By Molly Burke
Before Jim Tressel’s last days as president of Youngstown State University, students, staff, alumni, friends and family gathered to say farewell at a celebration in Kilcawley Center on Jan. 25.
At the event, refreshments were available and music played as guests took photos with Tressel. Speeches were presented by YSU Interim President Helen K. Lafferty, board of trustees Chair John R. Jakubek, Student Government Association’s President Nickiforos Mastorides and Vice President Maguire Franko.
Tressel reflected on his time at YSU, while looking ahead at the future. He said he hoped people remember how much he loved the university.
“I really wanted to make sure I could make a difference for every student, every employee, in every way I could,” Tressel said. “I think [my greatest accomplishment] was creating good relationships with students, faculty, staff [and] the community.”
During Tressel’s time as president, YSU achieved many goals including increased graduation rates. He said these achievements were part of a team effort.
“Eight years ago, our graduation rate was 33%. Yesterday, we sent in our graduation rate at 49%,” Tressel said. “Everyone had a part in that. Everyone made a difference. That’s what’s fun about being on a team that cares about the students and cares about the university and cares about the community.”
Tressel said he felt confident that YSU will continue to be loved and increase its excellence.
“I think any time you’re getting ready to make a turn in life, you want to feel confident that all of the love you put into it will continue.” Tressel said. “I’m excited by Dr. Lafferty and her love for this university, so I have every confidence we’re going to keep rolling,”
Lafferty worked closely with Tressel while serving on the board of trustees. She said every memory she has of Tressel is a fond one.
“You only get one Jim Tressel, and we were lucky to have him for as long as we did. He is a really great example of a person who says what he means and acts on it. He is just an incredible human being who is trusted, respected, loved,” Lafferty said.
David Janofa, associate vice president of the division of workforce, education and innovation was on Tressel’s first football team he coached. He said he had many special memories of Tressel, as both a YSU student and employee.
“One of my favorite memories is when I was a superintendent at a local district and we were here with some students, and there were about 500 students in [the Chestnut Room],” Janofa said. “A few days later [Tressel] came to me and he addressed some specific students that were here, by name, by grade and what their interests were.”
Catholic Penguins development director, Jacob Sebest, and campus minister, Bernadette Sartor, came to the celebration to represent the Newman Center. Sebest said Tressel left a strong legacy at YSU.
“When he first started, they switched over the Y and Proud marketing logo, and I thought it was really good,” Sebest said. “It made me even more proud to be from Youngstown.”
Although Sartor didn’t graduate from YSU, she said she felt welcomed by Tressel when they first met.
“I didn’t go to YSU unfortunately, but I’ve only lived here six months maybe, and when I first met President Tressel he was really welcoming to me as someone not from Youngstown,” Sartor said. “That left a big impression on me being new to the area.”
The farewell celebration ended after SGA members gifted Tressel with Build-A-Penguin stuffed with thank-you notes written by students.