When the music stopped at the end of a long procession of university delegates, hundreds of heads turned to face the last two people to march. When the drums started, Northwestern President Morton O. Schapiro drew back, laughed and turned to his predecessor Henry Bienen. The two linked arms and walked to their seats.
The procession Friday kicked off the inauguration of Northwestern’s 16th President Morton Schapiro at a festive ceremony held at Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. The event also included a guest speech by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
The event took place indoors, a last-minute change from Deering Field as a result of rainy weather. Representatives of Northwestern’s faculty, the Board of Trustees, former presidents Henry Bienen and Arnold Robert Weber and more than 100 delegates from other universities and academic organizations filled the basketball courts in SPAC to watch the ceremony.
“This is so much fun, I highly recommend it,” Schapiro said at the start of his speech, after having just received the university’s charter, seal and chain of office. “I’m always going to wear this [chain] — breakfast, lunch, dinner, football games, it’s mine.”
Schapiro addressed the role of higher education and the future of Northwestern but also told jokes and personal stories. He described the university as “elite,” but warned the community not to be “elitist.”
“I am sobered to recall how the most prestigious colleges and universities have been far from immune from the popular prejudices of the day,” he said. “In a world where myriad forces push our society towards stratification, higher education must always provide opportunity.”
Schapiro then recalled the words of Michael Reed, a former colleague from Williams College, who once explained to Schapiro the distinction between tolerance and inclusion. Simply bringing diverse people to Northwestern is not enough, Schapiro said.
“I’m not talking here about tolerance,” he said. “People don’t want to be tolerated; they want to be full members of the community. All of us deserve to be at an institution […] that’s sensitive to our needs and to our aspirations.”
As he discussed the responsibilities of higher education, Schapiro revisited points that Friedman — a personal friend of Schapiro’s and an honorary Northwestern degree recipient — made earlier in the ceremony. Friedman explained that the current economic recession is not only a crisis of the markets, but also of the environment and education. He also emphasized that liberal arts institutions will play a vital role in teaching students to adapt to a changing world, where doing the bare minimum is no longer enough.
“Being able to bring something extra to your job is now the new normal,” Friedman said.
“I can think of no one more able to define that something extra that has to be part of American liberal arts now than my friend and your president Morton O. Schapiro,” Friedman added. “May you and he together go from strength to strength with a little something extra.”
The ceremony was followed by a reception, where Schapiro interacted with students and other guests.
“I enjoyed every minute of [the ceremony],” he said. “What I say to students at graduation is, ‘If you don’t enjoy this weekend, what are you ever going to enjoy?’ And that’s the way I’ve felt all weekend.”
Many of Schapiro’s colleagues, friends and guests also shared this sentiment.
“I was very impressed by his talk,” said Mary Gray, a delegate from Bryn Mawr College. “It certainly followed on Thomas Friedman’s. They spoke about relevant things, not only purely educational. He looks like he is full of energy.”
Yvonne Hao, a member of the Board of Trustees at Williams, said that while her school is sad to lose Schapiro, Northwestern will benefit from his leadership.
“He did a great job these past nine years at Williams, [but] he’s ready for something bigger,” she said.