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A Light in the Darkness

Inauguration brings a new beginning and future led by President Candice McQueen ('96), sparking Lipscomb to shine brighter in the community and through each and every student.

Dr. Candice McQueen in her office

“The past will influence how we go forward…but ultimately, the past does not dictate the next step you make. That’s our vision, and our next step to make. We will work together to build this vision, and I’m looking forward to working with all of you to take that next step. Whatever we decide to do though, I’m committed, and I know, that Lipscomb will be a light.” 

Dr. Candice McQueen, Lipscomb University's 18th president


Inauguration. It means a new beginning.

Certainly, a transition of leadership in higher education is a new beginning. But then again, an inauguration is about much more, says Lipscomb’s President, Dr. Candice McQueen: it’s about the past, the present and the future.

“Inauguration is a moment in which you are celebrating a transition,” McQueen says, “but you are also highlighting what Lipscomb has been for 130 years and you are looking toward the future of what it can become.”

What Lipscomb has been, is and will be, to McQueen, is a light. A light shining in the darkness, as described in I John. A light that darkness has not overcome.

From her first acceptance speech on campus in August to her Be A Light Tour, connecting with alumni, prospective students and parents in seven cities this past spring, McQueen has urged the Lipscomb community to be a spiritual light in the community and to work to shine even brighter in the future.

“I fully believe Lipscomb’s 130-year history has been life-changing,” said McQueen in her speech accepting the presidency post, “as we have continued to elevate the only light that overcomes darkness by revealing Christ to our students.”

While Lipscomb’s inauguration festivities, held March 28-30, were indeed a reflection of Lipscomb University’s past, present and future, they were also a celebration of McQueen’s own past, present and future, a lifelong journey that has been molded, cast and refined by the people of Lipscomb University.

President McQueen with Students on Bison Square

McQueen’s first week on campus was marked by participation in various student events and many personal conversations with students campuswide.

Dr. Candice McQueen brings her best in every calling. She is a light to all who know her, and to the many, many people she will touch in her role as Lipscomb President. — Janet Ayers, President, Ayers Foundation, in her confirmation statement at the inauguration ceremony

Reflecting on the Past

“I left Lipscomb with a different relationship with God than I had when I started there.”

McQueen came to Lipscomb as a freshman, hailing from Clarksville, Tennessee, and hungry to grow in knowledge and faith.

“I had a faith that had been nurtured and had grown in my Christian household, but in hindsight much of it was inherited from my parents,” she said. “I came to Lipscomb to take my faith deeper and to pursue all I could be in a career that was satisfying.”

From 1992-1996, Lipscomb delivered on both counts, building a foundation for her lifelong profession in education and blazing a pathway to an understanding of Scripture and a relationship with God that was truly her own.

McQueen recalls how her classes—particularly Richard Goode’s history class—tested her perceptions of faith. She remembers feeling uplifted by the authentic lives of professors such as Tim Johnson in history, Joyce Rucker in education and Fletcher Srygley in physics.

“I remember being pricked in my heart after hearing various chapel talks, and I remember considering decisions that would have lifelong impact and talking them through with godly people all over Lipscomb’s campus,” she said.

“Students are different today than when I was a student,” said McQueen, “but yet, students still want the same things… They want relationships; they want community; they want to learn together with faculty.”

Candice (Hunter) McQueen tutoring at Youth Hobby Shop during her college years

McQueen’s most treasured ministry experience during her college years was tutoring at-risk children at Nashville’s Youth Hobby Shop (now Youth Encouragement Services).

She took one experience particularly to heart: a four-year stint volunteering for the Youth Hobby Shop, now Youth Encouragement Services, tutoring at-risk children in Nashville.

“What I learned there sparked an interest that grew over the years and then one day became my platform when I was (Tennessee’s education) commissioner, and it still is the platform of the current governor and commissioner,” she said. “Reading is truly the great equalizer in helping students reach their educational potential.” 

This spark started at Lipscomb and from the mentorship of Gary Hall, professor of mathematics. Well before being tapped for Tennessee’s top education leader in 2015, McQueen taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools in Texas and Nashville— including Lipscomb Academy, where she saw the Lipscomb team spirit for enriching the spiritual and intellectual lives of young people firsthand.

“I saw how Lipscomb Academy really partners with parents in their children’s educational journeys. I felt like I got to know parents better at the academy than at probably any other job I have had,” she said.

She further learned the power of the Lipscomb team spirit when she joined the Lipscomb University faculty in 2001, became education department chair in 2004 and was appointed dean of the newly created College of Education in 2008. During her tenure as dean, the college’s enrollment and giving more than doubled. McQueen expanded the college to include six new graduate programs and a doctoral program as well as coordinated the founding of the IDEAL program and the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning & Innovation.

“What was exciting for me when I served as a dean was all that we were able to accomplish as a team. We became the best in the state at educating new teachers and preparing education leaders,” she said. “We worked together to create a compelling strategic plan, brought in new partnerships, changed our course contents and clinical placements and created programs that met needs.”

President McQueen working at the Beautiful Day service opportunity.

The March 30 festivities also included a campus-wide service opportunity to assemble care kits for Ukrainian refugees.

Spotlight on the Present

“Every day, my first thought is: ‘How can I partner with God on what He is doing at Lipscomb, and do that in a way that provides a better future for each and every student?’ That’s my prayer.”

Just as she starts each day searching for God’s feedback on His spiritual plan for Lipscomb, McQueen started her tenure at Lipscomb searching for feedback from the entire Lipscomb community, asking them where the university needs to go next to accomplish its goal of becoming a top-tier Christian university.

Students, faculty, staff, board members, donors and alumni were all given the opportunity to submit answers to survey questions that McQueen pledged to review personally. One-on-one conversations with alumni and on-campus groups are ongoing, and all of Lipscomb’s leaders were asked to ponder and apply author Peter Drucker’s famous five elements of an effective plan: what should Lipscomb concentrate on, abandon, innovate, take a risk on and continue to analyze.

McQueen’s methodical and collaborative approach in her early days leading Lipscomb was born out of her past leadership experiences, which brought home the importance of listening, goalsetting, data and teamwork, she said.

“In my experience working across a variety of constituents and stakeholders, I have found that most can agree on a vision, but they often come to how to get there in different ways,” she noted.

“So, I have found that listening makes me smarter and helps me set goals and priorities that best meet the vision in ways that more people will buy into and work toward themselves.”

After an initial 90-day period of listening, McQueen launched a strategic planning effort called Lipscomb Impact 360. The effort includes more than 90 Lipscomb stakeholders working through a SOAR analysis (strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results), developing a core mission and vision statement and undergoing a nine-month long strategic goal-setting process.

“Our collective goal-setting process needs to elevate what goals are the best for our future. So the idea behind Lipscomb Impact 360 is to solidify what we believe our strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results have been and then build on that,” McQueen said.

Father, we pray for this woman whom You have called to lead this great university in this great city… We pray for your favor and your blessing on Candice, as she leads in a way that reflects glory to You and sheds Your light to the world around us. — Former Gov. Bill Haslam, State of Tennessee, in his opening prayer at the inauguration ceremony

While a large representation of the Lipscomb team is working this spring and summer to develop and refine the university’s goals critical for the next several years, McQueen sees her role as stepping into ensure that the goals are “big enough.”

“We need to ask ourselves what are the big transformational goals that could potentially take many of our other goals to the next level,” she said. “It is also important to set performance measures to define our goals and then relentlessly pursue these.”

So she also sees part of her role in the Lipscomb Impact 360 plan as ensuring that the appropriate metrics are in place to measure the university’s progress toward its goals. Anecdotal evidence does not tell the whole story, says McQueen. Anecdotes combined with data makes the whole picture transparent to all stakeholders and promotes good decisions, she said.

“I feel like the success of our plan will hinge on the transparency around where we are and where we have to go, because people will rise to what you ask them to do,” she said. “When you have a vision, and you have a passion, and you have a team that is all working toward that vision, you can accomplish anything.

Dignitaries on stage with President McQueen at the March inauguration ceremony

Lipscomb supporters such as (lto r) donor Janet Ayers, Board Member Mike Adams, Board Chair David Solomon, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Nashville Mayor John Cooper on stage with McQueen at the inauguration ceremony.

Follow each day of the inauguration festivities March 28-30:


Illuminating the Future

“One thing is abundantly clear, we are now standing at a pivotal moment of extraordinary
opportunity, and what we do next, will be up to us.”

As a parent of Lipscomb Academy and Lipscomb University freshmen, McQueen can’t help but think about the future. Before September 2021, she thought about the future of her own children. Now, however, she thinks about the future of every single Lipscomb student in her care, she says.

So while an inauguration is a beginning, McQueen was focused on the future in her official address on March 29, reinforcing what she has been saying since her first day on campus: Lipscomb must continue to be a light in our local, state and national communities.

“For me, one of the most hopeful verses in Scripture is John 1:5: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it’,” McQueen told the packed crowd at the formal inauguration ceremony in Allen Arena.

“Every day we see the darkness creep in— anxiety, doubt, hatred, pride, fear, selfishness and all types of temptations. “But we know… there is a better path. There is a path of light filled with truth, hope, service, courage, compassion and graciousness. That’s a truth that all of us can build our lives on,” she said.

President McQueen with students at the Beautiful Day fair


In her inauguration address, McQueen shared a few ways Lipscomb University will still be a shining light on a hill in the future:

The Center for Vocational Discovery and Life Purpose will be a first-of-its kind center, destined to become a national model, McQueen said.

“The very first question a student should not ever be asked when they come onto a campus is: ‘What’s your major?’ The very first question we should be asking here is: ‘What is your purpose?’. ‘What do you want to become?’” said McQueen.

“This center will re-center how we think about what we do. We will help all students discover their ‘why,’ be trained in their ‘how’, and then we’ll send them into the world with their ‘what’ upon graduation.”

Being a light in the darkness, means making sure we are a light right here in Nashville, she said. 

“This means serving our neighborhood. Caring for those who experience tragedy. This means using our expertise, resources, time and talents to solve big city problems. We have answers. We have experts here. And also we need to stand up for those who need a voice. This is actually what Lipscomb has always been about,” she said.

Education changes lives for the better, and your stewardship of this institution will be a stewardship that changes lives and improves our community. — John Cooper, Mayor, City of Nashville, at the inauguration ceremony

Being a light at Lipscomb also means “we want to be a light to more students,” said McQueen. “We are going to seek to ensure that all students, all students, who want a Christian higher education degree can come to Lipscomb. We don’t want the financial barrier that we know can be a problem.”

The Lipscomb Impact 360 strategic plan “is fully in keeping with the founders’ goal that ‘we will stand in the front ranks’—not the back, but the front ranks—‘of the great educational institutions of the world,’” said McQueen at the ceremony. “Our plan is to stand at the front and lead. We’ll do that as we accelerate our path to be a top tier, nationally recognized university.”

“To say it more plainly, or maybe in a different way, I want Lipscomb University to be the best university in the country,” said McQueen. “I want you to be proud of your education, and when someone stops you and says, ‘Where did you go to college?’ you smile and you say with a new term I created —prideful humility, ‘I went to Lipscomb University.’”

As Lipscomb has in the past; as we are today; and as we strive for the future, says McQueen, “Let’s never forget the words of Matthew 5: ‘We are the light of the world.’”