UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

A Grateful Song: President Armacost’s inaugural address

With comments framed by UND’s ‘Alma Mater’ lyrics, President Andrew Armacost reflects on the ‘Beacon o’er our Western land’

Editor’s note: In his inaugural address, University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost spoke on gratitude, pride, academic excellence and other themes drawn from “Alma Mater,” the university’s school song. Armacost was inaugurated as UND’s 13th president on Oct. 5, 2020.

A video of the address is above, and a transcript is below.


President Andrew Armacost: Well, this is too much. A lot of surprises; I didn’t know the ring story would come out. And furthermore, I didn’t know that Audrey and Ava would bestow such a great honor upon their father.

So, I’m still weeping a little bit, but I’ll make it through this one with no problem. But thanks to all. What a wonderful day for me and my family. To have each of these incredible members on the stage with me is frankly overwhelming.

And to have each of our former living presidents plus Tom Clifford commemorate this event is frankly stunning.

And today’s event signals in an important step in the life of the university – to welcome a new leader into your midst and onto this campus.

And here we are, in the Chester Fritz Auditorium the site of many such events. And although it is vast and physically empty, being here today is part of an important tradition.

My heart is warmed, knowing there are many out there watching from around the campus and from around the country, new friends and old friends. Thanks to each of you for tuning in today.

This entire ceremony reminds me that I am but one piece of the legacy of this university; one element of the future of this university – and what a future it will be, with tremendous opportunities to impact the state, the nation and the world.

Most importantly, we have the opportunity to impact the individual members of our community – our students, our faculty and our staff, who each bring their own set of experiences, backgrounds and cultures to our campus. We must celebrate those differences, which together weave a great tapestry that is our university community.

A community that comes together as one and respects the dignity of each of its members.

And you know, in previous speeches, I have commented on the heritage of UND and my quest to learn more about it. In fact, in a recent letter to the campus, I cited an important phrase from our Alma Mater.

And today I’d like to frame my comments around the entire first verse of this song. So let’s take a closer look.

Set to “The Emperor’s Hymn” by Haydn, the lyrics for our Alma Mater were written by Professor John Macnie, who graced our campus from 1897 through 1909. Here is the first verse.

“Hail to thee, O Alma Mater!

“Hail to thee with heart and tongue!

“Pride we feel and love yet greater,

“While we raise our grateful song.

“Home of lofty thought and learning,

“Beacon o’er our Western land,

“Shrine whence still the ever-burning

“Torch is passed from hand to hand.”

The Alma Mater challenges us to keep at the forefront of our thoughts, words and actions, several key ideas. The first is a sense of pride.

Pride we feel and love yet greater.

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

In my travels last spring, in my zooming around the country and in my engagements on campus, I have learned about this pride and love that you have for your alma mater, fond memories of your experiences in and out of the classroom, harrowing tales of living in tin huts, and rail cars, and, of course, passion for University of North Dakota hockey.

Most importantly, the realization that you got your start in life, as citizens and as leaders, at the University of North Dakota.

The alma mater challenges us to maintain a sense of gratitude while we raise our grateful song.

And so, let me offer my gratitude to many, including Gov. Burgum, the State Board of Higher Education Chair Nick hacker, and our system Chancellor Mark Hagerott, who have placed great faith and trust in me as your new president.

To the members of the search committee and their two chairs, Dr. Casey Ryan and Dean Denny Elbert, and leaders like Howard Dahl, for their diligent efforts and commitment to that important process.

To the elected leaders of our University, Staff and Student Senates, Professor Liz Legerski, Megan Wasylow, and Matt Ternus, with each of whom I’ve already had a chance to form a wonderful relationship.

To the members of our campus – students, faculty and staff.

To all the members of my executive council – the vice presidents, deans, associate vice presidents – who welcomed me into their fold, the moment I was selected as the president.

And let me single out one member in particular who has been instrumental in my transition into this role. And this is our former president Josh Wynne, who led the campus with grace, dignity and wisdom for the last year.

To the alumni of UND, who, since the decision in December, have made me feel so welcome. And to the citizens of Grand Forks and the wonderful leaders we have in place, most notably our Mayor, Brandon Bochenski. Thank you for being here today, and I appreciate all of your leadership.

To all those who contributed to today’s event under the leadership of Fred Wittman, let me offer my thanks.

And to each of you joining us online, I am grateful for the warm welcome that you’ve given to Kathy and to me, and of course to the faithful pooch Sadie, for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful campus community – to be part of your everyday life.

In the Alma Mater, what really strikes me is the connection of deep pride with this strong sense of gratitude. This challenges us, I believe, to have an important sense: a belief that we have an important role to play in this big world; a belief in helping others.

I will aspire to achieve that same sense of humility in my role as your president.

This challenges us to be patient and to listen, which is especially important during difficult times like a global pandemic. We must continue to propel UND into the future, with the mounting challenges facing the world of higher education.

The Alma Mater speaks about our important mission and reputation:

“Home of lofty thought and learning,

“Beacon o’er our Western land.”

The beacon we must keep lit is not only one of academic excellence, but the beacon of hope and support for all members of our society.

In addition to our Western land, this beacon lights the land of the First Nations of the state of North Dakota, and represents the hope and promise of a UND education for all.

Our future is together and connected with one another.

The Alma Mater further states:

“Shrine whence still the ever-burning

Torch is passed from hand to hand.”

Passing this ever-burning torch recognizes why we are all here: to develop our students, and to be connected with each other in our road to discovery.

These ideas are fundamental to who we are. It happens in how we share our ideas, our creativity, our scholarship with others around the globe.

The passing of the torch applies directly to today’s event and my new role as your president as but one in the long line of presidents.

I humbly accept the personal responsibility to lead this university with my heart and soul.

Kathy and I will give our all to you – to be part of your lives, and to pledge our commitment to grow alongside each member of this great university.

And this is represented in the chain of office, which you just saw and which I now wear around my neck. For UND, this signifies the important history, the important connection that I have with both past and future leaders.

To me, the chain also represents the many people who have impacted my life and my career and contributed to the important mosaic that is me.

So many friends, so many colleagues from my earlier life in the Air Force, at the Air Force Academy, and in life, have joined us online, and they can take credit for me arriving into this position today.

UND creates great opportunities for good people. UND transforms lives. I think of the many examples of UND preparing people to lead – and we’ve certainly achieved a number of firsts:

Our first astronaut, Dr. Karen Nyberg, a 1994 engineering graduate of UND, went on to a remarkable career in NASA, including two spaceflights and service aboard the International Space Station.

Our first black graduate, Fritz Pollard Jr., graduated in 1939, and would later compete in the Olympics, serve in the Army in World War II, earn his law degree and follow a long career in the Foreign Service.

And we remember Dr. David Gipp, who passed away on Sept. 15 – one of our most prominent American Indian alumni.

A member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave founded UND’s American Indian Student Association in the 1960s, and went on to be a pioneer in tribal education, serving for 37 years as the president of United Tribes Technical College.

We are certainly proud of these three, and so many others like them, who have represented UND on the national stage. And we must use their examples to inspire us to propel UND into the future.

We have recently launched initiatives to examine the future of education at UND, and to identify ways to bring our community together with a greater sense of inclusion.

We will continue our commitment to be a strong liberal arts program as the foundation element of our curriculum, while looking for opportunities to connect disciplines even more deliberately.

Research, scholarship, creativity, and innovation must continue to be a central focus of our learning institution.

Programs and high-impact practices must connect our educational traditions to the realities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We must continue to give our graduates the ability to operate nimbly in a world with technical and information challenges, using important perspectives from the humanities and social sciences.

We must explore new frontiers in medicine and health, autonomy, data and information, energy – and yes, in outer space, UND will continue to lead the way.

In closing, let me return to a final note of gratitude, and what I would like to share with my family. You don’t get to pick your family – but I got really lucky.

My family – Kathy, Ava and Audrey, whom you’ve seen already; my parents, Sue from Milwaukee, who’s with us today; and my dad Bob and stepmom Julia from Jacksonville, Fla; my sister Katie, who’s here today, and her husband Carl, who’s not; my brother Bob, who’s signing in from afar in Boston, Mass., along with his family, Mindy, Natalie and Lindsey; my in-laws. Bob and Sandy Hovde from Huntsville, Ala. and Cathy’s siblings, Greg and Kristin.

At the Inauguration of UND President Andy Armacost, the president’s wife, Kathy (left) and daughter, Audrey (right), drape around his neck UND’s official Presidential Chain of Office. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

The friends from my old life in the Air Force and my new life here in Grand Forks.

To celebrate this event today, in this format, gives me great hope.

Our distanced world comes with the optimism that this pandemic will end soon.

It’s a reminder that there are some things we just don’t control – but how we react and adapt truly matters. And it forces us to contemplate change.

One of my favorite quotations about the power of education as a catalyst for change comes from Nelson Mandela. He states: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

It is our goal at UND to change the world – to convince our students that they, too, will change the world.

And I look forward to leading the University of North Dakota in doing just that: changing the world. Thank you.