The Investiture of Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh
The skirl of bagpipes permeates Carnegie Music Hall as the procession begins on the outskirts of Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus. Faculty members, trustees, and select guests follow the university’s Pipes and Drums musicians into the packed hall. All are in their colorful academic regalia.
The Investiture of Subra Suresh as the ninth president of Carnegie Mellon is off to a rousing start, which in a way has been Suresh’s unspoken mantra since July 1, his first day on the job.
Just hours before the Friday, November 15, Investiture began, he emailed the Carnegie Mellon community about an “extraordinary new gift of $67 million from the charitable foundation of CMU alumnus and trustee David A. Tepper (TPR’92).” The money will go to what will be called the David A. Tepper Quadrangle, located along Forbes Avenue. It will house the new home for the business school and “strategically co-locate a variety of university-wide activities to tap into CMU’s interdisciplinary culture.”
Earlier in the week, on Monday, Suresh had emailed the CMU community with other breaking news: launching of the Simon Initiative, “named in tribute to the work of the late CMU faculty member and Nobel laureate Herbert Simon (CMU’90).” The initiative will accelerate the use of learning science and technology to improve student learning.
In concert with the initiative is the creation of the Global Learning Council—comprised of leaders representing academia and industries, with Suresh serving as chairman—which “will serve as a best-practices resource for individuals, institutions, and organizations seeking to deploy technology-enhanced learning approaches to improve learning outcomes for all.”
If that wasn’t enough news for one week, on Wednesday there was LaunchCMU, the first Pittsburgh gathering of the biannual program, designed to connect stakeholders in community development, venture capital, and the CMU entrepreneurship ecosystem. So far in 2013, CMU faculty and students have created 36 startup companies, a record for the university.
So, as part of the yearlong “Crossing Boundaries, Transforming Lives” theme commemorating Suresh’s inauguration, Friday’s Investiture had some work to do to keep up the headline-grabbing momentum.
Once the procession ends, CMU music students Henry Attaway (euphonium) and Chris Pearlberg (tuba) perform a moving National Anthem. Then, the event takes a Tony-Award-winning turn. Patina Miller (A’06)—accompanied by Thomas Douglas, Professor of Voice and Music Theatre—shows why she won a 2013 Tony, starring in the musical Pippin. Singing “Corner of the Sky” written by Stephan Schwartz (A’68), she brings many in the crowd to their feet. There is no encore, though, as she must hustle back to New York to perform in the Broadway musical that evening.
After Miller, an array of speakers offer heartfelt remarks, including Professors Allan Meltzer and Jim Daniels, as well as alumni and students bearing sentimental gifts, such as a Tartan kilt.
Then comes John Holden, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who will introduce the keynote speaker, Eric Schmidt (H’09), Executive Chairman of Google.
First, though, Holden has greetings from Washington, D.C., to pass along: “I’m happy to convey the congratulations of President Obama.” Then, he makes sure everyone in the hall, and those watching the telecast worldwide on the Web, comprehend the “incredibly creative and effective” background of Suresh, noting that he is “one of only 16 Americans who is a member of all three of our National Academies—National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.” He concludes by saying, “I look forward to working with Subra at CMU and seeing where he helps take this great university.”
Schmidt then steps to the podium and echoes Holden’s respect for Suresh and for CMU. He quotes the late Andy Warhol (A’49): “Time changes things, but you have to change them yourself,” and he puts those words in perspective for the rapt audience: “From the freshmen in the room all the way up to the most distinguished faculty members, everyone here is a problem solver.” He goes on to talk about the world’s many problems, such as joblessness, economic disparity, barriers to education, lack of opportunity for social and political progress. “They’re going to be solved here, in my humble opinion,” he says, through “the current and future students of the institution led by Dr. Suresh.”
And with that, Dr. Suresh is center stage. He welcomes Schmidt’s ambitious prediction. “The university is fortunate to have some 94,000 accomplished alumni across the globe whose successes and connections with Carnegie Mellon enrich this university every day. Current members and alumni of CMU campuses now span the globe, from Pittsburgh to New York City to Silicon Valley to Australia to Singapore to Qatar to Rwanda. Going from the past and the present to the future, there are many exciting possibilities, perhaps even imperatives, for CMU.”
The university’s Board of Trustees’ chairman, Ray Lane—the Master of Ceremonies who also presented Suresh with CMU’s Charter and Seal—clearly likes what he has heard at the Investiture. More importantly, he says he likes what he has witnessed since July 1:
“Just your first 100 days have worn me out!”
After a closing performance by the Carnegie Mellon Concert Choir, the Investiture fittingly concludes as it began—with bagpipes.
A reception for all follows in the hall’s foyer, and judging by the many enthusiastic conversations, amid bites on delectable hors d’oeuvres, there is great anticipation of what headlines come next.