Inaugural Address by President Marylou Nancy Yam

Notre Dame of Maryland University, April 17, 2015

Good Afternoon!

Distinguished guests, School Sisters of Notre Dame, including our special visitor from Rome, Sister Vitoria Marques--General Councilor, trustees,

Archdiocesan and government leaders, former presidents,

Faculty, staff, students, alumnae and alumni, benefactors,

Delegates from many of our nation’s outstanding higher education institutions,

Colleagues from our nonprofit and business community,

And dear family members and friends …my thanks for your presence today!I am thrilled that you are all here as we celebrate this remarkable University and look forward with great enthusiasm to all that is before us.

I am honored and humbled to accept the stewardship of an institution that for 120 years has carried out an empowering mission and that has shaped a legacy of excellence in Catholic higher education.

My parents taught me the meaning of love, commitment and family; their values shape my life. I know that my mom and dad – Alma and Eugene– are smiling with us today. God bless them!

My husband David has been a constant support – 35 years this week of constant support, in fact – and I thank him and our cherished son Michael for the love and inspiration that have been the cornerstone of my life. They, too, have embraced Notre Dame with wide open hearts – and I am grateful for their commitment.  

A special thanks to my dear aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces and to my life- long friends from New York and New Jersey for being here today.  What can I say?  I have a big family and many friends!  They will all be recruiting for us in New York and New Jersey…expect to see our enrollments grow from their neighborhoods next year!

It is hard to imagine being here without the 25 years of mentoring, friendship and support of three special colleagues--Dr. Caryle Wolahan, former Dean of Nursing at Adelphi University, Dr. Eugene Cornacchia, President of Saint Peter’s University, and Dr. George Martin, President of St. Edward’s University. My heartfelt thanks.

To the School Sisters of Notre Dame and my cherished Notre Dame-your warm welcome to me and to my family, as well as your excitement and support for our future plans for this University, have both energized and inspired my work. I value all that you do every day. Thank you.  

I offer special thanks also to Notre Dame’s Board chair Gino Gemingnani, Provincial Leader Sister Kathleen Cornell and all the trustees for your guidance, encouragement and the steadfast trust you have placed in me.

To Notre Dame’s distinguished former presidents with us today, thank you for the ways that you have advised me. Notre Dame will create the future on the solid foundation of your wisdom and leadership.

Thanks, too, to my Saint Peter’s University colleagues and to all greeters and delegates for your presence. On behalf of our community, I also thank Archbishop Lori for celebrating Mass with us last evening and for his continued guidance.

I am grateful for the work of the inauguration committee and the many individuals who contributed to the events this week.  It was wonderful to see the scholarship showcased by Notre Dame students, faculty and graduates

Inaugurations are timeless traditions that remind us of our strength as an academic community and the continuity of our enduring values. They are the chapter headings in our Notre Dame narrative.  Our book is thick with 120 years of stories, and together we will embark on writing the compelling new chapters for NDMU

The Schools Sisters of Notre Dame, our founders, came to America in 1847.  Mother Theresa Gerhardinger led five brave sisters who sailed from Germany into an uncertain future. What they brought with them was this: an unshakable trust in God and an iron-clad confidence in their mission to serve those often neglected by society through the education of, namely, immigrants, women and children.

Mother Theresa and her sisters began teaching and establishing schools. One hundred twenty years ago, the sisters made Notre Dame the first Catholic college for women in the United States to grant the four-year baccalaureate degree. Remember, that was at a time when many viewed higher education for women skeptically, at best.

Notre Dame’s mission continues to propel its way through time with the power and conviction to transform lives – and the world we share – through education.  All because five fearless and faithful women said yes. What will we say “yes” to today or tomorrow that will propel us into the future?

For all of our students, a Notre Dame education is grounded in the core values of the School Sisters of Notre Dame-community, service, excellence and leadership-and in the tradition of the Catholic Church.  In Ex Corde Ecclesiae, St. John Paul II delineated the hallmarks that make a Catholic university distinctive, particularly the need to include the moral, spiritual and religious dimensions in our search for truth.[1] As described in that document, Catholic teaching and tradition compel us to ponder contemporary problems through the lens of our values and to strive to serve the human community so there is more peace and more justice in our world

Notre Dame is a Catholic university and so our mission statement, infused with Catholic and SSND values, challenges our students to strive for intellectual and professional excellence, to build inclusive communities, to engage in service to others, and to promote social responsibility.  

Our students bring their aspirations to Notre Dame. We thank them for their daily inspiration and for sharing this transformative time in their lives with us. Notre Dame provides them with an education that combines a sense of spirituality with a depth of content that will prepare them for both a career and satisfaction in their lives. Our community includes a faculty that delivers this scholarship. They are both committed scholars, contributing to their fields through research, and educators dedicated to students. With that same dedication, our staff supports our students in vital ways to achieve their goals.

Over the past 12 decades, our graduates have used their education as a powerful tool for change.  Across the many fields and paths pursued by our alumnae and alumni, they have been people who acted with passion and compassion.

Our institutional narrative – the NDMU Story – is enhanced through the partnership of thousands of our benefactors who have supported our mission with steadfast faith for decades—and in whose confidence and trust we rely as we look to the future.

While we are rightfully proud of our history, we are a dynamic learning community that welcomes new challenges.  We aim to preserve the core values that have sustained this university for generations, while preparing our students and the University for the future.

Higher education today is not without its challenges including: the need for better access, the competition for grant dollars, and the on-going questioning of the value of the liberal arts.

Another challenge is the unrealized dream of equal opportunity in the workplace.  Women still earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn.[2]

Given our rich tradition and these challenges for our institution, our students and our graduates, how do we begin to write the next bold chapter for Notre Dame?

Seeking to chart our future, this academic year we have immersed ourselves in the strategic planning process. It has been an opportunity to engage our whole community,including the 90-plus people who enthusiastically volunteered to serve on task forces.(Really, they did volunteer!)The strategic plan that emerges will be guided by a new vision that will include creating innovative programs in the arts and sciences and professions, inspiring students to lead and serve globally and promoting the advancement of women. Five key strategic goals were proposed to provide the architecture for this vision including the promotion of Catholic identity, SSND charism & service; advancing transformative education; creating opportunities for student engagement; and expanding our partnerships-- local and beyond. The advancement of women and the promotion of global initiatives have emerged as themes to be woven throughout the plan. 

As we write our new chapter, we will build a vibrant faith community.

Our faith is active in prayer and in practice. Our identity as a Catholic university, resonant with the SSND charism, calls us to educate the whole person and to remember that part of personal development is tending to our spirit.

In an era that questions the usefulness of liberal arts, we know their value. Critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, communication skills, teamworkand ethical judgment: these are the qualities that employers want, these are the cornerstones of a productive life, and these are the fruits of a liberal arts education.

Notre Dame’s professional programs are grounded in the liberal arts as preparation for the professions.  In every major and every program, distinctive learning opportunities will prepare competent, confident graduates ready for both service and leadership.  Our strength as an academic institution rests on our faculty as leaders in transformation.  We will grow our investment in our faculty to ensure that their teaching and scholarship thrives.

Notre Dame will reigniteour commitment to the advancement of women. As the only women’s college in Maryland and one of just over 40 in the US, we know the power of a women’s college education.  The statistics are striking: women’s college graduates make up 2% of the college graduate population, yet comprise more than 20% of women in Congress and 33% of the women on Fortune 1,000 boards.[3]

We will reframe and reinvent our Women’s Institute of Notre Dame to focus on education, leadership and advocacy so that it will be a powerful voice for women in Baltimore and beyond.

In our next chapter, Notre Dame will expand its initiatives in global learning and engagement. Our arms will reach around the world, after the example of Pope Francis, who reminds us, “It is important to get to know people, listen and expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the good.”[4]  Just last month we launched our Visiting Ambassador Series and received word that we were approved as a non-governmental organization – NGO – affiliated with the United Nations, the first college or university in Maryland with this designation.  Our association will open doors for Notre Dame students and faculty through direct contact with the UN and its delegates.

The School Sisters give us powerful examples of engaging locally as well.  As an anchor institution in the City of Baltimore, in our next chapter, Notre Dame will expand our partnerships and level of involvement, collaborating with community organizations especially in northeast Baltimore to deliver health, education, and workforce initiatives. In addition, Notre Dame will deepen our partnerships with the SSND-sponsored organizations such as Caroline Center to enhance workforce programming for women in East Baltimore.

Our university campus will be renewed, too, starting with our historic Gibbons Hall. Just this week, we received a 3.2 million dollar matching grant from the State of Maryland.  Thank you to the State of Maryland! The grant will enable us to create additional 21st-century, technology-infused classrooms and media labs, inviting group-learning spaces and improved access for persons with disabilities. Gibbons Hall, more than 140 years young, stands as a daily reminder of our ability to honor our commitment to traditions and transformations. 

Year-round new students arrive at Notre Dame, bringing with them their goals and dreams.  As we welcome them and weave these learners into our academic community, we invite them to make their dreams part of our vision.  

Notre Dame has all the ingredients for continued success and growth: a strong legacy, a compelling mission, robust and distinctive academic programs, the identity of a Catholic university and a talented faculty, who model commitment to our students, to our city and its residents…. to our world.

This is the Notre Dame that is in my heart! I pledge today, and every day, to serve our mission with all I have to offer: words, actions, energy, values, and, of course, faith. You have my fearless and faithful promise of enduring love and resolve to all that Notre Dame is today and all she will be in the future!

I ask you to join with me as we work together, rooted in our values and energized by our vision to achieve the transformation that our mission promises. We are the authors of the next chapters in Notre Dame’s history!

Thank you and God Bless!

 


[1] Pope John Paul II, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae: On Catholic Universities,” sec 7.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 1961 to 2014 Annual Social and Economic Supplements.

[3] Sara Kratzok and Casey Near. Why a Women’s College? Irvine: Collegewise, 2014, pg. 19.

[4] Interviewed in "How the Church will change" by Eugenio Scalfari in La Repubblica (1 October 2013), as translated from Italian to English by Kathryn Wallace.