The inauguration of President Susan Rundell Singer
On Wednesday, October 11, 2023, St. Olaf College celebrated the inauguration of its 12th president, Susan Rundell Singer.
“Inaugurations are a pivotal moment in a college’s history. We reflect on a rich past and strong foundation while boldly stepping into the future,” Rundell Singer said as she addressed the hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community leaders who filled Skoglund Auditorium for the event. “St. Olaf is rooted in almost 150 years of clarity about our values, vision, and mission that, together, provide an enduring true north. We have always been solution seekers. Our commitment to developing solution seekers gives us the path forward as we co-create the next chapter in St. Olaf’s history.”
“St. Olaf is rooted in almost 150 years of clarity about our values, vision, and mission that, together, provide an enduring true north. We have always been solution seekers. Our commitment to developing solution seekers gives us the path forward as we co-create the next chapter in St. Olaf’s history.”St. Olaf President Susan Rundell Singer
In her address, Rundell Singer said she was drawn to St. Olaf by a deep admiration for the college’s academic excellence and exceptional sense of community. By ensuring that students from a diverse range of backgrounds have access to a St. Olaf education, she noted, the college is uniquely positioned to prepare the next generation of solution seekers.
“Addressing economic, racial, and gender inequities; the needs of civil society; global health challenges; disparities in education, air quality, and water availability; climate change; and feeding a hungry world will require all the courage and wisdom we can muster,” she said. “I underscore wisdom, which is more than knowledge and skills. Addressing these challenges requires comfort with ambiguity because a solution to one issue might negatively impact another. The way forward is to partner in solution seeking. St. Olaf is built for this type of education.”
And Rundell Singer is built for the type of leadership needed to take St. Olaf into the future, Rollins College President Grant Cornwell told those gathered for the inauguration. Rundell Singer came to St. Olaf after serving as provost at Rollins for seven years, where Cornwell said she was one of the best leaders he has ever seen occupy that role. He highlighted her commitment to equity, which he noted was bolstered as she earned her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctoral degree in biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute during a time when she was often the only woman in her courses and labs. He praised her commitment to outstanding teaching and research, noting that she was a prolific scholar during her 30-year career at Carleton College. And he emphasized the power of her collaborative leadership style, which was on full display when she directed the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation, where she led and integrated the work of 14 federal agencies.
“Susan is the epitome of a servant leader who enters every space, every situation, every relationship fostering authentic collaboration,” Cornwell said. “Everything Susan does, everything Susan is, is motivated by her commitment to student learning.”
“Susan is the epitome of a servant leader who enters every space, every situation, every relationship fostering authentic collaboration. Everything Susan does, everything Susan is, is motivated by her commitment to student learning.”Rollins College President Grant Cornwell
Those skills and strengths are the reason the St. Olaf Board of Regents unanimously selected Rundell Singer to serve as St. Olaf’s 12th president this May.
“Her dedication to fostering an environment where collaboration and critical thinking flourish aligns precisely with our commitment to develop and prepare students of character to lead lives of substance,” Board Chair Susan Gunderson ’79 said as she welcomed attendees to the inauguration and led the formal installation of Rundell Singer as president. “Dr. Singer is known for her approachability, her genuine concern for the well-being of students, faculty, and staff, and her commitment to diversity and inclusion. She believes in the power of education to transform lives. Let us embrace this day filled with celebration and promise.”
“Her dedication to fostering an environment where collaboration and critical thinking flourish aligns precisely with our commitment to develop and prepare students of character to lead lives of substance.”Board Of Regents Chair Susan Gunderson ’79
Representatives from across campus and community leaders formally extended that embrace at the inauguration ceremony. The event featured welcome remarks from Student Government Association President Sophia Pletcher ’24, Associate Professor of Religion Anthony Bateza, Piper Center for Vocation and Career Director Kirsten Cahoon ’98, Alumni Board Member Mazen Abusharkh 2018, and Carleton College President Alison Byerly. Delegates from 33 colleges and universities across the country, including presidents of peer institutions and many of Rundell Singer’s former colleagues, processed in the ceremony alongside St. Olaf faculty. The event also featured music by the St. Olaf Band, conducted by Henry Dorn, and the St. Olaf Choir, conducted by Anton Armstrong ’78 and accompanied by pianist Aaron Looney ’24.
Following the inauguration ceremony, Rundell Singer walked up to the Campus Green through a celebratory tunnel of students, faculty, staff, alumni, colleagues from across the country, and community members who clapped and cheered. The day concluded with a community reception on Buntrock Plaza that featured festive food and music by the St. Olaf Jazz ensemble, led by Joseph Jefferson.
It was a fitting end to a two-day inauguration celebration that began on October 10 with the ceremonial planting of a Bur Oak tree at the St. Olaf House (the president’s residence). That was followed by a Community Party on the Campus Green that evening that featured dinner, music, s’mores, bonfires, and a silent disco.
To kick off Inauguration Day, Rundell Singer — an active cyclist — led a 12-mile bike ride in honor of her role as the college’s 12th president, and she was joined by scores of community members.
The series of gatherings underscored the support that Rundell Singer says will undergird St. Olaf’s success. “We have an exceptional community. As long as we continue to care for and support each other, we can do anything,” she said during her inauguration. “I’m thrilled to co-create the next chapter of our history with you.”
Read more about Rundell Singer, who took office in June and is the first woman to serve as president of St. Olaf, at stolaf.edu/president.
Watch the full inauguration ceremony below.