President Robert L. Manuel > Notes from Rob > 2022-23 > Inauguration 2022

Inauguration 2022

I am so grateful to stand here in this space - at this moment - and share it with you all.

eeing this full room, and knowing many more are joining us virtually, tells me you believe in higher education – in tradition - and the impact we can collectively have on the world.

You are looking for the ideas that will animate DePaul’s future. You are longing to be part of an institution that enables honest and rigorous debate. You are leaning into your love for our mission and our community – and you’re eager to lean in even more.

For 125 years, our genius at DePaul has been developing people of substance and consequence to address the most pressing questions of the day.

Recognizing the trauma of the last few years - it is now time to reengage, walk shoulder to shoulder, and recommit ourselves to our mission, each other, and to the people of Chicago. It’s time to build the DePaul we know the world needs and create THE model for quality higher education in the United States.

This morning, I had the privilege of starting my day at DePaul’s annual Veterans Day Breakfast – thank you to all our veterans and active-military service members for sharing this day with me. I’m honored to have several students from this morning’s breakfast joining us for today’s ceremony. I would like to ask our students who are veterans or active-duty service members – and any service members or veterans who are here today – to please rise so that we may recognize you.

I learned a lot about dedication and loyalty from our time together this morning. On behalf of DePaul University, please accept our gratitude and appreciation for your service to our country. Thank you.

We have many board members here today. I am grateful you accepted the call to help lead our institution forward.

It is a privilege to have two former DePaul presidents here - Fr. Dennis Holtschneider and Dr. Gabriel Esteban. Thank you for your support during this transition.

It’s also an honor to have many university delegates, as well as DePaul alumnus, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. Thank you for being here.

I’m grateful to the Vincentians and Sisters of Charity who have so graciously welcomed me and my family to DePaul. Wilmara and I had a private dinner with the Vincentians in residence the other night. Thank you for teaching me about the Vincentian charisms - the way they move in you - and for opening my eyes to what is possible through them.

To our faculty, staff, and students – these last few months have been some of the most energizing I have ever experienced. You have made me feel right at home, and every day, I’m inspired by your dedication to one another and your willingness to lead every decision – no matter how difficult – in service to our mission and in the best interest of our students.

I especially would like to recognize the many faculty, staff, and students who advised these words, designed this week’s activities, and organized today’s inauguration ceremony.

To my wife, Wilmara, our three daughters – who have reinvented themselves more times than they should ever need to - all to enable my call to leadership - from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I love you.

I have friends here from kindergarten, NYU, Georgetown, and UIndy. It is powerful to have you all here in one place, and please be sure to not share any stories about pre-DePaul Rob!

The core of evidence for why WE at DePaul matter is found between the creation of knowledge, its application to our community and the transformation of our students. In just 125 days, you taught me that our mission is how we show the world our worth.

Serving a Vincentian community for the first time is an incredible honor for me personally. As I reflected on my life, I realized how much I have benefited from the charisms – or gifts – of Vincentianism.

Since I already have the medal on – and it’s too late to take it back – I’ll share a story.

Let me tell you about High School Rob – or Robbie, as I was known.

Robbie was someone who participated in everything – served as president of the band, ran cross country, served my church, I even played the Glockenspiel in the marching band. Most importantly in my own mind, I was accomplished, polished - and ready to take on the world.

A few months ago, as we packed up our boxes to move to Chicago, I found a copy of my freshman high school report card. It turns out there is documented proof that in every way, in ALL measures of success, High School Rob was…well…mediocre.

A comment from my English teacher – Mrs. Cheesbro – made me reach this conclusion. In 1982 she wrote, “Robbie has a lot of friends, is fun to be around – and has real potential – but needs to remember to do his work, bring pencils and pens to class, and focus.”

My rapid ascent to the middle carried on through college, and at graduation, I sat by the class bonfire and the university president asked me why I wanted to go to law school. I could only answer, “Because……”

The university president responded, “Why would you do something you don’t have a reason for?”

His challenge launched me down a completely different path – a path where I took a year off and went to work at a college instead.

That’s where I found my calling – that’s when I found my passion.

That poignant and surprisingly pivotal question led me to THIS moment. It led me to you.

The truth is – were it not for the guidance and challenges from people who cared about me – I never would have lived my life to its fullest.

Personalism, radical hospitality, human dignity – these Vincentian traits dramatically influenced my path. I am so grateful to all the people in my life who cared – who walked with me - who challenged me along the way.

I realize their importance to my story. I realize them now as Vincentian moments – and pledge to make those values THE central part of our work together.

So my first challenge to you - to DePaul - comes from the conversations WE shared – based on the aspirations and talents you all possess, based on the location in which we live, based on the opportunity THIS MOMENT offers us.

I challenge you to believe we can transform DePaul into THE national model for higher education.

NOT the model for Vincentian or Catholic universities. NOT the model for Chicago. But to become the university that creates THE national model.

This is for sure a bold aspiration. But it is the natural expression of the more than 1,800 conversations I’ve had with you so far. It’s those conversations that convinced me we have this capacity – and even the obligation - to make this bold aspiration happen.

The world we live in today is inflamed. Poverty, biases, health disparities, and political unrest are causing massive tensions. The pull between reformation and stability is rocking our religious world.

These tensions have eroded the core pieces of our society to a point where civility and engagement - the hallmarks of our democratic nation - are in jeopardy.

Many higher education institutions are trying to solve these problems. We - DePaul specifically - can be THE ONE to heal humanity.

Yes, we live in a scary time, but so did St. Vincent. He figured out a path forward, and we will do the same.

As we forge forward on this new path, we must decide if we will be the cow or the buffalo.

When cows sense a storm coming, they run away from it. If you’ve ever seen a cow run, you know it can’t outrun anything. By trying to run away, they maximize the time spent in the storm, along with their pain and frustration.

Now buffalo on the other hand – they charge the storm. They run straight through it. They attack it.

We can’t control the storm, but we can design how we manage our way through it. We need to be brave. Be the buffalo.

I’ll argue this is exactly what St. Vincent did. During his formative years, St. Vincent engaged with the most influential schools and people devoted to Catholic theology. The outcome - the things Vincent witnessed in the rural landscapes of France and his own discernment about how God moved through him - created the main charisms of the Vincentian order.

Vincent stewarded the tension created between the main religious schools of the day, the economic and human conditions of his time, and managed to identify the new way forward, addressing both organizational design and the need to empower the most marginalized in the world.

St. Vincent intentionally designed a unique approach to specifically address the biggest concerns of his day. He had a bias for action. He moved beyond the what and showed us how.

St. Vincent also very astutely recognized the value and importance of having partners – people to collaborate with who know how to turn ideas into action. The most prominent, of course, St. Louise.

The storm on the horizon can be seen as troublesome, unwanted, and disastrous. Or, it can be viewed as a unique opportunity to use our current reality as a way to reimagine Vincent’s charism - to design a new DePaul for our day - for our people, and to solve the problems in our world.

Our path forward must be defined by inclusion and radical hospitality for all, where we will focus all our work on the single largest problems of our day. We will bring forward the gifts of those in our community to harness the power of our social networks and connect our students to global issues. We will model the civility we want the world to adopt. We must use our place in this world to act.

DePaul can do more than study poverty. We must prepare students to solve it.

DePaul can do more than be concerned about the environment. We must demand action to preserve it.

DePaul can do more than have a common mission. We must recognize when we don’t live up to our standards, call it out, and course correct.

We must do this so that all are welcomed, supported and free from obstacles that prevent them from reaching their full potential.

Quite simply, we must live up to St. Vincent and St. Louise’s standards by being people of action and reflection – not only seeing the dignity in each individual – but also seeing their potential, and creating the change that cures.

To solve the pressing issues of poverty, health disparities, sustainability, and the new frontier of human-computer interactions, we must continue to expand our efforts to work together and break down boundaries.

To do this, I propose we connect the strongest parts of our existing efforts and build on them to create interdisciplinary learning and research centers.

Let’s take advantage of the existing work being done and the incredible talents at DePaul and raise it up even higher.

Let’s extend our mission to move from doing business next to each other to doing business with each other.

Connecting the power of our existing work together - and welding it to Chicago - will maximize our impact. It will make us true partners for Chicago as it designs its cultural, economic, and social justice renaissance.

Ultimately, true interdisciplinary education will catapult DePaul forward to a place of value and distinction for our students and for the communities in which we live. It will anchor us as a place of relevance and value. It will show America the worth of a higher education.

To launch DePaul into this new era of academic excellence – everyone has a role to play. The Board of Trustees already has acted. Just two weeks ago – the board agreed to kick start this work by:

  • Setting aside $20 million from our endowment to create a perpetual source of funding for our interdisciplinary efforts;
  • Allocating significant resources from the endowment to reconstruct our entire digital presence so that we can show DePaul’s story to the world, rather than just tell it;
  • And lastly, eliminating the Return to Principle practice in our investment strategy, and creating a DePaul Investment Fund from those resources. We will now be able to present ideas for use of the funds each year – allowing us to have the resources needed to invest in the best and highest initiatives for our day.
I am incredibly grateful the Board of Trustees moved so quickly to do their part to jump start our work to establish this modern university.

And now it is our turn. It will take every single one of us - every member of this community – to transform DePaul, live our mission and rise to our spot of national prominence.

As we leave this hall – and begin our work – I have a few hopes for our community:

  • I hope we can think – without restriction – about the possible extension of our university to the current reality of our day. We cannot have a failure of the imagination.
  • I hope we can give each other the space to be creative, and recognize that every person at DePaul is acting out of a love for our mission, and the desire for our students to succeed.
  • I hope we can challenge ourselves to change.
  • I hope we can show each other grace when we fall short.
There is a saying ​- there are two critical days in every person’s life - the day you’re born, and the day you figure out why.

Through our mission and our individual commitments to each other – we have the opportunity to be the why for everyone who chooses to be a part of our community.​ It is a bold responsibility, in a bold moment, for bold people.

Tomorrow, we begin! Thank you.