President’s Day: An era of change

Dream bold dreams

While universities typically evolve gradually over time, they may also see periods of sudden, rapid change that open new horizons and set them on a decisive trajectory.

In his inauguration as the University of Michigan’s 15th president, Santa J. Ono said he plans to usher in one of those eras of change.

“Today, it is time for a new vision, a new punctuation, a new opening of possibilities for the University of Michigan. It is time to dare great challenges and dream bold dreams. As we envision, imagine and aspire, we will also build,” said Ono, who was officially inaugurated March 7 after serving as president since Oct. 14, 2022.

Following university tradition, the day kicked off with morning symposia, events across campus, and an academic procession. The afternoon installation ceremony took place before a packed Hill Auditorium audience that included Ono’s family and dignitaries from the community, state, and higher education.

Watch the inauguration festivities

The ceremony begins near the 34-minute mark.

The regalia

Faculty in full PhD regalia sit in Hill Auditorium watching President Ono's inauguration

Inauguration Day gives faculty a chance to get decked out in their PhD finery. (Image: Michigan Photography.(

As people filed into their seats, a video played onstage featuring photos of Ono cheering for the Wolverines at sporting events, talking with students on campus, and meeting with leaders at U-M events. Rows of faculty members and representatives from more than 70 academic institutions donned academic regalia and joined members of the campus community sporting maize and blue knit caps.

Provost Laurie McCauley emphasized the significance of Ono’s inauguration, referencing the impact of earlier presidents who served throughout more than two centuries. As the University’s new leader, she said, Ono will have the responsibility of guiding U-M’s interactions with changes and challenges in society.

The University will benefit from Ono’s diverse background and career in academia, she said, noting his character makes him a perfect fit for U-M.

“He is a compassionate person invigorated by giving to those in need, giving his undivided attention, and giving students high fives,” she said. “I am confident in saying that he is the leader we need, and he is arriving just at the right time.”

Arts, knowledge, truth

Victor J. Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, said Ono embodies U-M’s motto: “Artes, Scientia, Verita” or “Arts, Knowledge, Truth.”

In his inaugural address, Ono applauded the university’s exceptional faculty and staff, outstanding medical center, and extraordinary academic legacy. He said the U-M community’s commitment to inclusion, excellence, discovery, and integrity will be integral in confronting challenges in the years to come.

Ono is an accomplished cellist and champion of the liberal arts and humanities who, as a trained immunologist and researcher, continues to seek opportunities to expand his knowledge and won’t shy away from speaking the truth.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said U-M empowers students with the tools to become problem solvers and empathetic leaders who strive to make a difference for their communities. He told Ono that his challenge as president will be to carry forth this mission and “feed the flame of education that shines a light on our path forward.”

Blue skies and a parade of faculty across the Diag.

It was a beautiful day to inaugurate a president. (Image: Michigan Photography.)

Hanna Holborn Gray, president emerita of the University of Chicago, who presented Ono with his bachelor’s degree nearly four decades ago, said the world of higher education today is struggling with a sense of crisis. There is conflict over the performance and quality of institutions and whether they can make good on their promises.

Speaking to Ono, Gray said, “You understand the current problems very well, and you will confront them, as you have always done, with determination and openness, with patience and courage.”

Board of Regents Chair Paul Brown said Ono’s leadership and vision will enrich the campus community. When the Presidential Search Committee was formed, he said, Michigan students, faculty, staff, and alumni informed it of the qualities they sought in a president: trust, integrity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to engage with all members of the Michigan family. Brown said Ono possesses all of these qualities and more.

Quality assurance

“Today, I submit that the world needs the University of Michigan more than ever,” Ono said. “For everywhere we look, we see a world in distress, with tensions rising and conflicts raging.”

But in order to look to solutions abroad, he said, the University must acknowledge the challenges at home.

Ono acknowledged U-M’s history of excluding and segregating individuals on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religious faith, and sexual identity. He said he is proud of the efforts the University has made to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion across the campus, and there is much more to be done.

“This process of self-discovery will be difficult, painful, but is crucial for acknowledging our past in a truthful way. With clear eyes in plain sight, we can better move forward together with a firm step,” he said.

President Ono takes a selfie with one iof the inauguration attendees.

This is definitely a moment for a selfie! (Image: Michigan Photography.)

Efforts like the Inclusive History Project, the Wolverine Pathways program, and DEI initiatives are making strides in increasing justice, inclusion, and diversity on campus, he said.

Over the next year, Ono said, the U-M community will engage in a collective process to imagine the University’s future and chart the course ahead. Working together, he said, will spark a new era of change.

“I am certain that by constantly discovering, learning, connecting, aspiring, we can transform our world, just as we have for 200 years,” Ono said. “Let us come together like never before to address the world’s most pressing challenges, live our best traditions as a university, and create a future beyond our dreams.”

Confronting existential challenges

Another focus of Ono’s is well-being. U-M has made strides in supporting the full health and well-being of faculty, staff, and students, which include adopting the Okanagan Charter and establishing the Well-being Collective.

“Student health and well-being will be – is – one of my highest priorities as president,” he said. “The students that we love, Generation Z, are facing a wave of anxiety and depression disorders, partially because of the pandemic. It’s a challenge our students, staff, and faculty face every day.”

Ono concluded his speech by addressing the climate emergency. He said U-M has a legacy as a leader in environment education, research, and action, and the community will continue to fight “the existential challenge of our time.”

“Our world is facing the fiery challenge of our time, as well as others ranging from aging populations to the ongoing rise of increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence. Together, let us find solutions to these challenges, just like the University of Michigan has done for centuries.”
This story originally appeared in The University Record, the news source for U-M faculty and staff.


  1. Fran Goran - 1971

    A moving beautiful Inauguration of Santa J. Ono with wonderful music. I am proud to be a Michigan Wolverine. Good luck to President Ono.


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