[Delivered Thursday, Nov. 16; Remarks as prepared] 

Good afternoon! 

Please join me in a round of applause for our musicians and singers. 

Stephanie, thank you so much for opening our program. I appreciate your leadership and service as president of the Staff Advisory Council. 

And, Evan, thank you for that terrific introduction. It is wonderful to watch you light up the stage in your many performances, and I appreciate your service as a President’s Aide. 

Two years ago, my first Presidential Address was held the week just prior to Thanksgiving and the same was true last year. This timing just feels right. I love the tradition!             

Not only because today is also Pitsgiving. But because it feels important to take a moment together, before the end of the semester, to pause intentionally and be in community with one another. 

Let me begin by sharing my profound gratitude.  

First, my thanks to the University Faculty Senate, the Staff Advisory Council and the Student Government for co-sponsoring this event. What a wonderful example of radical collaboration!

To our faculty and staff, I am grateful for your dedication and tireless advocacy to make this University a better place for our students.

And, I want to thank our students. You are the reason we are here. And you inspire me every day. 

Our people make this place so incredibly special. At our core, we strive to be a deeply relational place with a central commitment to our people, to one another. 

And it is our commitment to building and sustaining relationships that has and will distinguish us from so many other universities. The strength of our relationships matters most as we show care and compassion for one another in moments of crisis and uncertainty. 

We are in such a moment right now in our global society. And although, in miles, the Israel-Hamas war is a far distance from Mother So Dear, this ongoing crisis affects all of us, and I will speak about it further later in my address. 

Wake Foresters – our students, faculty, staff, and alumni — are the power behind our capacity to be catalysts for good; for creating access to the transformational education we provide; for serving society through discovery, scholarship, creative work, and for building meaningful partnerships for positive change.

I am so fortunate to lead an institution that clearly states its values, prioritizes care for others, and recognizes our shared humanity. In addition to gratitude, I also view this address as a moment to acknowledge new beginnings and celebrate tremendous accomplishments. 

I’m proud to say that this year is no different, and I would like to highlight one momentous accomplishment first. This semester, because of you, we announced that Wake Forest will open its first child care center, planned for the fall of 2024.

On one of my very first visits to campus in January 2021, before I was even announced as president, a faculty member asked very directly: “So, what are you going to do about childcare?” Just moments after meeting me! 

It was clear then that I was stepping into a long dialogue with the University community on this issue. Wake Forest has considered this question for more than four decades. Between 1996 and 2011, five different child care projects started and were tabled, for a variety of reasons. 

I could tell you many stories about how access to childcare at key moments 

in my own career journey contributed directly to me standing here before you today. And I know many of you in this room could do the same. 

I remember so clearly the start of my third year as an assistant professor in September 1995. Our oldest daughter Allison was 2 months old. I had multiple grants due and teaching assignments to prepare. We were fortunate – in July of that summer, Washington University in St. Louis opened a new childcare center. 

We trusted them with Allison, and she thrived – and three years later, so did her baby sister, Lindsay. With no family nearby and being new to the community, I don’t know what we would have done if this support had not been available. 

Access to reliable, quality child care can change lives – both for children and for parents navigating their career and life journeys. 

I am proud that our Board of Trustees voted unanimously to fund the construction of this center; by doing so, they join me in investing in you, and in our community. Thank you for the decades of work and advocacy that got us to this moment. 

And, in the spirit of new beginnings, there are many more exciting initiatives to highlight. 

At this address one year ago today, I reported that our Strategic Framework effort was well underway, with the leadership of the Core Planning Team, led by Provost Michele Gillespie and three faculty co-chairs: Corey Walker, Amanda Griffith and John Knox. 

And on August 31st, we marked a significant milestone – delivering the Strategic Framework document, titled “Framing our Future,” to the university community. 

This effort was a victory in collaborative visioning – and my sincere thanks to all who participated in the thousands of conversations that informed the framework. Most importantly, our Strategic Framework is not a traditional “strategic plan.” 

How do we distinguish between our Framework and a strategic plan? First, strategic plans are typically static and time-bound. They often articulate goals linked to a period of sometimes three, five or even 10 years. 

In contrast, our Framework outlines three goals intended to be evergreen, to be continually renewed. These goals also represent hallmarks of our identity. Wake Forest will always be: 

  • A lifelong learning community;
  • A community of inquiry; and
  • A community dedicated to building meaningful, mutual partnerships. 

These are not short-term ambitions or projects. Our goals reinforce who we are and who we strive to become. And we will always be deeply committed to our motto, Pro Humanitate – which calls us to embody its spirit at home and in the world. 

Strategic plans are also often structured as box-checking exercises for 

universities; complete goals one, two and three, and you’re done! In contrast, our Framework is a decision-making tool, a lens to help us determine how we deploy our resources and what new investments we need to make.

Our Framework is designed to be a living document. It was built to flex, allowing us to remain nimble as we adapt to future opportunities and challenges while focused on achieving our goals.

“Framing our Future” builds on our foundation – who we are – and simultaneously offers us a new beginning – who we will become — with the strategic vision we need to thrive and sustain Wake Forest well into our third century. 

So what comes next? 

This year, Provost Gillespie and the Deans of the Schools and College are working with their faculty and staff to define their specific paths and actions to support the Framework’s goals. Our Vice Presidents are also aligning the work of their units to support the Framework’s goals. 

I encourage all of you to find ways to contribute directly to this ongoing process. Don’t stand on the sidelines.

Now let’s talk about the actions our community is already taking to bring our three goals to life.

Our first goal focuses on enhancing and strengthening our learning community. We aim to offer students from all backgrounds and lived experiences both access to a Wake Forest education and an environment where they can belong and thrive. 

For this reason, in March 2022 at my inauguration, I launched the For Humanity Scholarship initiative to help lower the barriers for deserving students to attend Wake Forest. I’m thrilled to report that as of June 30th, we beat our ambitious goal of securing $50 million dollars in new scholarship support. 

This has been so successful that we have set our aspirations higher and aim to raise an additional $25 million by this coming July. So far, we have established 163 new scholarships and enhanced 60 existing scholarships. 

Financial aid and scholarship fundraising will also be central to our next capital campaign. 

Our core commitments to access and opportunity and to inclusive excellence were firmly in place before the Supreme Court made its June decision to eliminate race as a factor in university admissions. 

We will continue to evolve and to innovate, to create new ways for prospective students to identify Wake Forest as a top choice institution. 

For example, on August 1st, we launched a novel Early Action pathway exclusively for first-generation college students. We believe this Early Action program will help more first-gen students see Wake Forest as an option in their college considerations.

And the admissions team reports there is great interest in this opportunity!

We also know it is important to support these students with key resources, like our Magnolia Scholars and First in the Forest programs. 

To provide our students with the transformational education for which we are known, our world-class faculty and staff also need world-class spaces in which to teach, research and collaborate. 

I view our campuses as living classrooms which is why space matters so much. Well-designed spaces create opportunities for learning that enhance the student experience. 

I have made academic space renewal one of my highest priorities. The needs we have are real, and they are acute. Wake Forest is an outstanding University. You deserve outstanding facilities to match. 

This is why Provost Gillespie and I invested more than $1 million dollars in University resources this summer to renew classroom spaces. And it’s why I launched a campus space planning project with the architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross nine months ago. 

We need to do two main things. Wake Forest needs a holistic, well-sequenced and long-term plan to renew and revitalize our Reynolda Campus academic core, with some critical near-term actions; and we need to complete a holistic master planning process that incorporates all of our assets, including our entire real estate portfolio, into the solutions. 

All of our resources, and all of our spaces, need to be considered. 

At the end of October, the potential next steps in a conceptual plan for academic space renewal were presented to the Board of Trustees. Our core governance groups – the Faculty Senate, the University Space Planning Group, Capital Projects Advisory Committee, and the University Priorities Committee — have been and will remain engaged in this process.

Provost Gillespie and EVP Travisano are presenting the conceptual plan to these groups this week to gather feedback on our next steps. Dean Krasas and the College Dean’s office will play critical roles in the planning efforts, working directly with faculty and departments, and Vice President Shea Kidd Brown and the Campus Life team will be key partners in engaging our students. 

Most importantly, the conceptual plan is designed to significantly increase academic and collaborative space, particularly for the College, and increase student and faculty interaction space and dining capacity on Reynolda Campus. 

Such a long-term, sequenced renewal plan requires careful, ongoing planning, radical collaboration, and an abundance of patience and goodwill. We are in this together! 

I am excited about the opportunities we are finding to address our campus of the future. 

Our second goal underscores our commitment to generating new knowledge through research, scholarship and creative work. Its aims will further amplify our impact in service to our motto and to solving the world’s most complex problems. 

We are truly fortunate to be a university that is both comprehensive in scale and personal in scope. 

Here, teacher-scholars engage in cutting-edge research, creativity and discovery, and at the same time, they engage students directly in their work. In the past few months, our faculty, staff and students have inspired incredible investments in key areas of academic and interdisciplinary distinction.

These grants and sponsorships are extraordinary votes of confidence in the work we are doing here. 

As President, my work involves ensuring Wake Forest is increasingly well known for its academic distinctions and that we are leveraging existing and seeking new resources to extend our academic reach and impact. 

How do we share our stories of academic excellence? 

I hope you have had a chance to view the series I launched this semester, called Walk with Wente. This video series highlights the incredible, and often interdisciplinary, research and scholarship of our faculty across all schools and the College. 

I want more people to know about our outstanding academic environment, the quality of our scholarship and creative work, and its impacts on the world. Supporting our community of inquiry also requires recruiting and retaining the very best. 

Over the past year, we have recruited an exceptional group of academic and administrative leaders. Let me take a moment to introduce several of these new leaders.

First, two colleagues who could not be with us today. 

Andrew Klein joined us this summer as the new Dean of the School of Law. Unfortunately, he is not here today because he is hosting an event for Law alumni at the U.S. Supreme Court! I guess we can give him a pass. Dean Klein served as interim chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and was also formerly the Dean of Indiana’s McKinney School of Law.   

And although not “new” to Wake Forest, in September, Dr. Corey D. B. Walker was appointed Dean of the School of Divinity after a national search and is Professor of the Humanities. He preaches and teaches in congregations and universities across the nation, as he is doing so today, at Hood Theological Seminary. 

To my colleagues who are here, when I call your name, please stand to be recognized, and remain standing.  

Dr. Jackie Krasas is Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  Dean Krasas joined us from Lehigh University, where she served as Deputy Provost for Faculty Affairs. 

Dr. Jackie Travisano is Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Dr. Travisano served as the EVP and Chief Operating Officer at the University of Miami before joining us in July. 

Brian White is Vice President and General Counsel. He most recently served as the Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs and General Counsel at the University of Kansas. 

This fall, we also welcomed 55 new permanent faculty and many new staff. Faculty, staff, if you are new to Wake Forest this year, please stand! Everyone, please join me in welcoming our new leaders, faculty and staff to our community.

Finally, goal three articulates the importance of our meaningful partnerships that contribute to the wellbeing of our local, regional and global communities. 

We are fortunate to already have a strong network of critical collaborators and building sustainable partnerships is vital to our ability to thrive as an institution. 

One of our long-standing institutional partnerships is with the Atlantic Coast Conference. I am privileged to serve on the ACC Board of Directors. The strong engagement among ACC member institutions catalyzed the historic move to welcome 3 outstanding academic institutions — Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, and SMU – to the ACC. 

This expansion opens opportunities for academic and experiential learning partnerships; broadens the field of play for our student-athletes on the national stage; and builds further awareness of Wake Forest in new U.S. media and prospective student markets.

We have also built a strong partnership with Advocate Health: cementing the Wake Forest School of Medicine as the academic core of the fifth-largest nonprofit health system in the nation and creating new opportunities for path-breaking medical research and education.  

I visited the Pearl Innovation District in Charlotte earlier this month. There is terrific progress on the construction of our second medical campus. This will build further upon our strong presence in Charlotte – where our School of Business has offered degree programs for over 25 years.  

And in less than two years, the School of Professional Studies already enrolls 300 graduate students and offers eight master degrees, several graduate certificates, and a number of executive education programs. 

We have tremendous momentum in Charlotte and momentum here at home, in Winston-Salem.

This city, our Reynolda Campus, Wake Downtown, and Innovation Quarter are the foundation and framework for everything we do in the region, state and world. 

Winston-Salem will always be a key partner for us. The University and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center together represent the largest employer in the city. I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to contribute to the economic health and vitality of our hometown and the communities we are a part of.  

We recently launched a new initiative to support these goals – again, all in the spirit of new beginnings. 

Wake Forest owns 80 acres of real estate right across University Parkway. It includes many vacant areas surrounding the University Corporate Center, the Joel, Allegacy Stadium, Couch ballpark, the tennis facilities, the Health and Exercise Science Department’s Clinical Research Center … and the Last Resort. 

We asked ourselves: How could this area be redeveloped to better support our community? To be a place where people live, work, and play? 

To answer this question, we partnered with the national real estate developer Carter USA and local investment firm Front Street Capital. The Carter-Front Street team, working with the University and the City of Winston-Salem, is crafting a bold and creative vision that would incorporate residential, retail, entertainment, and community services on the site.

To date, Carter Front Street has held more than 60 stakeholder meetings, with our community partners — including the site’s nearest neighborhoods, like Boston-Thurmond. All of this will inform an inclusive and collaborative project vision. And the feedback we have received so far has been excellent. 

We also received an important vote of confidence in the project’s potential – a $35 million state appropriation to the city of Winston-Salem to support initial infrastructure projects. 

The University’s child care center will also be one of the earliest projects, as it will be located in the University Corporate Center. 

Just like the renewal of the Reynolda Campus academic core, this is a long-term project with much more work to do. But I am confident our work has the potential to significantly, and positively, impact our local community and this region. 

I could provide you with so many more examples of the exciting and inspiring work underway to bring the goals of the Strategic Framework to life. Taken together, in the spirit of new beginnings, we have so much to look forward to as we continue to expand on the excellence of our great university. 

We have such incredible momentum, thanks to the tireless efforts of so many. 

When I connect with fellow presidents and chancellors around the country, I am constantly reminded that Wake Forest is different. 

Wake Forest is different because we are not just going through the motions of leading a complex institution in trying times. We are leading with purpose and integrity and we are leading with a true North Star to guide us. Pro Humanitate is more than a motto — it is a calling. 

Integrity, purpose, and clarity of vision are especially critical in times of great challenge – and without question, our society is navigating just such a time right now. 

The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Middle East – including the loss of more than 11,000 lives in Gaza and the more than 1,200 people kidnapped or killed by Hamas in Israel – represents a devastating human tragedy on an unfathomable scale.  

Pro Humanitate calls us to stand with and for humanity, and therefore all of us are affected by this; and our students, faculty, and staff with religious, cultural, and family ties to Israel and Palestine have been and continue to be greatly impacted. 

My top priority has been, and will continue to be, taking care of our people. This is core to our identity, and because of our scale and scope, we know our students and we can focus on providing support to them in a personal way. 

I am always connecting with our students, and in the past month, I have learned so much from listening to their stories and how they are processing these global events. 

This included a personal meeting recently with a Jewish student. She shared with me that one of her biggest concerns is how our Muslim students are feeling – how she wanted to show up for them in whatever way possible and knew her fellow students across backgrounds and religions would do the same. 

A Muslim student recently wrote a powerful op-ed in the Old Gold and Black about his own experiences. What he shared will stay with me for a long time. I hope each of you will take the time to read it. He said, I quote: 

“Now is the time for us to come together against hatred and for peace and love for each other, unconditionally. 

I went to the Jewish vigil a few weeks ago because I wanted to make it clear I would stand with them when they were suffering…

I was so glad to see my friends, and my Wake Forest family come together as we are suffering.” 

So many of our students are role-modeling how to create spaces for learning, reflection, community and prayer during this difficult time. These are not the kinds of stories making headlines in higher education around the country right now. But they are the stories of our Wake Forest students. 

This war and its destabilizing and devastating effects may continue for a long time, which means we must continue to engage with one another and make sense of what is happening together

I believe it is our responsibility as a University to create more space for respectful dialogue, learning and discussion; not less. We must resist a narrow framing of this crisis or reducing it to soundbites. 

And, we must continue to foster a learning environment that is as safe and inclusive as possible for all. As an academic community, we deeply value and uphold free expression and academic freedom as core tenets of our University community. And I strongly support free speech and expression.

The right to speak freely, however, also comes with profound responsibility. Words can uplift, educate and open minds and hearts. Words can also hurt, silence, and intimidate.

When there are members in our community who are fearful for their safety, it is incumbent upon all of us to think carefully before we speak and consider how our speech impacts others. We know that nationally, instances of Islamophobia and antisemitism have increased since October 7. We condemn any threats, discrimination, or acts of hatred, whether in our community or in society.   

As a community of care, I ask you to please be active and supportive bystanders and encourage those who may encounter instances of these or other forms of bias to use our University resources to report them – as well as get support — when needed. 

My thanks to each of you for the individual ways you are helping one another during this global crisis. 

My sincere hope is that we can resist forces that seek to divide us and that we will instead lean into our values and our commitments together. I know we can do this because we are a community that values relationships at our core and caring for one another. All of us have a role to play. 

Let me end where I began today – with gratitude. 

I am humbled to serve as your president at this incredibly important time. And I am deeply grateful for the institution we are today, and with the momentum of new beginnings, for the institution we will become together. 

As we enter this season of holidays, I wish you rest, time with those you love, and moments of reflection. 

And as a tribute to one another, I also invite you to share your gratitude for your colleagues, and for the many accomplishments we share this year. 

Thank you for being here.

Categories: Speeches