Dr. Carl Hite was the guest of honor as faculty, staff, students and other well-wishers crowded into a large room at the college to hear remarks by various people as well as tributes in poetry and song.
At one point during the festivities, he said the retirement became “real” to him.
“This retirement probably didn’t hit me until now,” Hite said.
As the current school semester winds down and the Tennessee Board of Regents plans to finalize who will be the next president of the college at its meeting Thursday in Nashville, Hite will be finishing up his duties while looking to the future.
Dr. Claire Hite, his wife and a retired Dalton (Ga.) State Community College professor, was in attendance and said he will likely miss being president.
“There’s a bit of sadness to it,” she said shortly after the event began. “He’s devoted a lot of his life to this college.”
She also said she was surprised but happy with how the people of Cleveland embraced her husband as the college’s president over the years.
Still, she was grateful.
“I would like to thank the community for welcoming him,” she said.
However, she said his retirement will allow them to travel more often and spend more time with family. They have two grown sons, one in Florida and another in California.
As the Hites mingled, sentiments from other attendees were similar. Many said they were sad to see him go, but they were glad to see he was getting a break after his 17-year tenure.
Dr. Michael Stokes, vice president of student services at Cleveland State, then introduced some planned speakers and performers as guests settled in with plates of both sugary slices of cake and healthy raw vegetables.
The first to speak was Rick Layne, director of career and workforce development with the Southeast Tennessee Development District.
Layne spoke very briefly about Hite’s accomplishments before presenting Hite with a gift and jokingly telling him that he was “highly perturbed” to see Hite retiring.
Two representatives from the college’s student senate, president Quentin Murray and vice president Christine Danh, then presented Hite with a framed copy of a resolution they penned to recognize Hite’s retirement in an official way.
It read as a list of accomplishments, highlighting that Hite had been the longest-serving president in the history of the college.
Murray said he was “inspired” by Hite’s leadership and how well he had been working with students as he and Danh presented him with a basket full of Cleveland State memorabilia.
“I think the best part has been the students,” Hite said of his time as president.
After a student performed an original poem, the college’s choir, Vocal Rhapsody, provided songs ranging from a Christmas carol to a standard from Hite’s younger years.
The song that garnered the most laughter and applause was an original song called “Kiss Carl Goodbye” written by choir member Amy Fowler. Its lyrics said students were sad to see him leave, but they had to, well, “kiss Carl goodbye.” The song ended with the singers all blowing kisses in Hite’s general direction.
Dr. Jim Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State Community College, then spoke. He said the colleges have long been competing against each other, but he has respect for Hite as a college president.
“He has done so much to transform this county and this region,” Catanzaro said. “He has been a great president here.”
After hearing comments from a few of the college’s employees and them giving him the gift of a new bicycle to enjoy during his retirement, Hite expressed his thanks for all the support.
He said he had seen faculty and staff work hard to improve the college over the years by adding new programs. As a result, the college’s rankings have grown higher and higher.
“We’re setting the pace now,” Hite said. “Even though we may be small, we do a heck of a lot.”
He said the people he had worked with were “extraordinary,” and he hoped faculty and staff would continue to do what they could to better the school as the new college president takes office.
“Your world is going to be changing a lot,” Hite said, directing his attention to the college-affiliated attendees.
However, he said he expected they would be just as adaptable to change as they had been in the past, as with all the new programs that had been added over those 17 years of his presidency.