What is a Presidential Inauguration at a University?

Posted: September 09, 2022 | Author: Southern Utah University | Read Time: 7 minutes

What is an inauguration at a university? When there’s a new president in the Oval Office, everyone knows. There are celebrations and speeches and the swearing-in of the new face of the United States. The whole nation is a part of a moment in history, whilst simultaneously looking toward the future. There’s another kind of installment that happens at a much smaller scale; the inauguration of the president of a college or university.

But what exactly is an inauguration? It’s happened so many times on television, but what does it entail? As simple as it sounds, there are a lot of inner workings that happen to make an inauguration successful. Here’s everything you need to know about inaugurations.

What is an inauguration?

An inauguration is the formal induction of someone into office. Similar to the presidential inaugurations we know well, like the president of the United States, university presidential inaugurations celebrate the installation of a new leader.

The inauguration is not only a chance to install the new leader, it's a time for the new leader to share their vision of the future of the university and a bit of themselves. During the ceremony and related events, you’re likely to see glimpses of the future of the university and the new president’s personality.

Why is the inauguration typically months after the job actually starts?

Contrary to the way the U.S. government works, the president taking on their responsibilities on January 20 at noon in the year following the election, a university president begins their duties before they’re inaugurated. On a university scale, a lot of the logistics in planning a presidential inauguration have to do with planning the event itself. After all, it’s one of the biggest events hosted by the university.

The inauguration ceremony is meant to mirror the new university president’s personality, so people have to get acquainted with the president and their preferences to plan the inauguration ceremony accordingly. Likewise, the new president needs time to become better acquainted with the university itself and its environment. What are the university’s strengths and weaknesses? What do they do well and where could they improve? This allows the new president to formulate a vision and get started right away.

Another thing to consider is scheduling. It’s easy to rule out December and May because people will be busy planning the commencement ceremonies. And there are lots of holidays, so November, March, and April are typically ruled out as well. Not to mention the other events hosted by the university that would interfere, so planning the ceremony for late summer or early fall is usually a great option.

There are plenty of logistics to think about when planning an inauguration; who will introduce the new president, what the president will say, etc. Usually, the president doesn’t have to “dress to impress,” better to just stick to dressy casual and something with the university’s colors. As for the speeches, it really depends on what the speaker and the president want to say. The only requirement is that it isn’t incredibly long.

What happens during the inauguration?

The inauguration is a formal ceremony and can look a lot like commencement. Details on each traditional piece of the ceremony are listed below.


At SUU, the ceremony opens with SUU representatives and institutional delegates from campuses across the west filing into the ceremony. Traditionally, those from the oldest institutions are at the head of the line, and all remaining delegates follow in a similar fashion. This custom represents academia’s growth through the centuries. All delegates wear formal gowns and hoods, while those from the community or cultural groups dress in the appropriate costume of their custom.

Processional Marshal

The macebearer will lead the processional, as together they all marshal the new president of SUU.

The Mace

The marshal carries the ceremonial mace, which is also used when governing leaders are acting on behalf of the University in other formal circumstances. It is believed the use of ceremonial maces dates back to 1200 CE when they were used as a symbol of royal authority. Today, maces are used in legislatures and on college campuses across the nation. The mace symbolizes the history and values of the institution it represents.

On the ebony staff of SUU’s mace is an inscribed silver cup topped with a sterling silver thunderbird. Tudor roses and Scottish thistles (to symbolize academia’s British roots), and honeybees and sego lilies (representing the state of Utah), adorn the space between each of the four inscribed SUU coats of arms. Two etchings circle the inside of the cup: “Southern Utah University” and “Learning Lives Forever.”


Beyond the president’s official induction, an inauguration ceremony would be incomplete without
guest speakers and performances. These are hand-picked by the new president to inspire the Thunderbird community at this opening of a new era.


For the investiture, the vice chair of the Utah Board of Higher Education will give power of office to the new president and present them as the newest leader of Southern Utah University. Following the investiture, the president will speak. This is the first official opportunity for the SUU community to rally behind the president’s vision for the University’s future.

What should I wear to an inauguration?

While those in the ceremony will be wearing traditional academic attire, those in attendance can take a more casual approach when preparing to attend the inauguration. Supporting the school and its new president by wearing school colors is a great choice.


In the 12th century, the gowns in the inauguration processional were everyday dress. By the 17th century, as styles changed, gowns became the costume of only clerics, law professors, and academics. Today, institutions around the world continue to use them to honor academic accomplishment and the roots of organized education.

Mortarboards and Tams

The flat hat academics wear is called a mortarboard. While it is uncertain where the tradition began, one legend credits it to a Grecian teacher who supplied sackcloth robes with mortarboards for his students to wear because “their destiny is to build.” Stemming from this tradition, those carrying a Ph.D. have begun to wear tams of soft velvet. This change often helps differentiate between student and teacher in academic proceedings.

Chains of Office

A chain of office was a representative badge of office in the Middle Ages. Today, its design is distinct to each school and is worn by the president on ceremonial occasions. Each incoming president receives a personalized, inscribed chain of office—a keepsake to commemorate their dedication and service to the University. President Mindy Benson’s chain of office is hand-crafted and bears detailed, connecting banners inscribed with the name of every former president of the institution. The medallion bears SUU’s presidential seal along with “President Mindy Benson” inscribed on the middle link.


Hoods are personalized to communicate the bearer’s school, degree, and discipline. Its length represents the owner’s academic accomplishments: the longer the hood, the higher the degree. The lining colors are distinct to each institution and are almost always the school’s athletic colors. Finally, its trim color indicates the bearer’s field of study.

Traditional academic colors

  • Agriculture - Maize
  • Arts, Humanities - White
  • Accountancy, Business - Drab
  • Dentistry - Lilac
  • Economics - Copper
  • Education - Light Blue
  • Engineering - Orange
  • Fine Arts - Brown
  • Forestry - Russet
  • Journalism - Crimson
  • Law - Purple
  • Library Science - Lemon
  • Medicine - Green
  • Music - Pink
  • Nursing - Apricot
  • Speech - Silver Gray
  • Pharmacy - Olive Green
  • Philosophy - Dark Blue
  • Physical Education - Sage Green
  • Public Administration - Peacock Blue
  • Public Health - Salmon Pink
  • Science - Golden Yellow
  • Social Work - Citron
  • Theology - Scarlet
  • Veterinary Science - Gray

The Inauguration of President Mindy Benson

This year at Southern Utah University, the Thunderbird community is entering an exciting new era with a new president at the forefront. In just a few short weeks, a new “Commander-in-Chief” (or should we say, “CommandHER-in-Chief?) will be sworn into office. President Mindy Benson will take the mantle as the first female president in SUU’s history.

The Presidential Inauguration will be held Friday, September 23 at 3 p.m. in the America First Event Center. Confirmed participants include Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, former SUU professor and Utah’s first poet laureate Dr. David Lee, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Woolstenhulme, and SUU Board of Trustees Chair Jodi Hart Wilson. Grammy Award-winning artist The Oak Ridge Boys will participate via video.

Leading up to the main event, an academic convocation and community service project will be held on Thursday to commemorate the occasion.

For additional information on President Benson’s inauguration, visit suu.edu/inauguration.

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