‘Marquette, baby, we are clearly born to run.’

After a week of build-up, campus practically buzzed with excitement Friday as the Rev. Scott Pilarz was formally inaugurated as the 23rd president of Marquette University.

In a ceremony at the packed Al McGuire Center, Pilarz outlined his vision for Marquette’s future, using humor to engage the audience and passion to drive home his message, and received congratulations as he embarked on his new journey.

“It’s a funny feeling to be a freshman at 52,” Pilarz joked. He arrived on campus in August and lives in the Campus Town apartments among upperclassmen students.

He said it was likely no coincidence that the date of the inauguration, Sept. 23, was the birthday of his home state New Jersey’s (unofficial) poet laureate, Bruce Springsteen.

“Marquette, baby, we are clearly born to run,” Pilarz said.

The new president’s wit wasn’t the only thing supporting his speech, though. As a former English professor, he chose to “hazard” a metaphor that summed up his intention for the future of Marquette.

“Jacques Marquette was obsessed with discovering the Mississippi River. … (to) enhance human experience and open opportunities for the spread of God’s good news,” Pilarz said. “So what is our Mississippi River? What keeps us up at night at Marquette?”

Focusing on these questions, Pilarz asked how many students leave Marquette having experienced an “engagement of reality” that transforms them to their very core – an experience that should be the goal of a Jesuit education, he said.

Pilarz encouraged the audience to reflect on the Jesuit mission. He said the work of Marquette is grounded in “learned ministry,” and the university must work for justice.

“God’s grace is surely at work here, giving us the energy and enthusiasm to go and ‘set the world on fire,’” Pilarz said.

In the ceremonial installation of the president, the Rev. Robert A. Wild, Marquette’s previous president, and Mary Ellen Stanek, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of the presidential search committee, presented Pilarz with two symbols of presidency – the chain of office and a mace.

Other speakers at the inauguration echoed Pilarz’s call for excellence.

Sue Cooper, a staff member at Student Health Services, spoke in representation of Marquette administrators and staff. She quoted an Ignatian prayer: “Teach us to give and not to count the cost.”

Alex Johnson, a senior in the College of Communication, was selected to speak at the inauguration as a student representative.

Johnson said the university’s genuine care for others and the world attracted him to Marquette.

“The main focus of this university has always been the students,” Johnson said. “I have never felt such a strong connection to a place as I have to Marquette. This is my home away from home.”

Inas Murrar, a graduate of the College of Health Sciences and a second year student in the School of Dentistry, also spoke at the inauguration. Murrar presented Pilarz with a white lab coat on behalf of graduate students. The presentation was met with loud applause from the audience.

Rabbi Ronald Shapiro of Congregation Shalom Milwaukee gave the benediction. Shapiro congratulated Pilarz as the new president of “this revered university.”

Pilarz conferred two honorary degrees as part of the ceremony. The first was given to the Rev. Dean Brackley, a retired professor of theology and ethics at the University of Central America in San Salvador, who received his degree in absentia due to serious illness.

Carolyn Forché, director of the Lannen Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University, also received an honorary degree. Forché was the inauguration’s keynote speaker.

“This is our moment. You have fortunately chosen Father Pilarz to lead you at this time,” Forché said in closing.

The celebration concluded with a lunch reception in Westowne Square, featuring a Bruce Springsteen cover band in honor of Pilarz.