BLOOMINGTON — Though strong gusts of wind pulled and whipped at coats and hair on Saturday, the moving properties symbolized change inside the Shirk Center at Illinois Wesleyan University.
At the inauguration of Eric Jensen as IWU’s 19th president, Jamie-Rose Guarrine sang an operatic song by Franz Schubert called “Suleika I,” which addresses the eastern wind.
“In this song, the characteristics of wind mean a bright future, change and hope for a sunny tomorrow,” said Guarrine, a 2000 IWU graduate.
Many speakers at the ceremony touched on the topic of a brighter future despite uncertain economic times for future college students.
“We are fortunate you are willing to serve as our leader in these perilous times. We offer encouragement. We want and we need you to lead. You have the know-how and the vision,” said Michael Young, IWU professor of history.
The stage was draped in emerald cloth, a color representing the liberal arts university founded in 1850. All speakers except Jensen, who stands 6 feet 7 inches tall, used a stool to reach the microphone atop the tall podium.
“It’s far better for a leader to be loved than feared. That’s a tall order, but you’re a tall man and we’re rooting for you,” said Young.
Former IWU president Richard Wilson said the board of trustees “hit another home run” in their selection of a president whose values mirror the university.
“The challenges you face will be more than offset by working with these wonderful staff, alumni and students,” said Wilson, who served from 2004 to 2015.
In his speech, Jensen addressed the changes in higher education and why it’s important to adapt.
“Whether measured by the depth or breadth of student-faculty collaboration, the bar is being raised by many of our peer institutions. We can choose to respond, or better, to lead, by forging our own path forward, but we cannot stand pat,” said Jensen.
He also mentioned the task of increasing accessibility to economically, racially, ethnically and geographically diverse students.
“I’m happy to report we’ve begun efforts to increase our support to low-income students and those efforts will continue,” he said.
Students Christy Cole, Beatrice Koka and Giana Biddle attended the ceremony and post celebration with bluegrass music and barbecue.
“Welcoming a new president isn’t something that happens every year and not every student gets this opportunity,” said Biddle, a sophomore from Lombard.
Cole flipped through the inauguration program to glance at the 18 other men who served as president since 1855.
“It’s phenomenal that there have only been 19 presidents in 160 years,” said Cole, of Freeport. “I wanted to take part in this historical moment as a senior.”
The friends said they have met Jensen in his five months as president and are excited to witness the future of the university.
“He’s very social and he really takes extra steps to listen,” said Biddle.
Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer