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Julie Sullivan speaks at podium at Inauguration

Julie Sullivan speaks at podium at Inauguration

Speech: Inaugural Address

Broncos celebrate the historic inauguration of Julie H. Sullivan, Ph.D., the first woman and first lay president.



Inaugural Address
Julie H. Sullivan, Ph.D.
Santa Clara University
October 7, 2022 

Greetings, Mr. Sonsini, Bishop Cantù; Fr. Carroll; Fr. Calero; Fr. Engh; Professor Kloppenberg; Secretaries Panetta and Napolitano; leaders of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribes; all distinguished members of the platform party; faculty, staff, students, alumni; my friends and colleagues from the University of St. Thomas and the University of San Diego; my dear family, those who are here with me today (son, daughters, grandsons, brother, niece, and my best friend and soulmate, my husband Bob) and those watching virtually and here in spirit, especially my mother in Florida, son in North Carolina, and daughter and family in Belgium.

I appreciate all of your prayers and support and am honored and blessed to stand before you today. However, today is not about me, despite how many times you seem to have heard my name. Today, we celebrate Santa Clara University. We are here to affirm its powerful mission, commemorate its past, reflect on the world in which it exists today, and look with great hope and excitement toward its future. 

Santa Clara’s vision, as we’ve heard, has always been to educate citizens and leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion and cultivate knowledge and faith to lead to a more humane, just, and sustainable world. But what does that mean for us?

As we pursue this vision, we seek to preserve the best of the past, while stepping boldly into the future. As our beloved past president Fr. Paul Locatelli said during our 150th anniversary celebration: “Jesuit education is not a univocal concept or a timeless blueprint,” “Santa Clara must be a community driven by dreams and rooted in human experience. We must be individuals with an abiding thirst for the new and a people of community and tradition.” [i]

In pursuing our vision, we draw great strength from St. Ignatius, who is often depicted with his left foot raised and forward, while his right foot is behind and planted solidly on the ground. St. Ignatius himself described strong leaders as “contemplatives in action,” leaders who are eager to move forward and face the world’s most vexing problems, while retaining a grounding in their faith and values and calling of God.

Rigor and Relevance

I would like to reflect today on three themes that connect Santa Clara’s past to its future. The first is rigor and relevance. At Santa Clara, we uphold an uncompromising standard of academic excellence in our teaching, learning, creativity, and scholarship. And a Santa Clara education has always been characterized by exceptional rigor and relevance.

As you’ve also heard many times today, we were founded in 1851 and we were once dubbed by an early Jesuit as the “Gold Dust College.” As the first university in the state of California, Santa Clara was founded to provide a college education for students from families who had immigrated from all over the world to seek their fortunes during the California Gold Rush. The university also served californios and other Spanish-speakers. 

Our earliest curriculum was the classical Jesuit curriculum of the time and included Latin, Greek, literature, philosophy, science, and allied subjects. However, those who migrated to California to seek their fortunes few appreciated the practical value of studying Latin and Greek, and a parallel English curriculum, dubbed the scientific course, was soon introduced.

In response to the Gold Rush, science played a major role in the curriculum of both the classical and scientific paths of study. Relevance has always been important here. Fr. Charles Messea founded the College’s science department in 1854 and purchased an impressive array of scientific instruments and minerals. The College imported from Europe a comprehensive set of scientific and chemical apparatus, including the latest inventions, and students received extensive and advanced training in mineral analysis.[ii] Which was relevant at that time.

Today, this pursuit of scientific understanding weaves throughout Silicon Valley and our university. The recently opened Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation brings faculty and students from science, technology, engineering, math, and entrepreneurship together under one roof to foster multidisciplinary collaboration and enhance the way we solve the world’s most vexing problems. Hands-on, state-of-the-art labs include: the Robotics Systems Lab, Latimer Energy Lab, and Imaginarium virtual reality lab.

The Sobrato Campus and its possibilities are foundational for launching creative, and possibly pioneering, new programs that push the boundaries of knowledge. These programs will intersect humanities, social science, and natural science disciplines and provide relevant knowledge, skills, and mindsets for the societal and workforce needs of tomorrow. Examples of such programs are at the intersection of data science and one or more of the plethora of disciplines with which it intersects, such as ethics, anthropology, communications, business, and law. Examples also include programs that combine technology innovation with such areas as public health, psychology, and design. All of these possibilities capture the rigor and relevance of Santa Clara’s future, a future that will only be relevant if it reflects inclusive excellence and interculturality, which is our second theme.

Inclusive Excellence and Interculturality

Inclusive excellence is a framework adopted by many universities, including Santa Clara, to more fully integrate and expand our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. It helps us systematically leverage the many dimensions of diversity throughout our community for the purpose of enhancing student learning and institutional excellence.

Interculturality refers to the equitable interaction of diverse cultures. In intercultural communities, there is deep understanding of and respect for one’s own culture and the culture of others. There is the mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms and the development of strong relationships of friendship.

As a Jesuit university, we are “of the world” and of a world that is interconnected and is rich in diversity and in culture. Because “the world is our home,” as the first Jesuits said, every culture that dwells in it is our sister. That is why we must continue to cultivate, nourish, and sustain our university as a diverse, equitable, and inclusive intercultural community.

When Santa Clara was established, our first enrollment list included students from of course across the U.S. but also from around the globe - Mexico, Central America, South America, Canada, Europe, Australia, and Algeria. And half of our first students were Protestants.[iii]

During the first 25 years of Santa Clara’s history, nearly a quarter of the students were Spanish-speaking or had Spanish surnames, and the annual bulletin was published in both English and Spanish. We also know there were others who lived and worked in this region, especially the Ohlone and Muwekma Ohlone people, who were not afforded the same opportunity.

I see a future for Santa Clara where we are more inclusive and welcoming and where we continue to increase and enhance our racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity to better reflect the world in which we live. I believe it is imperative that we embrace our responsibility as a Jesuit Catholic university to make a greater contribution to social mobility in our society. Increasingly, universities are being measured by and held accountable for this responsibility.

I’m pleased to share at Santa Clara, our lower income and first-generation students tend to achieve the same or higher graduation rates as our overall student body. However, we do not serve as high a percentage of underrepresented, lower income and first-generation students as some of our peers. Last month, Santa Clara joined the American Talent Initiative, a collective of leading colleges and universities who are committed to accelerating opportunity for talented low- and moderate-income students. Our commitment will encompass expanding and creating student pipeline and mentoring partnerships, securing additional need-based scholarship support, and ensuring equitable student outcomes and participation in high impact learning practices.

I also imagine a future for Santa Clara where all students engage in rich and deep, local and global learning opportunities that immerse them in other cultures and socioeconomic environments. In this future, every Bronco graduates with well-developed intercultural competence, tacit knowledge, skills and creativity to thrive well beyond Santa Clara.

Truth and Social Justice

Rigor and relevance with inclusive excellence and interculturality provide the foundation for my final theme, which is truth and social justice. As a Jesuit Catholic university, we are called to shine a light on and see the world as it is. And we are called to have the courage, empathy, and compassion to work with others to make it more humane, just, and sustainable. As our former president, Fr. William Rewak, shared at his inauguration, “A university must be a place where freedom of inquiry is paramount... We cannot know how to change the world if we do not see it as it is... For if we do not investigate, we cannot know; and if we do not know, we can never make a moral choice.”

A university exists not merely to create and impart knowledge, but also to help students make responsible and ethical decisions, decisions that advance the common good. Fr. Rewak concludes that the spirit of Jesuit education demands that work and study “result in action.”[iv]

One such light Santa Clara faculty, staff, and students have been shining on the world for almost 20 years is focused on environmental justice. Fr. Michael Engh reinforced this in his 2009 inauguration address, when he called “for the promotion of environmental justice and for examining the ethical dimensions of how we treat the physical world.”[v] In 2020, Santa Clara achieved carbon neutrality for energy usage, and our Center for Sustainability has been designated among only 16 institutions in the country as a Center for Sustainability Across the Curriculum.

This year, Santa Clara made a commitment to Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí Action Platform. This is a seven-year journey that he is calling on us to join him on. It will be a journey of defining and implementing our unique plan to deepen our community’s integral ecology, which integrates environmental and social justice in our academics and research, operations, campus life, and outreach. 

Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, shone another bright light for us in a talk he made to the Assembly of the International Association of Jesuit Universities this past summer. This light is on the threat to truth.

We increasingly live in a world that employs post-truth and the invention of reality as instruments of domination, control, and governance. And social media amplifies this strategy. For only the loudest, the most controversial, and the most absurd break through. They gain followers, hone their game, and the effects compound. Moderate points of view seldom gain likes or retweets. However, a recent poll by Civic Science, surveyed over four million Americans and found a near equal number, 18% and 19%, held far right and far left political views, . However a full 63% fell somewhere in the middle.  But, we don’t hear them, because the polar 37% dominate the discourse. This can be particularly troublesome for college age students. The 2022 National College Student Survey conducted by the Panetta Institute of Public Policy reports that 57% of college students use social media as their primary source of information about politics and civic affairs. I don’t think that was you, Broncos. However this is their source for understanding of all generations of our world, young and old.

And what about the alternative truth or reality created in the metaverse? How does our time in a virtual world, where everyone has a virtual wardrobe and other virtual options to swipe through, what does this time do to sustaining a culture of encounter and to authentically connect to one another and to God? This virtual environment is upon us.

As a Jesuit Catholic university committed to the mission of truth and justice, we have a paramount responsibility to help to distinguish truth from the falsehoods and contortions used to perpetuate power and injustice. We must amplify the voices of the “silent majority” and create and promote venues for balanced, factual information. We must educate citizens who are knowledgeable, free, hold many points of view, capable of dialogue, and committed to the pursuit of the common good. And we must educate citizens who seek to authentically accompany one another and who are guided and comforted by their God.  


Also, in the Panetta Institute 2022 national survey, the majority of college students reported for the first time in the 22-(year) history of the survey that they do not feel they will have a better life than their parents. This is college students, for the first time, who don’t feel they will have a better life than their parents. They are concerned about their future and the future of our country.

This generation cares immensely about our world and its challenges. I believe they can become the citizens and leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion; ethical citizens and leaders who have the knowledge and faith to create a more humane, just, and sustainable world. 

And our mission is to educate and inspire them, to help form them into men and women “for and with others,” and to help them discern God’s calling for their lives.

I am moved by the words of Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate. These words are taken from her poem entitled, “An Ode We Owe,” which she recited at the 2022 UN General Assembly meeting last month.

“This morn, let it be sworn that we are one human kin,

grounded not just by the griefs we bear,

but by the good we begin to anyone out there.

I only ask that you care before it’s too late,

that you live aware and awake,

that you lead with love in hours of hate.

I challenge you to heed this call,

I dare you to share our fate.

Above all, I dare you to do good, so that the world might be great.”

Thank you very much.



[i] Paul Locatelli, S.J., “The Future of Santa Clara: Jesuit Education,” Convocation, Sept. 15, 1995, ASCU. 

[ii] Prospectus of Santa Clara College, 1855-1856 and 1857-1858; Prospectus of Santa Clara College, 1879-1880, ASCU.

[iii] Bernard J. Reid letter in the Pittsburgh Catholic, Aug. 21, 1852. 

[iv] William J. Rewak, S.J., “Inaugural Address,” Jan. 12, 1977, ASCU.

[v] Michael E. Engh, S.J., “Inauguration Address,” April 24, 2009, ASCU.

President Sullivan