Burwell inaugurated as president in Bender Arena

D.C. mayor, former AU president among guests at ceremony

Burwell inaugurated as president in Bender Arena

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser delivers remarks at the inauguration of President Sylvia Burwell on April 12, 2018. 

After more than ten months as president, Sylvia Burwell was formally inaugurated Thursday as the 15th, and first female, president of American University in a Bender Arena ceremony.

The event began with performances from the AU Jazz Quartet and AU Chamber Singers. Davis Guggenheim, a film and television producer who is also Burwell’s close friend, delivered a welcome speech. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, who earned her master’s degree from AU in 2000, also delivered remarks congratulating Burwell on her appointment as president.

“I am proud as you are that today we will inaugurate the first woman to lead our university,” Bowser said. 

Following speeches from former President Neil Kerwin and other speakers, Jack Cassell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, conducted the formal installation of the president. Cassell, faculty trustee Andrea Pearson and student trustee Valentina Fernández presented Burwell with AU’s presidential medallion as the crowd applauded.

During her inaugural address, Burwell described her experiences growing up in West Virginia, which pushed her to follow her dreams to study at Harvard and Oxford. As a child, she learned to embrace education, hard work and service.

“Those values that pushed me forward are the same values that I will hold as your president,” Burwell said. “You see, those are the values of American University.”

Burwell described the AU community as one that is dedicated to learning, research and public service. The school strives to produce a population of active citizens who can build a better world, which can be seen in students and faculty, she said.

“We live the African philosophy of Ubuntu, the idea that ‘I am, because we are,’ that we are all bound together by our humanity,” Burwell said.

AU is not restricted by its history, but uses it to propel into a future filled with opportunities and challenges, Burwell told the audience of students, staff and faculty as well as her family members and friends. She added that AU is in a challenging time where great leadership is required.

“College is a place where students strive to find their identity, individually as young adults and collectively as a community,” Burwell said. “And, today’s national pressures can force our students to look at issues like inclusion and freedom of expression as a binary choice rather than the complementary and unifying ideas that they really are.”

Burwell used the speech to lay out the five pillars that she believes AU’s future rests on: partnerships between AU’s various schools and outside organizations, academic excellence and experiential learning, focus on the future, the school’s connection with D.C. and striving to make a positive change in the world.

Faculty and staff must be encouraged to work in new ways and improve the student experience, she said. Burwell also stressed the importance of the AU community benefiting from everything that D.C. has to offer.

“That’s the future we are building here at American University,” Burwell said. “One of partnerships, of ‘and,’ not ‘or,’ grounded in our community with our eyes set on the horizon, looking toward the future -- a place for change makers.”

Burwell stated that the best reflection of AU is its people and that the future must be built on the legacy of AU.

“We realize that when we all contribute, we all succeed,” Burwell said. “We are all, quite literally, one AU.”


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