Building At SUU Named After Two Bennions
June 01, 2006
President Bennion said his jaw was sore for three days after Southern Utah University’s Commencement! Apparently, it fell open too many times at the surprises, planned but not written, in the day’s script.
At approximately 9 a.m. on Commencement morn, May 6, 2006, President Bennion began the ceremony with his traditional Opening Remarks segment. His comments were brief and at the end of them, he received a spontaneous standing ovation from the more than 1,200 graduates of the SUU Class of 2006, as this would be his last Commencement address as SUU President, per his announcement of retirement a few months earlier. Then, to President Bennion’s expectations, Richard Kendell, the Commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education Board of Regents, stood as a special Commencement guest and offered some comments to the graduates, including words about President Bennion’s tenure at the University.
After Mr. Kendell concluded his speaking, President Bennion started up to the podium again to carry on with the Commencement program, as he thought it was to run according to the written script he had in hand. Far in advance of the big day, the President has access and input upon the entire script for the Commencement ceremony, but this year, things were handled a little bit differently by some behind-the-scenes individuals who will remain anonymous!
Mr. Kendell interrupted Bennion’s step by calling Chair of the Board Dwayne Nielson up to the podium. Much to their surprise, President and Mrs. Bennion were summoned up to the podium by Chair Nielson. At that point, Nielson proceeded to announce the induction of Dr. Steven D. Bennion into the SUU Hall of Honor. Nielson read aloud to a crowd of graduates and more than 4,000 faculty, family and friends, the official citation of induction. It declared in part: “(President Bennion) You have faithfully and diligently kept the charge to, “...not just launch a new century and start a new millennium, (but to) carry forward the great tradition and values of this institution…” Your accomplishments as President of Southern Utah University are many and laudable, including: seeing the enrollment increase to nearly 7,000 students; creating two new colleges in the University; adding masters and baccalaureate degree programs and an honors program; and completing the largest fundraising campaign in SUU history, $43.5 million dollars. Your integrity, enthusiasm and personable manner have truly been an example to all who have benefited from your undauntable leadership. Your example to the entire University community has taught lessons that will long bless those whose lives you have touched.”
A portrait of Bennion that, unbeknownst to him, had been brought on stage behind him while his induction was taking place. As part of the process, a painting of each Hall of Honor inductee is hung in the Great Hall of the Hunter Conference Center. Upon the unveiling, President Bennion’s mouth fell open in surprise again, as he suddenly realized how he had been duped only a few weeks before into posing for artist and professor of art Ben Sowards, on the pretext that “we might need some more photos of you in the future, even after you depart office.”
But the surprises weren’t over yet. Chair Nielson continued by informing the Bennions and the audience that just the day before the Board of Trustees issued an official proclamation that would duly name the current building on campus that houses staff and the president’s office, the Milton and Steven D. Bennion Administration Building, in honor of Bennion and his grandfather Milton, who was the first president of SUU, then-known (1897) as the Branch Normal School. A banner was unfurled at the back of the stage donning the new name of the building. The Proclamation read in part: “Dr. Bennion’s dedicated commitment to the improvement of Southern Utah University has led to impressive accomplishments that will leave an indelible influence on the forward direction of this great institution. Recognized for his senior leadership within the entire Utah System of Higher Education, Steve Bennion continued the legacy of his grandfather, Milton, as a pioneer in education. The time is right for the Southern Utah University Board of Trustees to pay a fitting tribute to two great leaders of this institution: Milton Bennion, the first leader of Branch Normal School, and Steven Bennion, our outgoing leader for the past nine years.” The Proclamation further recognized the two gentlemen’s great leadership and ability to inspire others and for their genuine caring of students.