It’s a little before eight o’clock, and the final rays of daylight are quickly fading to darkness. On most college campuses, this time of night on a Friday is welcomed with loud music and drinking games, but here in central Minnesota the scene is different. From all corners of The College of Saint Benedict campus, students dressed in neon t-shirts and sneakers are making their way to the central quad. Instead of getting ready for a night of partying, most of the 2,000 women who make up the all-female student body are preparing to participate in a fun run to kickoff the inauguration weekend for their new president. Less than three months into her tenure and only a month removed from the start of classes, Dr. Mary Hinton has already endeared herself with the St. Ben’s community. As she wanders the grounds, a crowd follows—students waiting excitedly to ask her for a picture and faculty and administrators stopping to shake her hand.
Describe this scene to Hinton even a year ago, and she would not have believed that she would ever be at the center of such an event. Through her childhood and four years at Williams, Hinton never imagined a career in higher education much less assuming leadership of a prestigious college. Far from a straight path into academia, Hinton’s career has featured many turning points, nearly all of them unplanned. Or as Hinton described in her Inaugural Address, “I confess that I could not see in front of me at times, but there was a light at my feet.”
Hinton’s journey began in Kittrell, North Carolina, a small town 40 miles northeast of Durham. As a teenager at her local public high school, Hinton walked into her guidance counselor’s office to begin the process of applying to college. Instead of support, “[I was told] that I shouldn’t be thinking about going to college and that as a black woman my only option would be the military.”