By Rod Newman, University Chaplain
The starring role went to President Robert Henry, but the Stars of Oklahoma City University—the students—cast their brilliance onto a grand week of inaugural activities for him in early April.
OCU, the United Methodist university in Oklahoma, officially installed its 17th president with a swirl of free events in his honor, beginning by attending church on Sunday, April 3.
That morning at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, where Henry worships, OCU musicians joined their talents with the St. Luke’s choir and Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. preached.
That afternoon, more than 1,500 persons filled First Presbyterian Church for a concert production of "Requiem" by Hector Berlioz. Composed in the 1800s, the enormous piece has 10 movements. More than 350 OCU musicians—orchestral and choral—performed, led by Randi Von Ellefson.
On the evening of April 5, the university community and guests enjoyed a "Moveable Feast." At various campus locations, students presented creative works from the areas of dance, music, theater, film, literature, and visual art. Also spotlighted were student organizations and athletics—including sailing, added to the liberal arts school’s offerings two years ago.
On April 6, the presidential installation ceremony was held at 10 a.m. in the Henry J. Freede Wellness and Activity Center.
That program opened with an academic procession and presentation of the colors by the Kiowa Black Leggings Warrior Society. The invocation was given in both Choctaw and English by David Wilson, United Methodist pastor and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference superintendent.
Distinguished representatives of civic, religious, and academic areas charged the president with Calls to Service in his new role, urging him to embody integrity, creativity, and servant leadership. These speakers included Bishop Hayes; Enoch Kelly Haney, a former state senator, OCU alumnus, and sculptor of "The Guardian" statue that tops the state Capitol; Steven Taylor, chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court; Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City; Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education; and state Sen. David Holt.
Photo by Amelia Ballew
Clockwise: Kramer School of Nursing dedicated its new East building, top. Generation Blessed Gospel Choir performs outdoors, with the Gold Star Building as backdrop. Dress rehearsal for the "Requiem" concert involved 350 music students, including this cellist and bassists. President Robert Henry places the university mace in its stand.
In his inaugural address, Henry reflected on the week’s theme, "Make Our Garden Grow." He referred to the poem, "Homecoming," by the late Elaine Smokewood, an English professor at OCU. She wrote that she was the recipient of a garden she did not plant, and how it was entrusted to her care.
Henry acknowledged the work of those who have invested themselves in OCU over the past 100 years, planting a garden others now cultivate, and vowed to do his best as one of the current gardeners for today’s students and those to come. The university was founded in 1904.
His address was followed by a stirring presentation by OCU performing arts students—the Symphony Orchestra, Spirit of Grace Liturgical Dancers, and four combined choruses. They brought the audience to its feet with "Make Our Garden Grow," from Leonard Bernstein’s "Candide."
The inaugural celebration continued that afternoon with symposia on topics of philanthropy, law, health, the energy industry, economics, and more.
Also that afternoon, the grand opening was held for the expanded Kramer School of Nursing. In the school’s new East building, the dedication was held for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial bronze maquette, sculpted by Glenna Goodacare.
That evening, David Brooks, a national media commentator and columnist for The New York Times, was headliner in OCU’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
On April 7, Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of Stanford Law School, presented the Quinlan Lecture, concluding the inauguration events.
Ron Norick, chairman of OCU’s board of trustees and a former Oklahoma City mayor, said the week of events illuminated the university’s dedication to education and reputation for talent.
"These events reflect President Henry’s breadth of interests and his love of academics," Norick also noted.
Henry previously served as chief judge of the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the state’s attorney general, and a state legislator. His relationship with OCU has included serving as dean of the School of Law and as a tenured professor of law 1991-1994. He has been a frequent guest lecturer.