portrait of Abbie Darst, Berea College Magazine editor
Photo by Brooklynn Kenney

I have been fortunate to have amazing women leaders in my life. From bosses to coaches to friends and mentors, I have had the distinct pleasure of learning, growing and being challenged by strong, female, Christian role models throughout my life. Sometimes, my first meeting of these women was intimidating—like the first Black female general in the Air Force, Brig. Gen. Marcelite J. Harris, who happened to also be the mother of my best friend in fourth and fifth grade. Brig. Gen. Harris herself was not intimidating, and her daughter, Tenecia, was one of the sweetest people I’ve known. But even as a child, I understood the gravity of the position she held, and my mom told me I had to be on my best behavior at her house. Though Harris had strict rules and high expectations, I took notice of her gentleness and down-to-earth nature as I spent many nights giggling in her den drinking Fresca.

Other women in my life have not had such grand positions. Yet their strength, tenacity and thoughtfulness taught me more about how to love and lead than any book or seminar ever could.

When I learned that our next Berea College president would be a woman—the first female to hold the position—I was excited. When I learned she’d also earned a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, I was incredibly intimidated. My first thought was, “I’ll have to step up my game with the magazine.”

Unfortunately, on her inaugural visit to the Marketing and Communications office in November 2022, I was on a college visit with my son and was unable to meet her. But I heard nothing but good things from my coworkers, and I was intrigued. The following day I was able to meet her, hear her speak and began to see that she already got the heart and lifeblood of Berea.

It’s been almost a year since President Cheryl Nixon took the helm at Berea, and I have grown to admire the way she leads. She has a heart and compassion for each person she encounters but also has a firm drive toward action and making Berea College live up to and lean into its Great Commitments.

But I think what’s most distinctive about her is the joy she brings into every room. Even when conversations are difficult and pressure is heavy, President Nixon exudes a realistic positivity. She laughs, she motivates, she encourages honesty but demands it be cloaked in kindness. She doesn’t shy away from challenges, but she also doesn’t get bogged down in the difficulties that come with change.

In this issue, I am excited to introduce you to Dr. Cheryl L. Nixon, Berea’s 10th president, and to give you a glimpse into the impact she’s had on this College and community in such a short time.

Abbie Tanyhill Darst ’03
Executive Director of Marketing and Communications


Abbie Darst '03 is an article writing, husband loving, kid raising, cheer coaching, God serving, busy woman. Whether it's been in sports, law enforcement or higher education, Abbie has dedicated her career to telling stories that speak of mission, passion and the best parts of human experience. She's been telling Berea's amazing stories since 2017.

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