The civil rights and social justice authority is a 1983 HWS graduate.

GENEVA — Hundreds of students, alumni and academics packed into Scandling Campus Center at Hobart and William Smith Colleges on Thursday, awaiting the big reveal — the identity of their next president.

When he walked through the door, a thunder of applause, cheers and a standing ovation greeted Gregory Vincent, HWS Class of 1983 and the 27th president of Hobart College and the 16th of William Smith College.

Part of that warm welcome was, no doubt, because Vincent is coming home.

Thomas S. Bozzuto, HWS Class of 1968 and chairman of the colleges’ board of trustees, said at the announcement Thursday that the search was wide, but the frontrunner clear. Vincent received a unanimous thumbs-up from both a search committee and trustee board.

“Greg has our full and enthusiastic support, our great admiration, and our complete respect,” said Bozzuto. “I have every confidence in his ability to lead these colleges.”

Vincent is the first alumnus in the colleges’ history to serve in the role. A national expert on civil rights, social justice and campus culture, he serves at The University of Texas at Austin as vice president for diversity and community engagement, W. K. Kellogg Professor of Community College Leadership and professor of law.

Outgoing President Mark D. Gearan, the longest serving president in the colleges’ history, will pass the baton to Vincent at the end of the 2016-17 academic year. Gearan has accepted an appointment at Harvard University as president in residence at the Graduate School of Education, beginning this fall.

“He’s made a real difference in the lives of real people,” said Gearan of his successor, citing Vincent’s integrity, keen intellect and resolve. “He’s the right person at the right time for this institution.”

It’s been a tall order to find a candidate who will be able to fill Gearan’s shoes, Bozzuto told students, faculty and administrators on Thursday.

“Greg Vincent brings his own very impressive shoes,” said Bozzuto. “It’s my belief that he will leave a whole new set of footprints, building on the successes of the past decades and leading the colleges into the future.”

During his remarks, Vincent gave a special shoutout to his economics adviser, Professor Chris Gunn, who sat in the audience.

“I remain in awe of the amount of time and care you put into giving feedback,” said Vincent to Gunn. “It’s that inspiration I tried to give to my students many decades ago. You represent the best of the faculty at Hobart and William Smith.”

Angel Salas-Espana, a senior economics major at HWS, said he’s excited to have a new president.

“I think it’s good to have a fresh, new look at things,” said Salas-Espana. “I’m going to be sad that the president is leaving, but excited to have someone with so much experience. I had a great time at Hobart and William Smith, so I know why he would want to come back and be president.”

Junior economics and math major Lizzy Weingast said she’s glad Vincent was chosen.

“I feel he has more of a connection to the school,” she said. “He knows what we’re going through. I also like how he’s an athlete. I’m an athlete on campus so from an athlete’s perspective I think he can connect a lot to us. I wish him the best of luck and I’m happy to welcome him to Geneva.”

Vincent, now 55, will return for commencement May 14, and assume his new role mid-July.

“This is in many ways a homecoming for me — a return to the place that was my beginning,” said Vincent. “Hobart and William Smith changed my life and gave me the tools to pursue my life as a civil rights attorney, as a professor, as a college administrator, and now, as a college president.”

About the new president

Gregory Vincent attended public schools in New York City where he graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. A Statesman on both the Hobart basketball and cross-country teams, he majored in history and economics at Hobart, served as a resident adviser and was presented the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award at graduation. He earned a law degree from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and his doctorate from The University of Pennsylvania.

Since joining UT-Austin in 2005, Vincent has presided over the university’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, now regarded as a national model. Under Vincent’s leadership, the division has grown to encompass a $50 million budget with more than 400 employees and 50 units, as well as 400 local and regional partners, who help connect the university’s resources to communities across the state, particularly those facing significant challenges in accessing education.

At UT, Vincent is the principal investigator of four nationally competitive grants and directs the thematic faculty initiative that has resulted in more than 60 faculty hires. He also successfully raised significant funding for student scholarships, priority initiatives and the permanent home for the UT charter school system and community engagement center. In 2016, Vincent served as university spokesman in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled to uphold the use of affirmative action in higher education.

Under Vincent’s leadership, the University of Texas at Austin has been recognized through the INSIGHT into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award annually since 2012, and in 2016 was named an INSIGHT into Diversity Champion. The division and UT have been named to the 2015 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction in Education and Interfaith Community Service, and the Carnegie Foundation’s 2015 Community Engagement Classification.

As Ohio’s assistant attorney general in the early 1990s, Vincent successfully argued several major civil rights cases before that state’s Supreme Court. He was promoted to director for regional and legal affairs at the Ohio Civil Rights Commission in Cleveland and later served as vice president and lead counsel for Bank One.

His return to education began with an appointment as assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was then named vice provost for academic affairs and campus diversity and law professor at Louisiana State University, and then vice provost for institutional equity and diversity and law professor at the University of Oregon.

Vincent is a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., serving as national chair of the Commission on Racial Justice. He is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (The Boulé) where he serves as the Grand Sire Archon-Elect (President-Elect). He has been a member of Moritz College of Law National Council since 2008. At Hobart and William Smith, he is a member of the Statesmen Athletic Association, the Heron Society, the Wheeler Society and the Emerson Society. In 2016, he gave the HWS Convocation Address.

For his service and community engagement, Vincent has received numerous awards and recognitions, notably the Educator of the Year Award from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, the Distinguished Service Award from the Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence (CADE) of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Distinguished Service Award from the Moritz College of Law. The Austin NAACP and Austin Area Urban League presented Vincent with their highest honors, the DeWitty/Overton Freedom Award and the Whitney Young Legacy Award for committing himself “to raise awareness and educate the community on the importance of diversity and inclusion.”

Vincent is married to Kimberly Wilson Vincent, an attorney in private practice. The Vincents’ adult children are graduates of Xavier/ Louisiana State University, Spelman College and the University of Texas-Austin. They also have two children heading off to the Berklee College of Music and Morehouse College in the fall and a budding middle school cello player who is looking forward to the move to Geneva.