Farmington, N.M. – Dr. Toni Hopper Pendergrass was formally inducted as the third president of San Juan College in an inauguration ceremony held on October 17.
Dr. Pendergrass came to San Juan College on July 2, replacing Mike Tacha, who served as interim president from February, 2011 through June, 2012.
Dr. Wright L. Lassiter, chancellor of Dallas County Community College District and Pendergrass’ mentor, served as the keynote speaker, addressing the San Juan College Board of Trustees and an audience of more than 200, including community and educational leaders, local and state political officials, family and friends.
“I am like a proud parent,” Dr. Lassiter said. “I have mentored 13 college presidents, and Dr. Pendergrass is the youngest and my favorite. What you see before you is a great leader, who has the humility, professional skill, will and qualities that will transform San Juan College from good to great.”
Expressing his words of advice and encouragement to a fellow leader, he continued: “It’s your duty to dream, and cause those around you to dream. Dreaming is no idle pursuit. Dreaming is the reason for our existence. Without dreaming we are confined to what is, and what was. Go forth and serve boldly. Today is your day, and there never will be another day like today.”
Dr. James C. Henderson, San Juan College president emeritus and SJC president for 27 years; along with Mike Tacha, former SJC interim president, presented Dr. Pendergrass with the college’s presidential medallion.
In welcoming Dr. Pendergrass, Dr. Henderson provided an historical perspective of the College and offered his thoughts: “One of the great strengths San Juan College has is its emphasis on student success. We are not just turning out students; we are developing future leaders and future technical professionals. San Juan College and our students have a bright future. We are very happy to welcome you, Dr. Pendergrass – to this College, to this county and to your home.”
In a heartfelt speech, Dr. Pendergrass expressed that she wanted this event to be a celebration of San Juan College’s past and future. Having grown up in Aztec, N.M., she talked about the appreciation she has for the College and its leaders, staff, faculty, and the community.
“This college is a first-class institution, and I have been extremely impressed with everything the employees are doing and the support that all of the community members provide to this great place,” she said.
“The future of San Juan College lies within all of our hands,” she continued. “It has to be a collaborative, community endeavor. I am extremely hopeful that we can meet this challenge by investing in human capital and helping our students turn broken dreams and missed opportunities into success.”
On a personal level, she thanked her parents, Carroll and Marylee Hopper, and acknowledged her husband, Dr. Doug Pendergrass, along with family, mentors and friends for their encouragement and support that led her to become a college president.
Adding to the deep appreciation Dr. Pendergrass has for the area’s rich cultural diversity, Beverly Washburn sang the Star Spangled Banner in Navajo, and Kirsty Shaw performed God Bless America in both Spanish and English. The San Juan College Rock and Jazz Combos, along with San Juan College’s “Company” honored Dr. Pendergrass by performing some of her favorite country tunes.
Prior to accepting the position at San Juan College, Dr. Pendergrass served as the vice president for learning at San Jacinto College, South Campus in Houston, Texas.
Her academic experience also includes serving as the interim vice president of academic affairs and student success, executive dean, and assistant to the president at El Centro College in Dallas, Texas. She also gained experience as a vice chancellor at Wayne County Community College District in Detroit, Michigan and as a college director at Clovis Community College in Clovis, New Mexico. She also taught community college students as an adjunct faculty member at El Centro College.
Dr. Pendergrass earned her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a specialization in Community College Leadership from the University of Texas at Austin. She also has a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics and Economics from New Mexico State University.
She and her husband, Dr. Doug Pendergrass have three children: Douglas, Raylee and Hadley.