Paula Ribeau finds new home

Theresa Scott and Theresa Scott

Since moving from Bowling Green, Paula Ribeau has racked up some frequent flier miles. Since the beginning of the month she has been in Seattle, Detroit, Chicago and back to her new hometown of Washington D.C. The former first lady of the University moved to D.C. at the beginning of the school year when former President Sidney Ribeau accepted a position as President of Howard University. Ribeau said she is slowly making herself at home at Howard. As Executive Director of Alternative Spring Break, a program which offers students the opportunity to devote their Spring Break to community service, Ribeau has been developing four different experiences across the country. Some of the issues students are dealing with during Howard’s spring break are gun violence in Chicago, legal issues in New Orleans, literacy in Detroit and homelessness in D.C. ‘I have found yet another way to connect with students,’ Ribeau said. ‘And that is really what I am passionate about here at Howard and what I was passionate about at BG.’ Ribeau found some downtime while at a conference in Seattle to talk about BG, Howard and her year of change. Ribeau said she would always feel a connection with the University and the people, but said the move to D.C. could not have come at a more exciting time. ‘You really do not have to try very hard get swept up in this energy that is surrounding the District and Howard right now,’ Ribeau said. ‘Once you are there it just sort of takes over.’ Q: How has the transition from BG to Howard affected you and President Ribeau? A: You know, if you would have asked me 3 months ago I would have said, ‘why did we take this job, why did we move,’ but as time has gone on the campus of Howard is getting smaller and smaller to us. One of the really exciting things is understanding the history of the university and as we absorb that and all that is going on in the city and on campus Howard becomes a very exciting place to be. Also there is nothing to not love about the city. There is this very special, transient feeling passing through the city right now and it is really something to experience. Q: D.C. must have this amazing energy right now, what is it like to be in sort of the heat of it all and what was it like during the whole election and inauguration? A: [The inauguration] was one of the most invigorating and exciting moments of my life. We were blessed enough to go to the neighborhood ball and it was just so exciting. The feeling is just so hard to describe and we were right in the middle of it, in the crowd, we were really close but it was almost more exciting to watch the crowd on the TV because then you really can understand the magnitude of it. When you are in the crowd you don’t always see that. I just had so many chills that night. There was this energy that went into the inauguration and has sort of flowed into D.C. for a little while. There is this transient meeting of people and this feeling of being connected all the time. Sometimes I think, am I really meeting this person? But there is this energy coming out of this excitement of our time. Q: Have you seen this same energy at Howard? Is there more excitement? A: Oh yes, on campus the energy is buzzing. In the district, the energy is somewhat dwindling, but on campus it is almost building. This is still sort of fascinating to me, but all of these alumni are coming out and coming back and it is just clear what Howard meant to them and what it will mean in the future. At this university, no matter who you talk to, there was love for the university and I think that came from the mission of the school and the mission of service and opportunity. That means a lot to those involved in Howard weather it is 1890, 1930 or 2008. The thankfulness of this university and for this institution is truly wonderful. The history is alive and well here and is still sacred and unique. Q: You have had a lot of opportunities and experiences there, you recently got to meet Michele Obama, how was that? A: Oh it was just crazy. We didn’t know if she was going to come or if she was not going to be able to and it was just a wonderful opportunity. She visited the campus on February 11th. One of her interests is balancing family and community and she was going to come to a 120 minute piano workshop and before we knew it, there were four of us back stage greeting her. She was just the most beautiful, gracious, profound and intelligent woman I have ever met. There is something truly different and special about her and she is just so down-to-earth. I made a comment when I saw her, I said, ‘I’m sorry I could not welcome you like I should have, I am new here too,’ and she just laughed and said ‘We’ve got to go to lunch.’ I would really love that because I hope to speak with her about developing a community relationship and I would love to work with public schools and I know it is something she may be interested in so I would love to have that conversation about making that work. I realize I can’t make that difference by myself but two heads are better than one and if we have the same vision we could grab a hold of K-12 schools and really work on this. Q: Do you miss Bowling Green? A: Oh my gosh, I think about BG and I want know what is going on and I want to know what everyone is doing, not just because it is my Alma Mater and I spent so much time falling in love with the city, but because it is truly a special place. And we know it is in good hands and that helps and we don’t want to go back and step on any toes, but it is a place that just holds such a place in our hearts. We are terribly missing the facility and staff and students and Sidney loves it. He will never forget one of the greatest institutions he has been at. We came back during Christmas time and walked around the campus and the city and just sort of quietly visited. There were tears in his eyes and mine. It is not just the facilities, but it is the people. That part that is the most difficult is leaving the people and the spirit of the place. You can’t put it into words. We will get back there and we want to, but it is just so emotional right now. No matter where we are, BG will always be very special and a very magical place.