Faculty, staff, students, trustees, elected and appointed officials, alumni, foundation board members, presidents Marvin, Rives, Jorns, and Hencken, representatives of universities and learned societies, members of the surrounding communities, family, and friends, I am honored to stand before you today as a member of the Eastern Illinois University community. I stand humbled by the opportunity to serve as president of a university with a proud past and bright future. Today we formally observe a beginning in the life of Eastern Illinois University. Like all beginnings, it occurs in a stream of time, with a past that influences the future.
Today, we honor the past. We honor those who have gone before us and built the university for us. Our Alma Mater begins, “For us arose thy walls and towers.” The university did not rise from the ground by chance. We owe great gratitude to those who built the physical campus, and created the academic soul of the university we are part of today. A century and more of hard work and dedication have given us this noble institution. EIU’s past is a storied one, grounded in its establishment as a normal school, serving a critical societal need. EIU’s past is one of change. The university seal bears five separate years: 1895, the year of its establishment; 1899, the year of its opening; and three years, 1921, 1947, 1957, in each of which the university’s name changed, to reflect an evolving mission and new service to societal needs. Today we remind ourselves that from the beginning, change has been critical to the advancement of the university. Yet also from the beginning the continuity provided by fundamental values of excellence and service has served us well. Change and continuity have been powerful forces in bringing the university to its current state of development.
The world of higher education has changed from the days of Livingston Lord, the first president of Eastern Illinois University. Our universities study more and wider fields of study, are more engaged with their communities, and are more connected with entities that did not exist in the early days, such as community colleges. Our populations are more diverse, our reach more international, and our academic fields more complex. However, much is still the same. Striving for academic excellence and building personal relationships with our students and each other, we change our students’ lives for the better. Keeping an Eastern education accessible and working for efficiency, we hold ourselves accountable to our public. We are a university where students who want an opportunity to improve their lot can have that opportunity. We believe in distinctive service to our society.
The most important strand of continuity throughout times of change for Eastern has been this: We have always profoundly changed students’ lives. The alumna who told me she had her life planned one way but realized, because of one professor, that her life’s calling was to be in service to others. The student who told me he chose his major because of a professor’s belief in and support of the student’s abilities. The alumnus who told me he learned his important life lessons from his supervisor during his time as a student worker. The student who told me she believes her success was directly connected to the personal relationships she developed at Eastern. Commitment to personal relationships is the fundamental strand of our institutional DNA. We always have and always will focus on changing our students’ lives. This is reflected in our student-oriented mission statement, which deserves re-reading this day:
Eastern Illinois University is a public comprehensive university that offers superior, accessible undergraduate and graduate education. Students learn the methods and results of free and rigorous inquiry in the arts, humanities, sciences, and professions, guided by a faculty known for its excellence in teaching, research, creative activity, and service. The University community is committed to diversity and inclusion and fosters opportunities for student-faculty scholarship and applied learning experiences within a student-centered campus culture. Throughout their education, students refine their abilities to reason and to communicate clearly so as to become responsible citizens and leaders.
The Honorable Dale Righter
Senator, State of Illinois
The Honorable Chapin Rose
Representative, State of Illinois
Ms. Judy Erwin
Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education
Dr. Robert Webb
Chair, Board of Trustees
Mr. Tim McCollum
President, EIU Alumni Association
Mr. Steve Childers
President, EIU Foundation
Dr. Lynne Curry
Chair, EIU Faculty Senate
Ms. Sandy Bingham-Porter
Chair, EIU Staff Senate
Mr. Cole D. Rogers
Student Body President
In almost forty meetings with hundreds of faculty, staff and students since August I have learned a great deal about our university. I have found that we value excellence, access, diversity, personal relationships, stewardship and service. Our faculty and staff are working to be the best teachers, scholars and public servants possible. Our students desire and receive a rigorous and excellent college experience. The Eastern community embodies the mission statement—the mission statement is our values made manifest. On these values and desires we will build a bright future; we will take charge of our destiny.
In my meetings with legislators, citizens and community leaders, I have found that Eastern Illinois University is highly regarded and a valued partner with our communities and region, with community colleges, and with state and local governments. We are contributing to state and local needs, goals and objectives. On this foundation of respect we will enhance our contributions and build ever more effective partnerships.
To honor the past is not to live in the past. The past gives us cherished memories of heroic acts; beloved faculty, staff and students; and institutional achievement. Our memories nourish and sustain us, but they must not be our primary focus. Rather, we must focus on the future.
Today we embrace a future unseen to us, but one we face with optimism. Niels Bohr, the eminent physicist, is credited with saying, “Prediction is difficult, especially of the future.” Though we must agree that prediction is difficult, we must believe in a future of hope, a future that contains a vibrant university, engaged in the preparation of students for participation in a democratic society. This year, each freshman student was required to read the book A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind. The book tells the true story of Cedric Jennings, who succeeds, through hard work, his mother’s support, and his drive and determination, in rising from an underachieving high school in Washington, D.C., to admission to and graduation from Brown University. Just as we challenged our new students to contemplate their college experience, to recognize their “hopes in the unseen” for their personal futures, we must challenge ourselves to formulate our institutional “hopes in the unseen.” We will answer that challenge by enhancing excellence in our teaching, research and service; by keeping an EIU educational experience accessible; by deepening our commitment to a life-changing experience for each student; by increasing our resource base; by strengthening our commitment to sustainable operations; by honoring our commitment to diversity; and by extending our local, regional, state and global connections.
Eastern’s hopes and dreams will be, as they have always been, grounded in the time-honored value of service we hold dear. Our hopes and dreams must hold rich promise for future generations of students and our public, whom we serve. And so today we make promises to those who look to us and depend on us. To those who desire access to an affordable, superior education, we promise you we will make it available; to those who value personal relationships, we promise you we will keep that value at the very core of our being; to those who expect excellence, we promise you unwavering commitment to the highest standards of achievement in teaching, scholarship and service; to those who depend on our roles in partnership and community service, we promise you exploration of every avenue to enhance our connections.
Members of the Eastern Illinois University family, let us resolve today to work side by side, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, to make EIU the best it can be and a first choice for our citizens. The coming years are our time together to serve our university and advance its mission. These are the years that we will aspire to greatness; the years we will set and keep an upward course; the years we will keep faith with our university in serving our students with honor and distinction; the years we will work with each other in trust, friendship and mutual respect to make a profound difference at Eastern; and finally, the years we will keep Eastern, as in the words of the Alma Mater, “strong, true, and beautiful and brave and free.” Strong in paying the price to aspire to greatness; true to the ideals of a public university; beautiful in the spirit of service; brave in the face of whatever adversity we face; and free in inquiry, scholarship, teaching, and pursuit of knowledge.
Our strong commitment to this endeavor will lead history to someday judge that we did honor our past, we did embrace our future, and that, together, we did make a difference for our university.