As she often reminded her colleagues: “If it’s good for all of us, it’s good for each of us. And it it’s good for each of us, it’s good for the state.”
Those of us who love and support education in Polk County — and those of us who, in particular, have an affection for Polk State College — have had many opportunities to appreciate the visionary and inspirational leadership shown on a daily basis by Polk State College President Eileen Holden. She routinely encourages us to set our sights higher, and she works harder than anyone to convert those lofty goals into achievements.
In her drive to make the college better and, in the process, to enhance the quality of life and the economic prospects for our entire region, one of the few things that she never quite finds time for is self-promotion. As a result, the work that she has done for several years as a leader of the Association of Florida Colleges’ Florida College System Council of Presidents — a voluntary association of the 28 state-college presidents — has been little noticed outside of the highest levels of policy and planning in Tallahassee.
However, our very own President Holden recently concluded a demanding term as chair of the Council of Presidents, service that was preceded by a multi-year stint as the council’s policy and advocacy chair.
As she has passed the gavel to a distinguished colleague elsewhere in the State College System, she has received widespread praise for the leadership she has shown over the years. But that praise has probably not reached the attention of her friends, colleagues and supporters here in Polk County.
President Holden has served in these key council roles during what might be considered the most difficult of times. Her challenges have included maintaining (and growing) the state’s commitment to public higher education — particularly for those who have the fewest options and have the most to gain from access to a college degree and workforce training. And she has had to do this while also nurturing consensus among her peers during the toughest economy in a generation.
When the state’s budget crisis was poised to split the college system apart, President Holden did everything she could to bring the state and community colleges together, and she has helped to manage a powerful coalition that has helped to move Florida’s state and community colleges forward when forward progress was exactly what we needed.
If you check with her colleagues around the state, as well as those policy-makers, lobbyists and staff members who have been most involved in shaping Florida’s approach to public higher education, you will hear recurring themes in their assessment of President Holden’s leadership: themes such as patience, perseverance, courage, transparency and inclusion are consistently articulated.
Indeed, President Holden has helped to change the way policy is made, simply by asserting the values she lives out every day at Polk State. She has insisted that everyone have a seat at the table. She has been willing to sacrifice any personal agenda for the sake of a shared and brighter future. She has demonstrated that we have more to gain by working together than we could ever gain by going it alone. And she has repeatedly put her own reputation on the line as collateral for “doing the right thing — in the right way.”
The board of trustees of Polk State College, on behalf of education stakeholders across the state, acknowledges with gratitude the gracious and dynamic leadership President Holden has provided to the Council of Presidents. As she has often reminded her colleagues: “If it’s good for all of us, it’s good for each of us. And if it’s good for each of us, it’s good for the state.”
Polk State and the region we serve should be very proud of the example she has set and the way that she has represented us in Tallahassee and around the state. Her excellence has not gone unnoticed. Her legacy is ours to extend.
Ricardo “Rick” Garcia, chairman of the Polk State College District Board of Trustees