When Edward H. Levi delivered his inaugural address as the eighth president of the University of Chicago, he began his speech at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel by reflecting on his own experience as a University alum.
“I trust I will be forgiven a personal word,” Levi said in November 1968. “I approach this unlikely moment with many memories.”
Levi, PhB’32, JD’35, was the first UChicago graduate to serve as president of the institution. By the time he assumed the presidency, he had already served as provost and Law School dean and was a renowned UChicago professor. In his address, he noted the sense of gravity and anxiety he felt at taking office.
“It is not that we fear mistakes,” Levi said. “Perhaps we should fear not to make them.”
On Oct. 29, the University of Chicago will celebrate the inauguration of Paul Alivisatos as its 14th president. A 1981 graduate of the College, Alivisatos is the second UChicago alum to hold the office. In keeping with tradition, the ceremony will consist of an academic procession, music, remarks from members of the University community, and an address from the new president.
Over the course of the University’s history, new presidents have used their inaugural addresses to celebrate the qualities that make the University unique, and to articulate a vision for its future, according to John W. Boyer, AB’69, PhD’75, dean of the College.
“Inaugural addresses inevitably involve a restatement of the University’s core values, which makes them ‘identity speeches,’” said Boyer, the author of The University of Chicago: A History. “This has been an immensely proud place, but not a vain place: It views itself as a place of distinction. So the expectation is that the new president will articulate the reasons for that distinction and assure that it will continue in the future.”
Below is a look at a few past presidential inaugurations, revealing some of the ways the UChicago tradition has evolved, and how some presidents have set the tone for their administrations at the University.
The construction of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel was completed in 1928, a year before the first presidential inauguration ceremony in the University’s history.
The first inauguration—four decades after the University’s founding
Though the University of Chicago was founded in 1890, the first inauguration was not held until 1929 because the University’s first four presidents all declined formal ceremonies.
For founding President William Rainey Harper, the ceremony was the opening of the University itself, which he wanted to imply a seamless continuity—“as if the University had existed for 1,000 years,” Boyer said.