Our presidential heritage
by Dr. Sharon Bull, NNU Archivist and Dean of Learning Resources
Higher education is well-known for traditions involving pomp and circumstance. Every spring, trustees, administrators and faculty don black robes and colorful hoods, then march in procession to mark the beginning of the Commencement exercises. They are followed by black-robed students who will soon march across the platform to receive their diplomas.
Each fall, many institutions begin the academic year with a convocation, when again administrators and faculty don their regalia and march in procession. At this opening event, the president addresses the students and challenges them for the year ahead. These two traditions have a long history at NNU, and University Archives has photos dating back to 1918 of NNC graduates in their robes.
…each inauguration of a new leader reminds the community of our shared commitment to the original mission and values of NNU that surpasses any one administration.A lesser-known and much less frequently experienced tradition is the inauguration of the university president. As new presidents take office, ceremonies with all the pomp and circumstance of Commencement exercises are held. These occasions provide opportunity to celebrate the institution’s history and to look ahead.
On October 6, Joel K. Pearsall was inaugurated as the 13th president of Northwest Nazarene University. This was, however, only the seventh inauguration of an NNU president. Inaugurations, sometimes called Installations or Investitures, have been part of higher education for several hundred years, but no evidence exists in University Archives that inaugural events were held during the first thirty-nine years of NNU’s existence. It was not until 1952, when Dr. John E. Riley was elected as the seventh president, that the first inauguration took place. Since then, there has been an inaugural ceremony for each president, and there have been common elements in each of these events. In addition to the processional, music, scripture and prayer, there is a ceremony of installation and an address, almost always by the president.
Northwest Nazarene University administrators and faculty again donned black robes and colorful hoods and marched in procession on October 6 to participate in the tradition of a presidential inauguration. While it had similarities to those of previous presidents, this inauguration was distinct in that this was the only time in our history that a child of an earlier president has been elected to this position. Joel is not only NNU’s 13th president, he is also the son of Kenneth H. Pearsall, who was the 8th president of NNU.
Joel’s ties go back to 1973, when as a junior high school student, he moved with his family to Nampa from the East Coast. He is an alumnus of NNU, served on the Board of Trustees, and filled two vice-presidential roles before his appointment as president in 2016. Joel brings a unique perspective as a longtime member of the university community and son of a former president.
He says, “I am a product of NNU and ‘bear the fingerprints’ of many NNU faculty and staff who shaped me while I was a student and who continue to have significant impact on my life. To now serve as president of the university is both an honor and a humbling experience.”
Pictured left to right: President Gordon Wetmore, President Kenneth Pearsall, President Lewis Corlett and President John Riley.