UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

New leader, new frontiers

Mark Kennedy inaugurated as UND’s 12th president, sets bold course for future

Mark Kennedy
North Dakota State Board of Higher Education President Kathleen Neset and NDUS Chancellor Hagerott bestow the chain of office on UND President Mark Kennedy on Monday, Oct. 10, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.

As One UND, we will continue to advance new frontiers.

That was the message as Mark Kennedy was inaugurated as the 12th president of the University on Monday, Oct. 10.

Faculty in academic regalia stopped traffic as they marched across University Avenue to the Chester Fritz Auditorium, bearing the UND flag, the University Charter and the University Mace, symbols of the University and its mission.

“Today marks a special event,” said Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, professor of English. “It is only the 12th time we have welcomed a new president and witnessed his investiture.”

“One person – the president – is more than the public face of the University,” Weaver-Hightower said. “He serves as the moral and intellectual compass, and he can inspire us to find the best in ourselves. I can’t wait to see where he takes us.”

Dana Harsell
UND associate professor of Political Science & Public Administration and Pam Henderson, President of the UND Staff Senate, lead the procession toward the Chester Fritz Auditorium. for the inauguration of UND President Mark Kennedy.


That anticipation was echoed by representatives who welcomed Kennedy, First Lady Debbie Kennedy and family members.

“This signals a new beginning that’s grounded in tradition,” said Dana Michael Harsell, chair of University Senate. The flag, mace, charter, great seal and motto of Lux et Lex [“Light and Law”] remind us of the importance of education and scholarship. We look forward to your leadership and stand ready to work with you.”

“UND holds a special place in my heart,” said Twyla Baker-Demaray, president of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town, N.D., and a UND alumna. “We can do more for our students and the state together,” she said. “We stand ready to have conversations to be truly inclusive, and we support you. We are honored to walk this path with friends.”

An American Indian drum group performs the Honor Song for UND President Mark Kennedy's inauguration ceremony
An American Indian drum group performs the Honor Song for UND President Mark Kennedy’s inauguration ceremony

Robert “B.J.” Rainbow, another UND alumnus, introduced the Honor Song, played by the Rivers Edge Drum Group.  The Honor Song and drum have power, he said. “Think about President Kennedy, the University and community and a bright future.”

Inaugural address

“I am honored to be the 12th president of the University and to be accompanied by First Lady Debbie Kennedy,” Mark Kennedy said, after accepting the Chain of Office, which is worn at ceremonial events and represents the authority of the University.

His inaugural address focused on advancing new frontiers, and he recalled that another President Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy, visited UND 53 years ago.

“It was destiny that brought President John F. Kennedy to Grand Forks a half century ago,” Mark Kennedy said. “JFK’s belief that the acquisition of skills must rest on a strong liberal arts base, his drive to open new frontiers, and reaching out to unite diverse interests reflects the heritage of the University of North Dakota that must guide our actions today.”

Liberal arts

In 1963, JFK said that UND was not developed just to give its graduates an economic advantage, but also to graduate educated men and women who become responsible citizens.

“Answering JFK’s call requires our liberal arts core to continue to prepare our graduates to be informed citizens with the ability to think critically, work in diverse teams, and communicate fluently,” Mark Kennedy said.

His parents, he recalled, scrimped and saved to send their seven children to college, and his mother also found money to support study abroad.

“Even though she had never left the Upper Midwest, she could not imagine how a liberal arts education would not include studying abroad,” Kennedy said.

“Our alums understood this,” he said. “We would not be sitting in the Chester Fritz Auditorium had he not been among the first Americans to travel to inland China and trade with that nation.”

Today, Kennedy said, barely 1 percent of UND graduates study abroad.

“We must ignite a new understanding that to be prepared for today’s global world, international study should be the norm, not the exception,” he said.

Mark and Debbie Kennedy
Mark and Debbie Kennedy leave the inauguration ceremony on their way to a public reception to celebrate the special day.


“JFK’s vision of a new frontier, the theme of his administration, felt at home at UND,” Mark Kennedy said. “For we have always charted new territory.”

UND’s alumni have always opened new frontiers, from early admission of women to Federal Judge Ronald Davies, who ordered desegregation of Little Rock High School.

“Our alums explored new frontiers on this planet,” Kennedy said, naming Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, North Pole aviator Carl Ben Eielson, Ebony editor Era Bell Thompson, NASA official John Disher, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and others.

Alum Phil Jackson used “Zen” and American Indian religious practices to get basketball players to play well as a team and win championships.

And today, Space Studies faculty member Pablo de León and his team craft spacesuits.

“Advancing new frontiers has always been at the very heart of the UND experience,” Kennedy said. It has never been more urgent to push forward with new discoveries. The rapid spread of digitization, he said, is now washing over academia, and UND needs to up its game.

UND is well-positioned to succeed in the new, more competitive environment.

“As the Energy U, Medical U and Unmanned U, we will continue to serve as the chief opportunity engine for this state and its citizens,” Kennedy said.

North Dakota Sen. Joan Heckaman from New Rockford was impressed with the new president’s plans for the future.

”I’m glad I came,” Heckaman said. “I liked his vision. It was compelling, and it sets the framework for what he will be doing here at UND.

A last reference to JFK came when Mark Kennedy relayed the story of how JFK concluded his own UND address in 1963.

JFK told the story of the French Marshal Lyautey, who asked his gardener to plant a tree, said Mark Kennedy. The gardener objected that the tree would not mature for 100 years. The Marshal replied, “In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon.”

Mark Kennedy then pointed to a tree on Inauguration stage. The tree will be planted on the UND campus.

“We have no time to lose,” Kennedy said. “Let us plant our trees this afternoon.”