Investiture of Dr. Judy Sakaki, Part 2

So many things have happened this week, and I have several blog posts to write (mostly about Earth Week events). I thought I’d post this one first, since I already posted Part 1, here.

I’d never attended an investiture before, and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, other than the fact that included a ceremony to confer the “authority and symbols of high office” to the new president, in this case a medallion presented by CSU Chancellor Timothy White. It’s a tradition that’s been carried down from the middle ages, meant to signal the beginning of a new era for the university and campus community. I was certainly happy to see this taking place, as I’m really optimistic and excited about having Dr. Sakaki as our new president, especially after meeting her face-to-face, briefly, last semester. That’s a story that’s probably worth telling, especially today . . .

I was in the Environmental Technology Center, teaching a lab session of Restoration Ecology (along with my co-instructor Caroline Christian). The students were working in small groups on their semester projects, and Caroline and I were each sitting with a different group, giving them some guidance. Two women walked into the classroom (somewhat unusual, although not unheard of – the ETC is a net-zero energy, green building, so people are often interested in touring through it). When I looked up to see who’d come in, I realized that one of the women was Dr. Sakaki, so I went over to greet them, and invite them to come inside. Turns out she had been on a walk-and-talk on campus, and was interested to take a peek inside, and we were happy to oblige. After briefly describing our course and what the students were doing on that day, Caroline and I had a quick opportunity to welcome Dr. Sakaki. I told her, quite sincerely, how glad I was that she was here, and that I was excited about the future. In response, she told us that this was a new day, and that we, as instructors, should feel free to think outside the box and not be afraid to explore in new directions. (Paraphrased, so those weren’t her exact words, but they’re in keeping with the spirit of what she said). After an era where I wasn’t pleased with some of the decisions made by our previous president, this was music to my ears.

Me in regalia
Me in regalia

Anyway, on the day of the investiture, I arrived early-ish, so I could pick up the regalia I’d reserved (I didn’t walk when I graduated with my masters degree, so I didn’t have my own regalia to wear). When it was time for the investiture to begin, one of the first things to happen was the procession of faculty (including myself) into the auditorium, accompanied by Beethoven’s “Pastoral” 6th symphony, played by the university’s symphony orchestra. Turns out that one of the perks of being on the faculty is reserved seating – I ended up in the fourth row, so I had a great view.

The ceremony itself was interesting. It began with a Coast Miwok blessing, offered by an elder from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, followed by a Buddhist offering of gratitude, offered by a CSU emeritus professor. There was taiko drumming, and poetry, and a dance performance. Several people addressed the audience with various welcome messages.

The keynote address by Dr. Michael Drake of Ohio State University focused on “The Power and Promise of Higher Education,” after which Dr. Sakaki was presented with the presidential medallion by Chancellor White. My photos aren’t great (much better ones are available from news sources online), but I thought I’d snap a few as mementos.

Dr. Sakaki’s presidential address was titled, “Dance With Change.” During her talk, she talked about the various people in her life who had helped to shape her life, including her parents, children, colleagues and community members. As she shared these stories, she ended each segment with “I am because . . .” It was a powerful, inspiring message of inclusivity and acceptance, and once again I was struck by the potential I see here for her to do some wonderful things on our campus, and move us in a better direction than our previous president did.

As an aside, “I am because . . .” was also the theme of the biographical exhibit in Schultz Hall on Dr. Sakaki’s life and family. I’d taken a walk through it earlier in the week, and found it profoundly moving. Not only did it chronicle the journey that brought Dr. Sakaki to SSU, but it shared information about her parents and grandparents, who had been sent to interment camps during the Second World War. In talking about her early life, both in the exhibit and in her presidential address, she mentioned going to the Obon Festival in Oakland every summer. This really caught my attention, as I grew up in an area of L.A. with a thriving Japanese-American community, and I attended our local Obon Festival every year, and performed traditional dances along with many of my friends from school. I know that our experiences mean far different things to us, but I like to think of this as some small connection, if that makes any sense.

After her address, the orchestra accompanied the SSU Chamber Singers in a performance of our school’s lovely new alma mater, “Sonoma State Rising”:

Our challenges we have faced and love kept us strong
Sonoma we celebrate how far we all have come
Though we live in different ways, we’re here together on this bright day
We thank you Sonoma State and now a new chapter starts
We’ll hold on to all your lessons like treasure within our heart

On the whole, I enjoyed the ceremony, and felt proud to be a part of this community. There is also a bit of uncertainty for me – as a lecturer with not a lot of job security from semester to semester, it’s a bit scary not knowing how changes might affect me, personally. But I am encouraged by the overall message of inclusivity, and dedication to providing a meaningful higher education for our students. I am certainly committed to that, and I’m choosing to trust that whatever happens in the future, I will be able to continue educating a new generation of young people, so they can live better lives.

Wendy St. John and Judy Sakaki
Wendy St. John and Judy Sakaki

After the ceremony, I returned the borrowed regalia, and went out into the courtyard, thinking I’d grab a quick snack from the reception buffet, and then head over to my office for office hours. In the courtyard, however, I noticed that there was a queue to have a photo taken with Dr. Sakaki, and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity – both to have my photo taken with her (again), and also to give her a quick personal welcome. The queue wasn’t particularly long, and I wished I was still wearing my regalia, but I hopped in line. A few minutes later, it was my turn. After taking the photo, I found myself a bit tongue-tied, but I told Dr. Sakaki how glad I was that she was here, and how excited I was to see the things she would do here in the future.


She took me by the hand and said, “The things we’ll do together.

Yes, I’m really happy to have her here as our new president. I think we will all have the opportunity to do great things together.

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