Despite the name, the inaugural ceremony for St. Olaf College presidents is rooted in Church practice rather than in American civic ritual. The earliest presidents began their official duties with little fanfare. Principal Thorbjorn Mohn was one of several speakers at the opening of St. Olaf's School on January 8, 1875; but unlike the others, he chose to speak in English rather than Norwegian. President John Kildahl spoke a few "fitting words" for the "formal opening" of the 1899-1900 school year, the first over which he presided.
More ceremony was evident in 1914 and in 1918, when Presidents Lauritz Vigness and Lars Boe began their duties. As pastor-presidents, they were "installed" in office with sermons preached by denominational leaders. Vigness's installation coincided with Founders' Day (November 6th), then as now a reflective occasion at the college, and one for which Vigness gave an "inaugural" address. Boe's address on the day of his installation apparently lacked the "inaugural" designation; but the event was still a bit grander than he remembered in 1935: "I installed myself and told everybody to get to work and let it go at that."
Clemens Granskou's 1944 inauguration was the first full inaugural ceremony at St. Olaf, and it included an inaugural address by the new president. An academic procession of presidents and representatives of over one hundred institutions was headed by Minnesotan Harry Blackmun, who represented Harvard and was later a Supreme Court justice. Still, the "inaugural service" was conducted by a leading churchman, reflecting the belief that the president is "called" by God as well as chosen by human agency. Like Granskou, Mel George gave an inaugural address in 1985; but Sidney Rand (1963) and other presidents have instead spoken in response to their inaugurations. Denominational leaders have continued to preside, and Harlan Foss (1980) was "inducted" as president in a St. Olaf worship service. The inauguration of Mark Edwards (1994), with its accompanying environmental symposia, was the first with a theme. The inauguration of Christopher Thomforde (2001) emphasized the college’s ties to Northfield. It featured an address by the Librarian of Congress.
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