A. Gabriel Esteban called on students, faculty, alumni and benefactors to renew their dedication to Seton Hall University’s academic excellence and Catholic values during his installation as the University’s 20th president on October 14.
During the two-hour ceremony, the first Filipino-American president of a major U.S. university recalled how, like so many other immigrants to America, he surmounted obstacles through hard work and the help of others.
That same spirit of diligence and generosity within the Seton Hall community will “ensure that the doors of opportunity remain open” to future generations, Dr. Esteban, said.
He recalled how he and his wife, Josephine, arrived as graduate students in 1988 at Los Angeles International Airport – “our Ellis Island” – with just $5,000 in savings and no place to stay, until a chance phone call connected with a friend who made room for them.
It was the first of many helping hands extended to them and, Dr. Esteban said, such selflessness is at the heart of Seton Hall’s goal to mold “servant leaders” as part of its mission as the oldest diocesan Catholic university in the nation.
“I ask that you, our university community, commit with me to continue to strengthen our Catholic identity,” Dr. Esteban said. “We need to promote understanding of our rich Catholic intellectual tradition and to encourage deepening of faith among the members of the university community.”
Later, in a meeting with reporters, Dr. Esteban said the mission is key to Seton Hall’s future success because the “spiritual atmosphere” of the campus and the ethical elements found in many courses are repeatedly cited by students – including non-Catholics – as what makes Seton Hall so attractive.
Dr. Esteban said those qualities, plus Seton Hall’s small-community atmosphere, are traits he hopes in the next decade will raise Seton Hall’s academic profile to rank among the top 10 Catholic universities and top 100 national universities among college-bound high school students.
Dr. Esteban's address came toward the end of a nearly two-hour ceremony attended by dignitaries, including the ambassador and consul general of the Philippines, New Jersey’s secretary of higher education and the president of the South Orange Village Board of Trustees.
Senior Derel M. Stroud, president of the Student Government Association, called the investiture “a moment that we should all cherish and enjoy” because it was filled with faith and hope in the future.
“Under the leadership of Dr. Esteban, not only will Seton Hall continue to achieve new heights of academic excellence but continue to attract highly competent students such as ourselves,” said the political science major from Ocean Township, N.J.
Martha Nattyaba, a senior biology major from Dracut, Ma., agreed and said Dr. Esteban’s engaging personality drew her to the student dinner the president hosted later in the afternoon.
“I’ve read about him and wanted to meet and greet him one-on-one because I never said my congratulations,” Nattyaba said.
As befitting the setting of Walsh Gymnasium, which hosted many basketball games in Seton Hall's storied past, the investiture ceremony was a mix of the traditional and the contemporary.
Led by bagpipers, the scores of faculty and representatives from other colleges and universities marched in wearing the gowns and caps that hearken to the Middle Ages, when scholars donned garb uniquely colored and tailored to their particular schools and degrees. The procession included others carrying the symbols of a president’s authority: the gold plated mace topped by Seton Hall’s coat of arms, the presidential medallion, the university's official seal and Dr. Esteban's resolution of appointment.
The singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” was followed by “Lupang Hinirang,” the National Anthem of the Republic of the Philippines.
“We’re at a moment where the demographic change of the last almost 50 years has brought the new immigrants to places of leadership and promise, in particular in northern New Jersey,” said Msgr. Robert Wister, a professor of church history, who chaired the event's planning committee.
Msgr. Wister, a trustee, said the planning committee took seven months to design a ceremony to include new participants and symbols intended to reflect Seton Hall’s diverse community. In addition to faculty and staff, who have always played roles, representatives of parents, students, alumni and benefactors made presentations to Dr. Esteban.
The items symbolize the breadth of the Seton Hall community and its widespread use of new technology. The directory of 75,000 alumni were contained on a compact disc while the roster of students was handed over on a flash drive enclosed in a biodegradable bamboo case as a reminder of Seton Hall’s conservation initiatives. With a wide smile, Dr. Esteban put it directly into his pocket.
“Just as we were a leader in having a wired campus 15 years ago, this shows technological transition now that we’ve become a completely wireless campus,” Msgr. Wister said.
The final presentation - a Bible printed in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines - was handed to Dr. Esteban by Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, who serves as chairman of Seton Hall’s board of trustees and president of the board of regents.
In his remarks, Archbishop Myers acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead for his “valued friend” but said he was confident Dr. Esteban would help the university meet them while maintaining the “profound sense of its Catholic identity and Catholic mission.”
Visit the Presidential Investiture site to view videos and more photos from the ceremony.
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