Dear Members of the Syracuse University Community: Over the last several months, hundreds of students, faculty, staff, administrators and trustees have engaged in constructive, collaborative and respectful dialogue. The Board of Trustees created a Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity…
Transcript of Welcome Address by Kent D. Syverud
Thank you, Dick and Ryan, for those welcoming words and for your great service to Syracuse University.
First things first. I must acknowledge and thank our Chancellor, Nancy Cantor.
Nancy, you have been an extraordinary leader in higher education, at Syracuse University and in the world, so often ahead of everyone else on issues of access to higher education, commitment to community, true diversity of people and viewpoints, and Scholarship in Action. I don’t think there is a university leader who has done more to organically connect a university to its community than you have, and I know that lots and lots of people here know it and honor you for it. Thank you for your leadership.
I owe thanks to many people who brought me to this place today.
My family: my wife, Dr. Ruth Chen, my sons, have been understanding and supportive for decades and remain so on this next adventure.
My faculty colleagues and students at my current school, Washington University, have taught me so much and will be so hard to leave in January.
The Chancellor Search Committee, under an inspired leader in Board of Trustees Vice Chair Judge Joanne Alper, was truly unifying and affirming and showed Syracuse to be a great university.
The Syracuse University Board of Trustees, led by Dick Thompson, who has spent so much time on this transition, has been supportive and understanding; and both Dick and his wife, Jean, have been overwhelmingly welcoming to Ruth and me.
Finally, like every person in this chapel, I have been blessed by transforming teachers and mentors. My fifth-grade teacher Shirley Berger, who for the first time in my life insisted that I could be better than mediocre and achieve great things; my college teacher, Dr. Walter Giles, who showed me that great college teaching requires rigor and a teacher who knows each student by name and by story; my law school teacher, Allan Smith, who insisted that I become a professor and who modeled for me the university administrator as an open-minded servant and steward; and Sandra Day O’Connor, who taught me that a determined, positive, can-do attitude can drive even a person offered only a job as a legal secretary to the Supreme Court of the United States. I have been truly lucky in the mentors and institutions I have known.
“Syracuse took a chance on me, and I have made the most of it.”
I heard that sentence over and over again during this search. I heard it from board members. I heard it from students. I heard it from faculty. I heard it from alumni. I heard it from staff. “Syracuse took a chance on me and I have made the most of it.”
That statement is a wonderful combination of humility and ambition. That statement represents this university and this country at its very best. None of you was perfect when you came here; you had much to learn and you knew it; you did not feel entitled, but you did feel responsible for seizing the amazing range of opportunities and activities and courses and ideas across this university—you made the most of it, here in Syracuse, across the world and over your whole lifetime. Your attitude inspired me to say something simple to you today.
I have two words for you.
Two words for all in this chapel and on this campus who love Syracuse University. Two words for all of you who want this University and all its parts to have a future even greater than its amazing past. Two words for all on the faculty and staff who have poured their hearts and brains and sweat into the teaching and research and service and infrastructure of this special place, year in and year out.
Two words for our amazing students, who come to Syracuse from near and far in search of a great education and lifelong friends. Two words for all in this city, in Onondaga County, in Central New York, in Upstate, who care about this University and this region and who know we are blessed with the best people anywhere in the world—people who are capable of doing miracles when we all work together.
Two words for everyone who wants us to storm the ACC in both men’s and women’s sports. Two words, in short, for everyone here in Hendricks and around the world who bleeds Orange.
Two words: I’m in.
I’m in with all of you who have those loyalties and hopes and dreams. Like you, I am committing everything I am and I have to this place, to our team and to achieving greatness here through patience, hard work, loyalty and a cheerful can-do attitude.
Why am I in?
Well, first, because this feels like home to me. I was born and grew up in upstate, and am a proud graduate of Irondequoit High School near Rochester. That means I grew up getting groceries from Wegmans, clothes from Sibleys, and hamburgers from Carrol’s. That means I spent my summers as a Boy Scout and counselor near Cranberry Lake. Beer to me means Genesee Cream Ale. Baseball means the International League.
When I grew up, Syracuse meant many things: the State Fair, air conditioning, the Chiefs. But most of all, Syracuse meant college. The first true university I ever saw was this one. I can never forget the first time I saw Crouse College up on that hill, with the bells ringing and all kinds of people moving among these fantastic buildings. I bet many of you remember the first time you saw this campus as well, but what an impression it makes on a child. There were all kinds of people, people who looked smart and people who looked different and people who looked strange and, amazingly, people who looked like someone I could aspire to be.
I have been away from Upstate except for regular visits to my family for years now, but that first vision of Syracuse University has not faded. And that university, our university, has kept achieving miracles and getting brighter. I so admire what the faculty has achieved here, in each school and program. I learned long ago the true value of intense interaction with faculty colleagues—it is that vibrant exchange of ideas among great faculties which invigorates me, and most importantly it makes the University so much better. And I so admire the students here, as wonderfully modeled by the three students on the search committee, Ivan, Patrick and PJ.
Indeed, I stand on this sacred space where so much history has happened. I feel encompassed by a cloud of witnesses, past chancellors and faculty and students, who have been sitting in this space for decades. I am grateful, and humbled, to follow great chancellors to this duty today—including Tolley and Eggers and Shaw and Cantor. I have read hundreds of pages about them—in fact, I have read five volumes. [Holds them up] These are from a great library, your library, at the heart of this campus. You should visit it. This great history compels me to end these remarks with the same humility and ambition I heard from each of you who told me Syracuse took a chance on you.
So here goes.
While those were generous introductions from Ryan Williams and Dick Thompson, I want you to know that I still have so much more to learn about this University, this city and this region. I need to learn from each of you, student, faculty, staff, alumni. I need to learn how to bleed orange. I will work hard to learn exactly that. I will do so because I want with all my heart to steward this great place to an even greater future.
I am absolutely certain that we are going to accomplish great things together, that we are going to turn heads, that we are going to manage occasional hardships and disagreements just fine and with cheer and dignity, that we are going to flatten the competition, including Duke, and that along the way we will help the whole world see Syracuse as the best University, and Central New York as the best place, that anyone could want.
With only 11 chancellors in its very long history, Syracuse takes a chance whenever it selects a new Chancellor. Today, I am honored that you have taken that chance on me. I mean to make the most of it. With your help and advice and support, I will do that.
I’m in. And I sure hope you are too.