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Visiting Delegates Add Color to Inauguration

October 9, 2009 | by Megan Fellman
Dressed in the academic regalia of their respective institutions, the delegates led the long procession at the inauguration ceremony. Photo by Peter Barreras 

Nearly 100 delegates from colleges, universities and learned societies across the country added historic color to the pageantry of the Oct. 9 inauguration of Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro.

Dressed in the academic regalia of their respective institutions, the delegates led the long procession at the afternoon ceremony -- only the 16th presidential inauguration in Northwestern's history. They marched in order of the founding date of each institution, the representative of the oldest going first, in this case Harvard University (1636).

They, along with the presidential party and Northwestern faculty and community members, were among the hundreds of processional participants garbed in distinguishing caps and gowns and a spectrum of vividly colored hoods. Purple, green, crimson, turquoise, royal blue, gold and orange punctuated the traditional black worn by many.

As the esteemed group assembled before the stage, the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra played Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Procession of the Nobles," followed by pieces by Jean Sibelius and Edward Elgar.

"I am thrilled to be part of this celebration of an extraordinarily talented and accomplished leader," said delegate Barry Glassner, executive vice provost of the University of Southern California. "The leading authority on the economics of higher education, President Schapiro also brings uncommon warmth and insight to everything he undertakes."

The inauguration tradition of visiting delegates, one of many that have marked the ceremonies of higher education for centuries, draws individuals from near and far to welcome the new president on behalf of their institutions.

"Morty is terrific, and you get his wife, Mimi, as well," said delegate Anthony Marx, president of Amherst College. "Northwestern is most fortunate. We miss them in New England."

Today's traditions originated with the academic and clerical dress common at medieval European universities. The practice of wearing academic dress in the United States dates back to Colonial times; Princeton and Columbia adopted the tradition and styles of the British before the American Revolution.

Each university has its own distinguishing customs, and the delegates, like others they marched with, wore caps, gowns and hoods, with various details, including velvet stripes and trim, identifying the highest degree earned, the area of study and the institution of higher learning.

Formal invitations were sent earlier this summer to the presidents of institutions across the country and in Canada. Delegates who marched in the inaugural processional included presidents, other officials, faculty and alumni of the invited institutions. If a president was unable to attend the inauguration ceremony, he or she selected a delegate to represent the institution. Many brought written inaugural greetings.

William G. Wagner, interim president, and Lucienne S. Sanchez, alumna and trustee emerita, represented Williams College, where Schapiro was president prior to Northwestern. Colleges and universities that sent its president included Amherst, Tufts University, Vassar College, the University of Chicago and DePaul University.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the colorful group marched out, smiling and almost leading the procession. But this time the newly inaugurated president, President Morton Schapiro, preceded them.