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From Ruth Bader Ginsburg to John McCain, we’ve collected highlights from some of the best Northwestern Commencement addresses.
From 1869 to 2009, presidential inaugurations are a cause for celebration at Northwestern. By Clare Milliken
Few events bring together the Northwestern community across the ages like the inauguration of a new president. Through the decades and across generations, inaugurations have offered the opportunity to come together, not only to reflect on the progress of the University, but also to chart a course for its future.
These special events happen rarely; there have been just 17 presidents in Northwestern’s 172-year history, and only six since 1949! Now, as we prepare for the inauguration of President Michael Schill on June 2, let’s take a look back at a few inaugurations from Northwestern’s past...
Erastus O. Haven was inaugurated in 1869 in a ceremony that was combined with the dedication of University Hall. A well-respected and popular administrator, Haven was a proponent of coeducation, with men and women learning together in an integrated educational and social setting. Haven left Northwestern in 1872 upon his election to the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Board of Education.
Charles H. Fowler was inaugurated on the University grove on June 26, 1873. Following his inauguration, Fowler held a reception at his home. Aiming to boost Northwestern’s reputation and increase its offerings, Fowler added a modern language curriculum to the University’s traditional classical or scientific curricula. Elected by the Methodist General Conference to be editor of the Christian Advocate in New York City, Fowler resigned from Northwestern in May 1876.
On Feb. 19, 1891, Henry Wade Rogers was inaugurated at Methodist Episcopal Church in Evanston. A selection of music, a reception and a series of toasts followed the ceremony. During his tenure, Rogers expanded the University’s liberal arts studies and hired new faculty, urging that they be given facilities and time for both teaching and research. After leaving Northwestern in 1900, Rogers taught at Yale University law school.
The inauguration of Edmund James took place at Evanston’s First Methodist Church on Oct. 19, 1902. Before the event, select members of the faculty gathered at Orrington Lunt Library to proceed to the church alongside University visitors, delegates and trustees. As president, James encouraged the creation of alumni reunions and groups and he touted baseball, football and debate teams. James left Northwestern for a role as president of the University of Illinois in 1904.
On Nov. 15, 1939, Franklyn Bliss Snyder was inaugurated as president of Northwestern in Evanston’s First Methodist Church. Horace Whitehouse, associate professor of theory in what is now the Bienen School of Music, served as the organist for the event.
Snyder took office just as war in Europe began, and he set forth early steps toward preparing the University for a potential role in U.S. defense. After retiring from his role as president in 1949, Snyder served as president of the board of managers of Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago.
J. Roscoe Miller was inducted as Northwestern’s 12th president on Oct. 7, 1949. The formal ceremonies began on Deering Meadow, with a reception in Deering Library and a banquet in Patten Gym following. In his inaugural speech, Miller urged higher education to help individuals develop “enlightened intellect, broad human sympathies and responsible character.”
The University expanded greatly under Miller, who served as Northwestern’s chancellor for five years after he stepped down as president.
Arnold R. Weber’s inauguration was held on May 11, 1985, in the Welsh-Ryan Arena of McGaw Memorial Hall. The University’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Combined Choirs and Symphonic Wind Ensemble Brass provided the music for the ceremony, which was followed by a reception. “Our central value is freedom of inquiry and dissent,” Weber said in his inauguration speech.
During his time as president, Weber instituted a program review to strengthen Northwestern’s academics, among other achievements. Weber retired from the role in 1994 and became University chancellor in 1995.
The inauguration of Henry S. Bienen took place on May 5, 1995, in the Welsh-Ryan Arena of McGaw Memorial Hall. Following the inaugural dinner later that evening, a musical program featured performances from the Phi Mu Alpha Men’s Chorus and the Northwestern Chorale and Chamber Orchestra.
Northwestern’s academic prominence, financial strength and athletic success increased under Bienen, who retired as president in 2009. The University’s School of Music was renamed the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music in honor of Bienen and his wife, Leigh.
Morton Schapiro was inaugurated on Oct. 9, 2009, in the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. The student dance, drum and rhythm ensemble Boomshaka performed in honor of the event, along with tap dancers from the 2009 Waa-Mu show.
Early in his term as president, Schapiro pledged to increase the number of Pell Grant recipients among incoming students to 20% by the year 2020. He achieved that goal in 2018, two years ahead of schedule. Schapiro concluded his tenure on Sep. 12, 2022.
During Northwestern’s inauguration ceremonies, the new president is presented with three symbols of office:
Chain of Office
Special thanks to University Archivist Kevin Leonard for his assistance. Visit University Archives here.
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What about Robert H Strotz, president from 1970-1984?
—Thomas P. Bleck ’72 Boynton Beach, Fla., via Northwestern Magazine