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04/30/2007 07:00:00

Caltech Presidential Inauguration - A Student Affair

PASADENA, Calif.- Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau, who has served as Caltech's president since Sept. 1, 2006, will be inaugurated in a simple ceremony at the start of Caltech's 113th annual commencement on June 8.

A presidential inauguration offers an institution a chance to connect with all of its constituencies, and can be used to set the tone for what's to come in the life of an institution.

From the moment he arrived on campus, Chameau knew he didn't want a lavish event with a week of lectures and dinners, capped off with a large inauguration ceremony that traditionally rivals commencements in terms of pomp, circumstance, and cost. He felt his inaugural, at which he would officially assume the mantle as the head of the institution, should reflect his priorities.

He was pleased when a campus committee suggested combining his inauguration with commencement when students and their parents, faculty, staff, trustees, and other friends of the Institute would be in attendance anyway. A casual outdoor lunch will be held earlier that week to allow members of the Caltech campus community who do not attend the commencement ceremonies to participate in the celebration.

"I think those who've gotten to know me over my first few months at Caltech, and certainly those on the search committee, will understand my reluctance to focus attention on myself especially if it involves a significant expenditure of resources. It feels right that my inauguration ceremony should be one that places a greater emphasis on the accomplishments of students and one that brings together the members of the Caltech community."


The inauguration ceremony will be brief, but will include the key elements of a traditional ceremony:

o Delegates representing national and local universities and institutions, including those that Chameau attended or where he has worked, will be invited to attend. o Chairman of the Caltech Board of Trustees Kent Kresa will officially place the traditional academic regalia on Chameau. The passing of Robert Millikan's academic hood to the new president has become a Caltech inaugural tradition. While he never accepted the title of president, Millikan was one of the towering figures of 20th-century physics and was the first administrative head of modern-day Caltech, 1921 to 1945. o Chameau will speak briefly on his Caltech experience to date and outline broad goals for the coming years. o Consistent with his emphasis on the students, Chameau has requested that a student speaker be part of the official program to welcome him into the Caltech community.

The program will then move quickly on to the traditional commencement ceremony so as not to detract from the main purpose at hand--celebrating the students' accomplishments.

"We are very fortunate to have Jean-Lou as our new president," said Kresa. "He joins a list of very distinctive scientists and engineers who have positioned this institution as one of the very best in the world. We expect equally great things in the future. "Beginning his presidency as part of the 2007 graduation ceremony sets a clear tone of commitment to our faculty, students, and staff. It should be a wonderful event," Kresa added.

American evolutionary biologist, physiologist, biogeographer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author Jared Diamond will be the keynote speaker at commencement.

The inauguration follows another area in which Chameau went against tradition and creatively saved Institute resources while benefiting the students--the sending of the presidential holiday card.

Traditionally the president of Caltech, like a president at any university, will send hundreds, if not thousands, of holiday cards to trustees, donors, potential donors, corporate, and elected leaders.

Chameau and his wife, Dr. Carol Carmichael, who are very interested in environmental sustainability (she previously served as the director of the Institute for Sustainable Technology and Development at Georgia Tech), decided not to print and mail holiday cards. Instead, they created a slide show to celebrate highlights of Caltech life in 2006, viewable on the Internet and launched Jan. 4 as a New Year's "card."

"In the spirit of stewardship--both of memories and resources--we invite you to view our first annual online New Year's message," the web page states. "We have enjoyed getting to know the Caltech community during our first four months on campus, and we look forward to an exciting and interesting 2007 with our new Institute family. Happy New Year!"

The funds that would have been used for the cards were allocated instead to the Caltech Y and to a program in which Caltech students tutor Pasadena Unified School District students in math and science. ###



Written by Jill Perry