At her inauguration as the first female and 20th Emory University president Wednesday in Glenn Memorial Church, Claire E. Sterk emphasized practicing mutual respect in a divided society and the importance of global engagement.
More than 300 Emory community members and delegates from academic institutions gathered in Glenn Memorial Church to celebrate Sterk’s inauguration.
In her inauguration speech, Sterk promised to shift Emory from a “diverse institution to a more inclusive one;” to engage the University in global affairs; and to attract “eminent” faculty members and “students who will excel.”
A common theme among the inauguration speakers was collaboration, whether between faculty members and students or Emory and the world.
Sterk noted the power of collaboration to “make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”
Following an anecdote about her mother reminding her of the importance of helping others, Sterk urged Emory to use its privilege as a leading research university to service humanity.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed welcomed Sterk’s initiative to deepen the relationship between Emory and Atlanta. Deeper engagement with Atlanta is one of Sterk’s “emerging University initiatives.” She hopes to collaborate with local nonprofits and partner with local businesses and government groups.
“Dr. Sterk is not only a brilliant scholar, she is someone who cares deeply about the relationship between [Emory] and the community beyond its campus,” Reed said. “Atlanta has always treasured its relationship with Emory, and we look forward to some exciting partnerships.”
Sanjay Gupta, assistant professor in Emory’s Department of Neurosurgery and CNN chief medical correspondent, said he was glad to hear the words “first female president” at an inauguration — especially after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost this past presidential election.
“President Sterk inspires [my eldest daughter], and every day she is more convinced that she can do whatever she wants to do and be whoever she wants to be,” Gupta said.
Gupta also took a jab at President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on immigration while praising Sterk, a Netherlands native.
“As an immigrant to this country, you have contributed so much,” Gupta said. “I think that’s a point worth making — especially right now.
Associate Dean of Methodist Studies Anne Burkholder, who signed the faculty petition calling Sterk to declare Emory as a “sanctuary campus,” attended the inauguration instead of the “Walkout Day for a Sanctuary Campus” demonstration on the Quadrangle. Burkholder said she wanted to celebrate a woman’s ascension to presidency because Burkholder entered the Candler School of Theology as one of 23 women in a 623-person class.
The Walkout was organized by Emory Sanctuary Coalition, a group of Emory faculty, alumni and students requesting Sterk to designate the University as a “sanctuary campus.” The crowd protested in front of the Administration Building during Sterk’s presidential inauguration.
“There are times when [we] face competing interests in our hearts and spirits,” Burkholder said. “I was not going to miss the opportunity to celebrate and offer my respect for the Office [of the President].”
SGA President and College senior Max Zoberman, who presented remarks in the ceremony on the behalf of undergraduate students, said that the “beautiful” ceremony “befit the conscientious, brilliant and kind” president. However, he also acknowledged the students who organized the Walkout.
“I am always in favor and support of students exercising their right to assemble and advocate,” Zoberman said. “There are a lot of conversations that are yet to happen … in regard to the ‘sanctuary’ question.”
Sterk’s ascension to the presidency of Emory came after former University President James W. Wagner stepped down from his 13-year tenure last August.
After joining the Emory community in 1995 as Acting Director and Associate Director of the Women’s and Children’s Center at Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH), Sterk held numerous professorships and conducted research on addiction, mental health and HIV/AIDS. A Charles Howard Candler Professor of Public Health, she also chaired RSPH’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education and most recently served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs from 2013 to 2016.
Festivities to celebrate Sterk’s inauguration included an academic symposium on health, a tree planting in the Quadrangle and an inauguration-themed Wonderful Wednesday.