Presidential pomp pervades past inaugurations

The inauguration of a university president is a time for celebration and anticipation of change. The change of presidents provides an opportunity to host a whirlwind of inaugural events that display the institution’s best aspects to the nation’s educational elite.

At Duke, presidential inaugurations have given the University community a chance to reflect on its past, examine its present and plot its future, former President Terry Sanford said. And President Richard Brodhead’s inauguration, like inaugurations in the past, did precisely the same.

“The ceremony itself is very much like the ceremony for President [Nan] Keohane,” said Vice President and University Secretary Allison Haltom, who has attended several inaugurations in the past. “The ceremony for President Keohane was very much like the ceremonies before. With an inauguration you want some continuity.”

Keohane, who attended this weekend’s events and spoke at the inaugural ceremony, remembered the day she was presented with the University chain of office in front of the Duke Chapel 11 years ago.

“It’s a lot easier to watch someone else be inaugurated than being up there myself,” she said. “There are so many things to do, I remember it being overwhelming.”

Keith Brodie, who presided over the University immediately before Keohane, also reminisced about his inaugural ceremony after Brodhead spoke Saturday.

“It was quite strange to get up on that podium, just looking out over a sea of faces. It’s a time when a president can feel presidential,” he said. “It was a little scary and a little awesome.”

One of the most stressful aspects of the inaugural weekend for incoming presidents is the inaugural speech. “You work on your speech because you know that everyone’s going to be hanging onto the thing because it’s the first time you get to say something to the University as a whole—each word, each nuance,” Brodie said.

Further back in the school’s history, before it was officially named Duke University, the inauguration of William Preston Few as president of Trinity College in 1910 was just as impressive as contemporary inaugural events at Duke.

Official ceremonies for Few began with the dedication of the new West Duke Building and the presentation of the college charter and seal to Few by retiring President John Kilgo. Those who attended his address noted the importance of his words, which outlined a grand vision for the college’s future.

“The greatness of a college depends not upon the size of its plant or the number of its students, but upon the quality of the men who teach and the quality of the men who learn, upon its ideals and its influence,” he said in his address.

Few’s formal ceremony adjourned to an extravagant luncheon where chancellors and presidents from institutions like Harvard, Princeton, Tulane and Vanderbilt universities lauded the progress and auspicious future Duke University would have.

“I felt prouder of Trinity than ever before. There were representatives here from leading colleges and universities in the United States, and they were as much astonished at what they saw and heard as they were pleased at the reception given them,” Benjamin Duke said after Few’s inauguration. “It was a great day for not only Trinity, but for the entire state.”

Emily Almas, Paul Crowley and Matt Sullivan contributed to this story.


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