In a small ceremony in a chapel filled with sunlight, Dennis M. Hanno was inaugurated as Wheaton College’s eighth president on October 17. His inaugural address encouraged students to build up the Wheaton community by engaging in innovative public service, a call to “more strongly link learning and doing.”
The title of the address was “Accelerating Wheaton’s Impact on the World.”
The president heavily emphasized his view of the importance of a liberal arts education, while acknowledging that it has sometimes been criticized.
“The only form of education that has stood the test of time, that has always prepared future leaders to focus on searching for new ideas and on understanding human relationships, is a liberal arts education,” he said.
The address marked a way for Hanno to articulate his aims for the college, and touch upon what he intends to change. He notably mentioned creating a “center for social innovation” that would bring students, faculty, staff and alumnae/i together to work on projects that would have a practical impact on society.
Hanno also mentioned three students in his speech, none of whom knew beforehand that they would be in the address. Avi Anshika ’16, Ana Priscilla Brenes-Coto ’15 and Ciara Sidell ’15 were all highlighted as having been working on projects that “change lives and strengthen communities,” the inauguration theme.
To add to that, he called on each member of the Wheaton community to devote 15 hours of service over the next year.
The office of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility (SSSR) had a table at the lunch following the ceremony at which students could pledge to complete the 15 hours.
The college launched a campaign called “Wheaton Cares” in conjunction with the speech that allows students to share their service experiences on the Wheaton website.
Hanno also made several references to Wheaton’s finances. He said that the college could not afford “not to invest in attracting and keeping great faculty and staff.”
He noted the money raised by the Go Beyond campaign, an eight-year fundraising campaign begun under President Ronald A. Crutcher that concluded in June 2014, but said that Wheaton needs “an even stronger financial base” in order to compete with other colleges for top students.
Hanno was presented with the presidential robe and the college medallion, which is the symbol of his office. He also received a new presidential item, a set of maces created by Professor of Psychology Emeritus David Wulff.
Hanno’s choice of the inauguration’s keynote speaker, the Burundian doctor and public health advocate Deogratias “Deo” Niyizonkiza, reflected his desire to have Wheaton students make more of an impact globally.
He went off-script in the middle of the speech to say that he thought Niyizonkiza’s presence at the inauguration “sets the tone” for what he hopes to accomplish at Wheaton, and to emphasize how he has looked up to Niyizonkiza’s work in his own life.
Niyizonkiza’s keynote address, titled “Removing Barriers to Human Dignity,” focused on the philosophy of and difficulties faced by his public health nonprofit, Village Health Works, which he runs out of Burundi. In describing his own experience, Niyizonkiza reflected the type of commitment to improving the surrounding community that Hanno wants at Wheaton.
He said that he believes Hanno “will not let any student graduate with no real awareness of the awful inequalities in the world,” such as “the lack of opportunity that dooms millions of people to lives of despair.”
Niyizonkiza was presented with the Otis Social Justice Award later in the day. The award is given by Wheaton annually to someone who works for social justice in the world.
The inauguration featured a number of other speakers; Hanno’s college roommate Senator Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, spoke, as did Mary Steele, chair of the Norton board of selectmen.
Donnelly called Hanno “the smartest guy I’ve ever known,” and “one of the worst cooks I’ve ever known.”
Other speakers included Babson College President Emeritus Leonard Schlesinger, representatives of the Wheaton faculty, alumnae/i and staff and Student Government Association President JP Carando ‘15.
Schlesinger, the animated and charismatic Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School, also acknowledged the difficulties liberal arts colleges have had in recent years.
“I believe that most residential liberal arts colleges will continue to confront significant strategic and financial issues in the years to come,” he said. “Great leadership will spell the difference between those institutions that will disappear, those that will merely survive and those that will flourish.”
Carando congratulated Hanno on “finding this school.” He also presented Hanno with a t-shirt that Wheaton gave out in honor of the inauguration.
“Your message to us has been that you will help us to help ourselves,” he said.
The Cole Memorial Chapel balconies were filled with students, and the orchestra seating with guests of the president and Wheaton staff. Class flags hung from the balconies.
Although the ceremony contained much pomp and circumstance, it was smaller and less formal than inaugurations have been in past years; Ronald Crutcher’s inauguration was in the Haas Athletic Center, not the chapel.
Hanno, for his part, kept it light, accidentally standing up for the investiture before he was supposed to and getting emotional when talking about his family.
“While I have been on campus for less than 100 days, I already feel like I have been here my whole life,” he said in his address.
He paused and went off-script. “Not sure if that’s good or bad,” he said. “I meant it good!”