On November 17, 2022, Dr. Susan R. Wente delivered her second presidential address. Watch the video, listen to the audio or read the text of the speech below the video.



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Speech text

Text of address; as prepared

Good afternoon! 

Thank you Professor Banks for that kind introduction and for your leadership as President of the Faculty Senate. And my appreciation also to the Faculty Senate for co-hosting this event, and the Demon Divas for your welcoming performance.

Finally, my thanks to all of you for joining me on this Thursday before Thanksgiving. We have much to reflect upon and much to be thankful for. 

And, it is important to acknowledge in our gratitude that others in our higher education community are grieving. The violence and loss of life this week at the University of Virginia, our sister ACC school, has impacted so many. It is with deepest sympathy and condolences that we stand in solidarity with colleagues, friends, family and students in Charlottesville. 

Please join me in a moment of silence.

Thank you. 

Delivering my first address to you nearly 12 months ago was a highlight of the past year for me. The warmth, enthusiasm and the sense of connection is so memorable. 

It is so important that we make time to intentionally engage with one another as a community, and today also coincides with Pitsgiving, so for those who had second or third servings of turkey… and pie … I’ll understand if you are tempted to take a little nap during this address. 

Who we are and who we will be 

Now as I prepared for our time together today, I reflected back on the many “firsts” for me over the past year: my first Hit the Bricks; my first LoveFeast; my first bowl game win; my first commencement.  

But the opportunity to experience our traditions together. I love cheering with you; raising a candle with you; savoring the beauty of the Quad during commencement with you.

These moments make Wake Forest truly feel like home, and they help us navigate together during times of change and transition for the university.

My year of many firsts gave me rich insights into the culture and people of our Great University. And these insights will also help inform our journey of discovery together — a journey guided by the question: “Who are we?”  

Wake Foresters mark their time with the passage of important milestones. Our students mark progress as they complete each semester; our faculty and staff celebrate their years of service; and our alumni return for their reunions.

The story of our University can also be told through its own milestones. As you know, Wake Forest is 12 short years away from marking the end of its second century in 2034.

This summer, we launched a strategic framework process to address a fundamental question: What will be the next chapter of Wake Forest’s story as we chart the course for our third century?  

To be sure, our strategy for the future must be built on the foundation of what we have already done. Thus, as we write the next chapter, I will focus our time today on two critically important questions:

Who we are now, and who will we become for future generations?

Who are we now?

This time last year I shared some of my initial observations, potential answers to the question: “Who are we?”

As the weeks and months went by, these initial observations became more refined. During my March inauguration address I shared a further perspective:  As a Great University, we are a catalyst for good.

That is, a catalyst for access and opportunity; for learning and discovery; and for innovation and society.  

Yes, my experiences as a scientist inform this enzyme analogy, and they also fuel my belief in the importance of trust, transparency and teamwork, and in the power of radical collaboration.  Within any biochemistry lab, these are the critical elements that drive — indeed, catalyze — the process of discovery.  

The world of science — just like the worlds of the arts, the humanities, the social sciences, engineering — is very much about community. Discovery is not based on one experiment, or the results from one lab, or the publication of one paper or book. 

Definitive discovery is based on consensus — consensus through rigorous debate by a community of experts, consensus that is informed by evidence from individual insights building upon each other, that emanates from different minds and voices, that coalesces around a body of work and tells a story. In biochemistry, that reveals how physical and biological nature works.  

As I recently highlighted in my October blogpost, Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.”

At the beginning of this fall semester, our first step in the Wake Forest strategic framework process was to seek input from a great many minds — from the community of experts on Wake Forest. 

All were welcome and in total, more than 1,000 individuals shared their thoughts and perspectives on what makes us distinctive, the answer to “Who are we?”. 

  • The strategic framework teams hosted at least 24 listening sessions for faculty, staff, and students.
  • I dedicated my Wednesdays with Wente lunches with faculty and staff and the Gold and Black Chats with students (which I co-host with Vice President Kidd Brown) to create further spaces for dialogue and discussion. 
  • Alumni, friends, trustees all engaged via sessions with our Councils and Boards.
  • And, further, an online survey was launched for all members of the Wake Forest community to contribute their feedback.

From this cooperation of many minds, two observations are quite clear:

First, I am so impressed by the enthusiastic participation we have witnessed – there is a hunger, and positive energy, to truly engage. You, our Wake Forest community, are bringing your best to this effort. You are speaking comprehensively to our strengths and our challenges and genuinely and authentically about what being a Wake Forester means to you.   

Second, the culmination of all that our university community shared reinforces the special place that Wake Forest is. Most clearly, we are already a university whose strong foundation differentiates us from others.

We are first and foremost an academic institution with an educational and a research mission, and an embrace of inclusive academic excellence at all levels. We are a vibrant and engaged residential living-learning community. We are a D-I, Power 5, ACC Athletics institution; with numerous extracurricular endeavors, and experiential learning priorities. And we are striving to be a responsible, good neighbor to our communities, as a partner for economic development and a marquis employer for Winston-Salem and the region.

These fundamental elements of our identity are not, on their own, distinctive. Many great universities can claim them. What we heard makes us distinctive is the unique layering of who we are with our strong foundation of core commitments and values.

Whether faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents or friends, were speaking, at least three core commitments echoed loud and clear. 

What are these core commitments?

First, we are a community that recognizes our people as our greatest asset.    

Our people are what give us claim to excellence as we live out our mission, whether in the classroom, the lab, or the studio; the clinic, the court, or the field.  

Our distinctive commitments to academic rigor, competitiveness, and leadership and integrity are embraced and embodied by our people.  

And we take pride in the remarkable accomplishments of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. 

Take for example, the undergraduate class of 2026. They are the most academically accomplished students, and the most diverse in terms of backgrounds and lived experiences, to ever enroll at Wake Forest. 

And earlier this week, we celebrated Alice Hauser’s award of a Rhodes Scholarship. She is the 15th Wake Forest Rhodes Scholar since 1986. A double major in Philosophy and Piano Performance, Alice plans to pursue a Master in Science in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies and a Master of Philosophy in Law, with the ultimate goal of promoting justice for populations in need.

And, earlier this month, I joined many of you at the Employee Appreciation Luncheon. Together we celebrated 334 staff and faculty members marking a combined 4,400 years of service to the university community. And while some have long served Wake Forest, we also are welcoming new faculty, staff and leaders who are embracing our commitment to people and to excellence.

To support our people, I continue to be fully committed to fostering a safe and supportive campus environment. With faculty, staff and students working together, we are addressing issues related to campus climate.  

For example, I established the University Diversity Equity and Inclusion Council, which plays an important role in assessing our progress and ensuring accountability.

And my thanks to our students, and our Student Government, who led the effort to recently complete the University’s first campus climate survey focused on sexual misconduct. This week, the results are being shared through a community-engaged approach led by our Student Government and Campus Life leaders. Analysis of this data will allow us to deepen our efforts together toward further improving our campus climate. 

I assure you that even before the survey was completed, actions were being taken to expand prevention and support efforts, including enhancing training and information sharing, and hiring Wake Forest’s first Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coordinator.

In considering our equity and inclusion commitments, I also must acknowledge that many factors make this work especially challenging. For example, along with our higher education colleagues across the country, we are preparing for a range of potential outcomes from the pending decisions in the Harvard and UNC admission cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of the decisions, Wake Forest will remain committed to our core values of diversity and inclusion. 

This is because we believe that bringing together students, faculty and staff from a broad range of backgrounds, lived experiences and perspectives strengthens our learning environment, encourages us to engage with diverse points of view, spurs creativity, and contributes meaningfully to holistic student development — all part of our commitment to our community and our people. 

The second core commitment we heard: We are a community that appreciates and values our shared sense of place. 

We are deeply connected to our campuses – from here in Winston-Salem with the historic beauty of Reynolda Campus; the mix of modern aesthetics with historical structures found at Wake Downtown and the Bowman Gray Center for Medical Education; and the structures in which our student-athletes define what it means to be a Demon Deacon; to our growing medical and professional programs in Charlotte; our study away, study abroad, and research sites in Washington, D.C., across Europe and essentially around the globe; and our connecting to all our places through new virtual platforms for working and learning. 

With a diverse portfolio of spaces, buildings and strategies to leverage in fulfillment of our academic mission, we must be committed to being good and wise stewards of our places. 

This fall on the Reynolda Campus, we celebrated the completion of the new — but old! — Wake Forest Road and the creation of the new transportation hub. And we completed the renewal of our original residence halls with the renovation of Bostwick and Johnson. 

This past year we conducted a space utilization study to ensure that our strategy and values drive how we use space, not the other way around. This fall, we acted quickly on the study’s key recommendation and created a new enterprise-level, representative governance body, the University Space Planning Group. Reporting to me, and co-led by Provost Gillespie and Executive Vice President Milam, they are charged with guiding future space decisions at the University level. 

We face significant needs for our academic, living and learning spaces on our Reynolda Campus. But the study revealed that if we consider our entire portfolio of assets, and if we adopt ways to optimize utilization, then we can create new opportunities to renew the Reynolda campus academic core. 

Over this next semester, I see our top priority as taking actions that enable and support our academic space priorities and the emerging initiatives in our strategic framework. 

Intimately bound within our commitments to both our people and our shared sense of place, we are a community that is actively focused on expanding our narrative. 

In the spring, I convened an ad hoc Administrative Committee for Honorifics, and at Homecoming in September, we celebrated the naming and renaming of campus road sections in honor of four trailblazing professors: Elizabeth Phillips, Dolly McPherson, Marjorie “Marge” Crisp and Herman Eure. I am committed to adopting this pilot process as an inclusive, rigorous structure for future honorific naming opportunities.

So you can see, we are a community that believes Wake Foresters should have inclusive places to learn, live and work where all can belong and thrive; and where the richness, complexity and diversity of the human experience can be acknowledged, valued and explored.   

Thus, it follows that the third, and at the very core, of our commitments is: We are a community motivated by the shared purpose embodied in our motto — Pro Humanitate — as we live out our mission and serve as a catalyst for good in society. 

For example, to catalyze access and opportunity through scholarship support, we launched the For Humanity initiative at my March inauguration. We set a goal to create 100 scholarships by the end of 2022. I am thrilled to report that our alumni and supporters have responded to that call by committing to more than 130 scholarships. So far, that’s nearly $25 million of new student financial aid that will be added over the next several years.  

These scholarships create life-changing opportunities for our students. As the initiative has been such an incredible success, I am pleased to announce that we are extending the For Humanity fundraising campaign through June 2023, and we aim to double what we have raised so far to a total of $50 million

Because we are a community that deeply values place, and indeed, we are a top national university, we celebrate that the state of North Carolina is our home. So, For Home, for our home, and in collaboration with our donors, we are committed to dedicating part of these new scholarship efforts to support students from North Carolina. 

This reflects part of our commitment to access and opportunity. So in terms of Pro Humanitate and access and opportunity, there’s also our need to think about catalyzing discovery and learning and innovation in society. Wake Foresters are also committed to being courageous in bringing forward new insights, knowledge and solutions to address some of society’s most pressing problems, to serving as catalysts for discovery and innovation.

I am so proud of how our faculty, staff, and students live out this commitment in the ways they contribute to our local and global communities.  

For example, this fall, Wake Forest faculty partnered with Winston-Salem State, Salem College, Forsyth Tech and the Winston-Salem Forsyth County public schools on a grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Education funding for recruiting, preparing, and retaining a strong, effective, and diverse teacher workforce in our community.

And they were successful! 

The collaboration was awarded $4.7 million to launch an innovative teacher preparation model to transform the landscape of teacher education in our region.

And just last week, we celebrated the incredible work of the Law School’s Veterans Legal Clinic — one of several experiential legal clinics where our students are guided by faculty in advising or representing community members. Their efforts on behalf of Mr. James Brown, resulted in a 70-year reversal of his unjust, dishonorable discharge from the Army and his receipt of the Purple Heart and combat infantry badge. 

These are just two of many examples of our commitment to Pro Humanitate in action.

Who will we become?

While many colleges and universities are being forced to question their very core, we are in a unique position. With our strong foundation, by knowing who we are, combined with our core commitments, we have the great fortune of being able to turn our attention to who we will become.  

To build our vision for our third century, we need to thoughtfully and comprehensively — and with humility — understand why we are in the strong position we’re in, how we can maintain it, and how we can utilize it to achieve our aspirational goals. 

We need to be nimble and opportunistic across the full scale of the university. We have so many assets we can more fully leverage, from real estate to research collaborations and grant opportunities to art museums. And we need to understand how we must evolve to continue best serving the students and society of the future. 

During the Strategic Framework listening sessions, we asked: What are the most important considerations we should take into account as we plan for the future? 

We heard resounding support for maintaining our values and core commitments to people, place and Pro Humanitate; and we also heard:

  • A desire for more clarity of direction in some areas.
  • And a yearning for innovation at the core of all we do — a curiosity about what will be the next bold decision that further defines the Wake Forest of the future. 

When I was working in the laboratory, I always enjoyed collecting data and asking questions. I still love asking questions and collecting data, just a different type. And in a similar way now, we are assembling an incredible trove of information from the breadth and depth of our Wake Forest community. 

Next comes the hard part: How do we make sense of what we are learning, and how do we act upon it?

With great intentionality, the Core Planning Team accepted my charge to “translate the collective input” we received and synthesize the many voices into broad, compelling and empowering thematic goals.  

They have done truly outstanding work, lead by Provost Gillespie and three faculty vice-chairs:

  • Amanda Griffith — Associate Professor and Chair of economics; and member of the Faculty Senate;
  • John Knox — Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International law;
  • And Corey Walker — Wake Forest Professor of the Humanities and Director of African American studies.

The Core Planning Team is a mighty team, dedicated to listening to each other and to you, to building consensus together, to embracing inclusive excellence, and to Wake Forest’s bright future.  

They take seriously their role in ensuring that all voices are heard from 18-year-olds to 80-year-olds, from facilities team members to endowed professors to our first-year students to our CEO alumni and across all the schools, from the College to the Law School to the Divinity School to the Business School to the Graduate School to the School of Professional Studies. 

And they remain engaged and committed to the hard work yet to come as we complete the drafting of the strategic framework throughout this academic year.   

In giving input into the thematic goals, the Core Planning Team was driven by the desire to identify a distinctive value proposition – our compelling WHY – which I fully endorse:

Wake Forest will embody Pro Humanitate at home and in the world. 

To deliver on this value proposition, to enable the WHY, three thematic goals are put forward as “THE WHAT”:  

For the first thematic goal:

We will be a lifelong learning community that calls all to develop their full potential to contribute in a diverse and complex world.


We will foster a community of inquiry through research, scholarship, and creative work that transcends boundaries to address the challenges facing humanity and our world. 

And third: 

We will build meaningful, mutual partnerships to honor our commitment to the well-being of our local, regional and global communities.  

Taken together, I hope you can see that these three thematic goals meet important criteria: 

  • They emerged from the robust feedback from our Wake Forest community, and were shaped through an interactive and inclusive process;
  • They are broad enough that a range of people and programs will see themselves in them and connect to them;
  • And they reflect our foundation and commitments to our people, our shared sense of place, and our motto — as well as our vision for the future. 

You will also notice what these thematic goals are not. They are not the “How.”

In other words, they do not prescribe specific initiatives. One might even say they are not strikingly innovative or distinctive in and of themselves. To borrow a quote from higher education leaders Peter Eckel and Cathy Trower, this is because our strategic framework, is not simply what we say we will do, but is the cumulative effect of what we have done.

These three thematic goals are not the end. They are just the beginning of crafting our journey to our third century. 

When embedded in our core commitments, when leveraging our distinctive, and when empowered by the “Why” of Pro Humanitate, they together form the strong foundation for who we are and who we will become.  

Next steps

So where do we go from here? 

Well next, there’s more work to do! We have to determine the “how” for achieving these goals in the future. I have asked the Core Planning Team to also give input into potential working groups that will take on the task of exploring “THE HOWS” for each thematic goal. 

We will announce these working groups before winter break. The working groups will evaluate our current approaches and identify best practices across higher education. They will define what success will look like if we accomplish each goal. They will ask what should we do? And what should we NOT do? 

These questions will lead to choices we will need to make, both among our current activities and our future initiatives within each thematic goal area.

Through “THE HOWS,” we will bring these thematic goals to life. Within “THE HOWS” is where we will see the boldness, the innovation, the forward-thinking that will be so important to our strategy. 

As we enter phase two of our Framework process there will AGAIN be opportunities for our Wake Forest community to provide feedback. When the working groups reach out, please continue to participate, your voice is so important.   

Let me be the first to acknowledge —this is not a linear process. It is iterative and open to revision and adaptation. And I know that there is a lot going on and we are moving swiftly. 

To borrow once more from my research, this process reminds me of looking at a cell under the microscope — an analogy I shared with our first-year students at convocation this August. 

At first when one observes a cell under a microscope, what you see might appear chaotic—reactions and processes are occurring millions of times per second and in all corners of a healthy cell. And this is happening along a host of different pathways — some linear and isolated, some parallel, while others converge. It’s complicated! And this is what is happening across a host of different things at this university. 

But if you keep observing, if you increase the magnification, eventually, the logic and beauty of the cell come into view.  

In this way, with our strategic framework, and with the university itself, despite so much going on and so many different voices — as we continue to go deep and think big, our future will come into view.


My vision is that our strategic framework will ensure that we will be a catalyst for good in society, and we will be recognized as a national model:

  • For Graduating leaders with integrity and courage across disciplines and professions;
  • For Innovation in curricular, co-curricular, experiential learning, and personal and professional development;
  • For Excellence in defined scholarship and research areas across our academic programs and partnerships;
  • For Accountability in inclusive excellence;
  • And for entrepreneurial partnerships that advance our mission.

Together, we will build a strong foundation for our third century, and meet the needs of our ever-changing society.

This is what it means to deepen our claim to greatness. 

This is what Pro Humanitate looks like in our third century. 

This is what it means to be Wake Forest and to be a Wake Forester in 2022 and in 2034. 

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Categories: Speeches