Southern Utah University inaugurates 16th president

SUU President Scott L. Wyatt answers questions during a press conference after his inauguration ceremony, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 12, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

CEDAR CITY —Scott L. Wyatt was inaugurated as Southern Utah University’s 16th president Friday at an official ceremony in the campus’s Centrum Arena.

Wyatt, who has been acting university president since January, formally received his university president title at the 2 p.m. ceremony.

Inauguration ceremony

At 1 p.m., a processional march of university faculty, staff, state and city leaders went through campus to the Centrum Arena to begin the ceremony.

SUU Board of Trustees Chair Eric O. Leavitt welcomed approximately 1,000 people in attendance to the inauguration. Leavitt acknowledged present leaders including Utah Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox, Sen. Evan Vickers, Rep. John Westwood, Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson, all three Iron County commissioners and various university and college presidents from all over the state.

SUU Faculty Senate President Emily Dean was the first speaker. She shared appreciation for Wyatt’s communicative style of leadership, willingness to learn, concern, and frankness within the time he has already served in the university president position.

“We encourage you to go on as you have begun,” Dean said, speaking publicly to Wyatt. “I hope that as you work to build SUU’s future you will find inspiration in the great things being done on campus by students, faculty and staff.”

Music and dance numbers at the ceremony were performed by the SUU College of Performing and Visual Arts, Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra; Concert Opus and Women’s Choirs; Percussion Ensemble and Dance Ensemble.

A member of SUU's dance ensemble performs at the inauguration ceremony, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 12, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News
A member of SUU’s dance ensemble performs at the inauguration ceremony, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 12, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

Speakers following the musical numbers were Utah System of Higher Education Commissioner David Buhler, Cox, Student Body President Jeff Hertig and Wyatt.

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents,” Cox said, describing Wyatt through a quote by Winston Churchill. “What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

In 2007, Wyatt became president of Snow College, where he led the college to a 40 percent increase in student enrollment and was offered the position at SUU.

“President Wyatt saved Snow College,” Cox said. “I am grateful for his service and sacrifice over those years.”

Delivering America’s Promise

The inauguration theme “Delivering on America’s Promise,” was based on a quote by Thomas Jefferson:

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Wyatt was introduced by Hertig and started his address by quoting former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, who said trying to plan a future without a sense of past is like trying to plant cut flowers.

By focusing on the roots with three points, Wyatt said, SUU would succeed as it has been named the 58th best regional university out of 756 public and private regional universities in the west, which puts it in the 92nd percentile.

Wyatt’s three points to achieve strong, deep roots include:

  • Education to build up and maintain a society of people equipped to govern themselves
  • Acquire skills necessary to succeed in the marketplace
  • Pursue Jefferson’s promise of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in preserving life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with an education

“We need to try to see all of this through 19th Century eyes — not our own,” Wyatt said. “This landscape we are so privileged to live in is of incomparable beauty.”

The settlement of the West was a great epic feat in the history of America by women and men who greatly dared and greatly did, he said, and the creation of Southern Utah University is one of the larger-than-life plots in the epic story.

Wyatt recalled the 1898 story of SUU’s founding fathers, who sacrificed their lives climbing the snowy mountains near Brian Head to get lumber to build SUU, then known as Branch Normal School.

SUU presidential inauguration draws a crowd, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 12, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News
SUU presidential inauguration draws a crowd, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 12, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

Of one founder, Neil Bladen, who encouraged the other men to climb the mountain for the lumber, Wyatt asked why they would risk their lives for the school.

The men had mortgaged their homes, dug clay in the frigid winter earth, carved stones out of frozen mountains and pounded nails throughout the summer when they could have been working on their farms, he said.

“Our founders believed there was only one way self-government could work,” Wyatt said. “The people had to be educated — all of the people. Nothing was more obvious to them.”

He encouraged the faculty to “climb the mountain” much like SUU’s founders, to bring more greatness to the university.

“You have distinguished yourselves with excellent credentials, teaching research and publications,” Wyatt said. “You own the education here. Please imagine new and creative ways to draw students and reinvent the way we deliver general education, and become more collaborative among disciplines.”

He encouraged students to reach out to each other and to reach toward their own ambitions. To members of the community and alumni, Wyatt said, continue to support the university and current students.

Press conference and “Future is Rising” Campaign

A press conference and celebration with refreshments took place following the ceremony, where Wyatt said he hopes to continue the legacy of what other university presidents have started.

Former university President and former Cedar City Mayor Gerald Sherratt was present at the ceremony. Sherratt was president from 1982 to 1997 during which term the university received its university status.

SUU’s 15th president, Michael Benson, who was not present at the inauguration, started the biggest fundraising campaign in the university’s history, raising close to $90 million of the $100 million goal.

SUU President Scott L. Wyatt answers questions at a press conference following his inauguration, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 12, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News
SUU President Scott L. Wyatt answers questions at a press conference following his inauguration, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 12, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

By March, the fundraising amount exceeded the $100 million goal with a $105,459,919 total, as Wyatt took part in bringing forth the university’s vision. Government and state leaders, alumni and various giving citizens contributed to the campaign.

The campaign was launched in September 2011 to obtain resources to recruit and retain the best and brightest students, create the best on-campus living and learning environment for the students, make public service and civic engagement integral to the students’ educational experience, ensure the best possible learning environment for students through state-of-the art facilities and secure the resources to recruit and retain the best teaching faculty, according to a campaign overview.

The goals specified $30 million for the student needs, $14 million for faculty and $43 million for new facilities.

A $30 million building, the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, which will be used by the Utah Shakespeare Festival, is one of those facilities.

Ground was broken for the building in March and is anticipated to be completed in 2016. It will become a larger learning and production building and will include art from the Braithwaite Arts Gallery and Southern Utah Artist Jimmy Jones’ art pieces.

With this completion of the fundraising campaign, Wyatt said, his vision is to continue to see the future rise at the university.

The inauguration activities followed in conjunction with the university’s homecoming activities during the week.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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