Themes of identity and looking to the future took center stage at Webster University’s President Elizabeth Stroble’s inauguration on Sept. 25.
The installation ceremony, which was the culmination of a week of inauguration and homecoming events, took place at Powell Symphony Hall last Saturday.
“It’s really exciting to see all the faculty and staff out here to support Dr. Stroble in her official welcoming,” said Loren Douglass, a junior economics and marketing major.
The ceremony’s format has remained the same, but the venue has changed from the days of Jacqueline Grennan-Wexler, the last female president of Webster.
Grennan-Wexler, a former Sister of Loretto, was president of Webster College from 1965 to 1969. It was during this time that the Sisters of Loretto transferred control of Webster to a lay board of trustees.
“My inauguration was fairly simple,” Grennan-Wexler said. “It was held in January of 1965 in the Loretto-Hilton theater. It was very beautiful and very simple.”
Stroble’s inauguration was preceded by a video compilation of congratulations from various alumni. The ceremony began with a procession of faculty and staff in full academic regalia. After the procession, mistress of ceremony Leyna Nguyen, a 1992 journalism graduate of Webster, welcomed those in attendance. Nguyen spoke of how during Stroble’s first Webster convocation speech she stressed the importance of place and people in the moments of her life.
“May this be a wonderful convergence of place and people that creates a story that you will never forget,” Nguyen said.
The next part of the ceremony offered greetings and remarks from three different communities served by Webster.
“Webster Groves is home to Webster University,” said Mayor Gerry Welch. “Webster Groves and Webster University have grown together. We share a name and a link, and are grateful for the university’s presence.”
Dr. Dennis C. Golden, president of Fontbonne University, offered greetings from the academic community and from the alumni community. Webster Alumni Association president Todd R. Kohlbecker spoke about the far reach of the alumni base.
“You can see we are a diverse group. We are engaged in every imaginable profession and pursuit.” Kohlbecker said. “But what we have in common is a Webster education. Our experiences—academic, cultural and social—helped shape us into the people we are today.”
The greetings gave way to a presentation of gifts from the six groups Stroble will serve: the students, faculty, extended campus network, staff, alumni and the Board of Trustees. After this, Dr. Luis Proenza, president of the University of Akron where Stroble was senior vice-president, provost and chief operating officer.
“Dr. Stroble’s accomplishments at the University of Akron in academic operations and strategic partnerships areas are nothing short of amazing,” Proenza said. “Her impact on the development of our leadership teams, staff and student body also merits mention her today.”
At 11:05 am, Mark Burkhardt, chair of the Board of Trustees installed Stroble as the 11 president of Webster University—formally granting her all rights and responsibilities of the presidency. Stroble then made an inaugural address which focused on Webster’s identity in the past and looking forward to the future.
“We wanted to create an opportunity to celebrate Webster in all its diversity,” Stroble said. “Today’s event is about the past, present and the future of Webster University much more than it is to me about the 11 president who feels privileged to lead and serve this great community.”
The opening remarks of Stroble’s address helped to explain why inauguration was held nearly 14 months after she began her presidency—to have it coincide with homecoming and parents’ weekend, which is the only time the worldwide directors are at the home campus at the same time.
She also touched on the past, and how far the university has come.
“From the first eight Sisters of Loretto teaching a class for five students, we are now 3,048 faculty in 108 locations teaching well over 20,000 students representing 123 countries,” she said. “Webster, we have come a long way.”
Stroble’s address closed with a focus on the future, and where Webster stands at a critical time of redefinition.
“We must reinvent our institutions for relevance, responsiveness, sustainability and significance,” she said. “We are compelled as a creative, caring community to take action for the men and women of the world’s reserve. The need has never been greater for the kind of transformative opportunities that higher education provides. By being true to ourselves, we will together lead a vision for global and academic excellence.”
After Stroble’s address, her husband, Rev. Paul E. Stroble, closed the ceremony with an invocation prayer.
Emily Bahr, a junior mathematics major, said she was moved by the spectacle and scope of the inauguration ceremony.
“I thought it was all really incredible,” Bahr, who part of the color guard for the procession, said. “This was a great day for Webster, and I’m really excited to see what Dr. Stroble will do for Webster in the future for the university.”
Grennan-Wexler, who was unable to attend the ceremony, offered her own praises and hopes for Stroble.
“I would like to continue to see Webster invested in students, and reaching out to a great number of students,” she said. “I think Dr. Stroble is convinced on making that stable and I congratulate her for that.”