James M. Smith inaugurated as Eastern Michigan University's 23rd president

James M. Smith was inaugurated as Eastern Michigan University’s 23rd president, Thursday, March 2, at 2 p.m. in Pease Auditorium.

A list of events for the day included: a Delegate and Platform reception at McKenny Hall, Parade of Nations march from McKenny Hall to Pease Auditorium, a campus celebration at McKenny after the inauguration and a scholarship dinner reception at the Ann Arbor Marriott.

More than 300 people joined the inauguration ceremony including 22 distinguished guests. Those guests include Beth Bashert, Ypsilanti councilmember and Amanda Edmonds, Ypsilanti mayor. Representatives from 10 different colleges also joined the inauguration.

Although Smith has been president of Eastern Michigan University since July, he decided to wait eight months for an official inauguration ceremony.

“I wanted to really do a speech that said something other than what I knew 30 days in,” Smith said. “I really wanted to know the campus.”

The Parade of Nations march represented students from all around the world who study at EMU. Thirty students – some dressed in the countries traditional clothing – placed various flags on the stage including flags from Saudi Arabia, Japan and England. Although only 30 students participated in the march, EMU is home to students from more than 80 different countries.

“Since I am an international student, I think we need to show to other international students that we are with them and we support them being at EMU,” said Mohammad Alqahtani, a graduate student studying Speech and Language Pathology from Saudi Arabia.

“Even though I didn’t carry my country’s flag, I needed to be there to show support,” he said.

Mary Treder Lang, vice chair of EMU’s Board of Regents, opened the ceremony with a welcome speech.

“As a representative of my fellow regents, the governor and the people of Michigan, we thank you for joining us for this historic occasion,” said Lang.

The distinguished speaker for the inauguration was Dr. Sidney Ribeau, former president of Bowling Green University – where he met President Smith. At the time, Smith was vice president of Economic Development at Bowling Green. 

“My first visit to EMU was a party when I was 19-years-old,” Ribeau said to open his speech.

Ribeau’s speech cited President Smith’s devotion to helping students achieve their goals. “I know Jim Smith,” he said.

“And I know he will work tirelessly with this community to continue the tradition of excellence that Eastern Michigan is known for – everybody will benefit from Jim Smith,“ said Ribeau.

Sidney Ribeau said after the ceremony that his favorite memory of President Smith was when they were able to develop a cultural center called the Cedar Center in Sandusky, Ohio.

“It was because of the relationship that Jim had established that everybody was able to come together as a community with a solidarity around the common purpose,” said Ribeau.

President Smith was gifted with the “President’s Medallion” by Lang. The medallion is to be worn by President Smith at all ceremonious occasions. “Its weight is a reminder of the responsibility that must be willingly shared by all who occupy the presidency,” Lang said.

“It represents the battle of leadership that has been protected by those presidents who have preceded him,” she said.

President Smith’s Speech

“As I think back to my undergraduate days, nobody believed I could be the president of 23,000 students,” President Smith said to begin his speech.

Although President Smith has signed a five-year contract with EMU, he promised to give 10 years. Smith said Eastern Michigan University is where he wants to end his career.

“I told many of you despite my age and my hairline, I think I have 10 more years to give,“ said President Smith. “Well 9 and a half now,” he said.

President Smith reminisced about the opportunities he received through Miami University and his hope to give the students at EMU an opportunity similar to his. “We will work with our students,” President Smith said.

“We are first generation. We are students of opportunity. We want to continue the legacy of giving those opportunities,” he said.

When Smith began his presidency at EMU in July 2016, one of his goals was to listen to those who consider campus their home. “I promised that I would listen and listen to hear what you had to share, he said.”

This promise of listening centered around three themes: unity, shared diversity and innovation at EMU.

“What we must confront our challenges and work together to think about how we are a collective and less about how we are different,” Smith said.

President Smith said that in the eight months he has been president, he knows EMU is a place where we love our students. “That is our connection. That is our commonality and that is what we believe.“

“I hope we can take pride in that purpose and continue to move that shared pride forward,” he said.

Smith said he sees an opportunity in the growth of our international students – giving thanks to those who participated in the Parade of Nations. Smith said the impact international students have on the growth of the U.S economy was $35.8 billion.

“We must work to internationalize and globalize,” said Smith.

Smith said EMU flourishes the growth of students and tells the story of two students who bring inspiration to EMU: Desmine Robinson and alumnus Nino Monea.

“[These students] represent the critical element of continuing opportunities that we give to students. We embrace them and we cherish them while we watch their remarkable growth,” said Smith.

The inauguration ceremony concluded with the EMU alma mater and the song “Ain’t-A That Good News” arranged by Stacey Gibbs and performed by the EMU choir.

“We will do more, and I pledge with you as president to do more side-by-side with each of you as we develop and as we grow,” said President Smith.

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