite always seemed to know how to foster growth among the college and in the community.
He also praised the college’s mathematics program that began under Hite’s tenure, predicting that the program would be something people would long say was one of the biggest achievements the college’s faculty had under his leadership.
The Tennessee Board of Regents has already chosen a new president for the college, Dr. William Seymour, who has most recently served as a vice president at Jackson State Community College. Griscom said Hite had made the college better than it was when he had started, and he believed the college was going to continue to grow and change under new leadership.
Ron Braam, a board member of the Cleveland State Community College Foundation, said he was involved with a search for a new president 17 years ago when the search committee pored through many applicants before finding Hite.
“We obviously got the best one,” Braam said. “He changed the whole atmosphere at Cleveland State while he was there.”
Braam praised Hite’s efforts to encourage the college’s faculty and staff to further their own educations so they could better help the college’s students learn. He also said Hite was “the most unique” Cleveland State president he had observed in that Hite was involved in the Cleveland community to a greater degree than his predecessors had been.
Comments from other foundation board members and singing from Annie Kinworthy followed.
Before Kinworthy, a former Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland volunteer coordinator, presented the audience with her musical stylings, she shared how Hite seemed to be highly involved with the students, sometimes driving a bus full of students to participate in service learning with the organization.
After that, Kim Wills, the college’s staff senate president, shared how Hite had been “a huge advocate for education among the staff.” She also said the staff wanted to get him a gift and said they could not think of anything at first. They ultimately decided to give him a day. Wills said the college requested that a day be named in Hite’s honor, and Rowland obliged.
Wills read the proclamation and placed it on the stage for all to see.
Other faculty and staff then shared their appreciation for Hite’s efforts throughout the years.
After that, foundation board member Adam Lowe said the board had begun the “Carl Hite Legacy Fund,” which will assist students with emergency scholarships. The board had raised $20,075 to start the fund.
Finally, Hite said a few words of his own — once he found them.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said before letting his voice trail off for a bit. “I’m blessed.”
He said serving at the college for 17 years was “a record” for him as he had not worked at the same place for that long before.
During that time, he said he saw the college go from being lowly ranked to being a leader in teaching in academic disciplines like math. Though there had been some failures throughout the years, the triumphs had been more memorable.
He said community colleges have often had bad reputations because of their small sizes — Cleveland State included.
“That’s wrong,” Hite said. “This college has done so much ... I think this college will continue to excel.”
He described the community has having been “so giving” to him and his family and encouraged the community to welcome the new president the same way it did him.
Hite’s job title will soon change from president to president emeritus, and he and his wife, Claire, plan to spend more time in Florida visiting family than they have in the past, splitting their time between here and there.
Still, he said Cleveland “will always have a piece of [his] heart.”