Willamette inaugurates 25th president

The Willamette University community had the opportunity this month to witness something that has only happened 25 times in the university’s 170-year history: a presidential inauguration.

After a week of events honoring Willamette’s heritage — and looking toward the future — the Board of Trustees installed Stephen E. Thorsett as the university’s 25th president on Feb. 10.

The ceremony in Smith Auditorium was marked by music and speeches of welcome from representatives of Oregon’s Native American tribes, state and local government, other higher education institutions and various Willamette constituencies.

Thorsett’s inaugural address recounted Willamette’s strong history in the liberal arts while recognizing the characteristic he feels will continue to carry the university forward: connections between people.

“In every listening group discussion so far, with staff, faculty, students, alumni and parents, one of the first strengths mentioned was a sense of interpersonal connection,” he said. “Willamette was consistently and repeatedly described as a warm and friendly community, where people support and help one another. …

“Our revised mission statement … charges us, through our rigorous education in the liberal arts and professions, to prepare our graduates to transform knowledge into action and lead lives of achievement, contribution and meaning. It is that connection of our students’ own passions with the benefits of a liberal education, to apply knowledge in ways that create meaning — that is the deepest purpose of a Willamette education.”

Thorsett, an internationally recognized astrophysicist, most recently served as dean of the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His appointment at Willamette marks a return to his hometown of Salem — his father, biology Professor Emeritus Grant Thorsett, led the inauguration procession as faculty marshal.

Two former Willamette presidents, M. Lee Pelton and Jerry Hudson, presented Thorsett with the presidential silver medallion.

The ceremony marked the end of a week of campus gatherings, including informal chats between Thorsett and students at the two student-run coffeehouses. Thorsett shared his scientific expertise by presenting a lecture about his work with pulsars and his team’s discovery of the oldest known planet in the universe.

The campus also was treated to an Atkinson Lecture by premier scientist Carolyn Porco, whose Cassini mission team has captured stunning images of Saturn and its moons.

Read more

Thorsett’s inaugural address
Carolyn Porco’s Atkinson Lecture
Statesman Journal article and photo gallery