Gestring’s Historic Inauguration: A flashback to past presidential commencements
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Gestring’s Historic Inauguration: A flashback to past presidential commencements

Last Wednesday, USD celebrated the inauguration of its 18th president, Sheila K. Gestring. This was USD’s first inauguration since Oct. 4, 1997, meaning 56 percent (4,262 of 7,590) of USD undergraduate students were not yet born when James Abbott was inaugurated as USD’s 17th president, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

The Volante flipped through its own archives and pieced together highlights of each presidential inauguration at USD since 1914.

February 4, 1914 – Robert L. Slagle, USD’s 9th president (1914-1929)

Referenced from The Volante Volume XXVII No. 18 – Feb. 10, 1914

A.E. Hitchcock, President of the Board of Regents, began his speech at Slagle’s inauguration by saying he “had spent a very bad bed night and for that reason would be unable to give his audience anything of a highly polished or oratorical nature.”

He made this clear later, stating the university cannot prosper “with criticism continued.”

“The faculty must not criticise its members before either students or citizens,” he said. “The students also must not criticise. They have no right to think, act, talk or discuss matters pertaining to the administration of the university. They must not get together on corners nor gather in groups and discuss these things.”

Hitchcock then stated the legislature would “appropriate nothing toward the support of athletics.”

He was “at one time something of an athlete himself and for that reason was favorable to sporting contests but that he could never, and will not now, support mere scoring machines.”

Slagle took the stand last, “greeted with cheers so great in volume and so long in duration that he was obliged to stand before the audience for several moments waiting for the applause to subside.”

Slagle said he was apt to form a relationship with every student on campus, and that they could enter his office any time; that they “could come to him with any difficulties that they might have, and he would do what he could to straighten them out.”

June 8, 1936 – I.D. Weeks, USD’s 11th president (1935-1966)

Referenced from The Volante “Summer Session News” Volume XIII No. 1 – June 15, 1936

A procession of students, speakers, faculty and friends entered “Slagle Auditorium” in academic garb for the inauguration of I.D. Weeks.

The inauguration’s commencement speaker was L.D. Coffman, President of the University of Minnesota.

“Extreme liberty spells chaos and complete loss of it spells compulsion, and thoughtful men will not seek either of these ends,” Coffman said. “They will dwell in the realm between, the realm of self-disciplined liberty.”

April 21, 1967 – Edward Q. Moulton (1966-68), USD’s 12th president (1966-1968)

Referenced from The Volante Volume LXXX No. 26 – April 25, 1967

At Moulton’s inauguration, Judge Harry E. Mundt was the first to give his greeting.

“The University has progressed in many aspects since I received my degree in 1926. There were only 600 students on campus then, but the tuition was only $6 a semester,” he said.

May 13, 1978 – Charles D. Lein, USD’s 14th president (1977-1982)

Referenced from The Volante Summer Issue Volume 42 No. 1 June 6, 1978

The Volante provided nothing more than Lein’s basic information and previous work experience for his inauguration story.

November 1969 – Richard L. Bowen (1968-1976), 13th president (1968-1976)

Referenced from The Volante Volume XXXVIII No. 12 – Nov. 25, 1969

Bowen was USD’s first South Dakota-born president. In his inaugural address, he spoke of keeping South Dakota students in the state after graduation.

“South Dakota produces incredible talent. But too typically the persons having this talent leave the state. They are raised with the attitude of leaving,” he said. We need among our young the assumption of remaining where one’s roots are… we need a conviction that here is where we belong.”

April 21, 1983 – Joseph M. McFadden, USD’s 15th president (1982-1988)

Referenced from The Volante Volume 95 No. 25 – April 26, 1983

USD celebrated McFadden’s commencement at the 100th anniversary of USD at the Founder’s Day banquet.

McFadden said he came to USD because he believes in the university’s “future and in our destiny to provide outstanding leadership.”

“I cannot guarantee universal agreement. But I can guarantee you that I will work for understanding with every ounce of my being,” he said.

Gov. Bill Janklow, who graduated from USD in 1964, was the guest speaker at Founder’s day.

Janklow said that “a nation that could put a man on the moon in 1970 could, 13 years later, work to eliminate hunger in the world, solve its economic problems and teach people not to suffer from ignorance of discrimination.”

Janklow also used imagery of neurosurgery to describe the importance of liberal arts education.

“We need to make the same commitment with people who spend an entire lifetime of operating on people’s minds without using a knife, or a scalpel, or ever making an incision. They operate on the mind in another way. They do it with pictures, with words, with books and writings,” he said.

May 4, 1990 – Betty T. Asher, USD’s 16th president (1989-1996)

Referenced from The Volante Volume 114 No. 22 – May 2, 1990

Asher served as USD’s first female president. Her inauguration fell two days after The Volante’s final publication issue of the school year, so no story was provided.

In the week leading up to Asher’s inauguration, two Guatemalan marimbas were dedicated to the University, as well as a Shakespeare Garden Sculpture.

October 4, 1997 – James W. Abbott, USD’s 17th president (1997-2018)

Referenced from The Volante Volume 122 No. 5 – Oct. 8, 1997

Abbott’s inauguration was held on a sunny day in front of Old Main, where the University celebrated the commencement of a new president and the restoration of its keystone structure, Old Main.

According to The Volante’s Paul Glader, between the Great Depression and 1973, Old Main “became so decrepit that its doors closed.”

A fundraising drive called Save Old Main raised $5.5 million for the building’s restoration, and its doors once again opened in the fall of 1995.

“It was just about in the same shape that all of us were in during the Dirty Thirties,” said Roy Nielsen, who graduated from USD in 1941.

In his speech, Abbott described his $47.5 million plan to increase faculty salaries, advance technology and attract students from all walks of life.

“Together we can do more than we can do alone,” he said.

After the ceremony, Abbott said he enjoyed “a great day.”

“I was really very moved by it. I just thought the whole thing was perfect,” he said.

Editor’s note: The Volante could not find a story on the inauguration of Herman G. James, USD’s 10th president, on May 3, 1930. Robert Dezonia, USD’s 14th president from 1976-1977, didn’t have an inauguration, as he was acting president after Bowen’s resignation.