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Rites of Passage

Traditional transfer of presidency includes ceremonial symbols

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October 9, 2009
Video produced by Matt Paolelli and Brendan Cosgrove
To honor Northwestern tradition, President Emeritus Henry S. Bienen officially passed the baton by presenting President Morton Schapiro with the presidential chain of office. Carol D. Lee, professor of education and social policy and African American studies, presented the University seal and charter. The meaning behind these ceremonial symbols and the President’s robe follows.

PRESIDENT'S ROBE
The president's robe is based on the traditional purple doctoral gown of Northwestern University. The sleeves are trimmed with four black velvet chevrons outlined in gold braid. The hood is lined with purple satin bordered in gold.

PRESIDENTIAL SYMBOLS OF OFFICE

The presentation of the symbols of office during the Inauguration Ceremony marks the formal investiture of the president.

Charter
The leather-bound charter presented to President Schapiro is a hand-copied reproduction of the Act of Incorporation that granted legal status to "The North Western University" on January 28, 1851. It has been certified by the Secretary of State's office as an authentic copy of the original charter of incorporation, which is held by the Illinois State Archives in Springfield.

University Seal
Soon after Northwestern University was founded, the Board of Trustees adopted a corporate seal. The design, approved on June 26, 1856, consisted of an open book surrounded by rays of light and circled by the words Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. Thirty years later, Daniel Bonbright, professor of Latin and a member of Northwestern's original faculty, redesigned the seal, retaining the book and light rays and adding two quotations. On the pages of an open book he placed a Greek quotation (from John 1:14) translating to The Word . . . full of grace and truth. Circling the book are the first three words, in Latin, of the University motto: Quaecumque sunt vera (Whatsoever things are true). The outer border of the seal carries the name of the University and the year of its founding. This seal, which remains Northwestern's official signature, was approved by the Board of Trustees on December 5, 1890.

Chain of Office
The president's chain of office was created by Tiffany & Company for the 1939 inauguration of Franklyn Bliss Snyder, Northwestern University's 11th chief executive officer. Since that time it has been worn by each succeeding president at Commencement and other formal occasions as a symbol of the University's highest office. The chain is made up of 26 identical cloverleaf-shaped links, ending in a three-sided center link from which a pendant reproduction of the University seal is suspended. The entire piece is made of sterling silver finished in gold.

Presidential Inauguration Coverage