Speaking in his 22nd and final academic convocation address on Tuesday, Sept. 4, in the O’Shaugnessy Educational Center auditorium, university president the Rev. Dennis Dease reflected on his tenure and anticipated the university’s future.
“All of us working together have truly turned aspiration into reality. It’s an amazing record of achievement and will provide a firm foundation for many years to come,” Dease said.
Dease went on to highlight those accomplishments, but not before poking fun at his fellow administrators and faculty.
The “Summer Update,” as it was dubbed, featured familiar faces of faculty and administration making use of the new St. Paul campus fountain in the Lower Quad.
Laughter filled the auditorium as Dease narrated the photoshopped faces fishing, skiing, swimming, and even suffering from the effects of Tommie-purple dyed water.
Philosophy professor Michael Degnan said he knew of Dease’s sense of humor, but was still impressed by the “update.”
“It was unparalleled,” Degnan said.
Dease went on to describe the changes St. Thomas has undergone since he started as president in July 1991, citing and commending growth in academics, physical changes, diversity and Catholic identity.
“I must admit that when I look, I am astonished by all that this university community has accomplished,” Dease said.
A development of more than $350 million of brick and mortar projects, a tripling of the international students, a 2.6 point rise in student average ACT scores, and national accreditations in every professional program were just a few of the accomplishments Dease highlighted.
Under Dease’s leadership, a new St. Thomas mission statement was crafted. Susan Huber, executive vice president and chief academic officer, said Dease lived by it.
“Fr. Dease, as president, embodies the mission of this university,” Huber said.
Dease said the willingness to embrace change has been a large part of what has made the last two decades so successful and what will continue to do so.
“There has developed here an entrepreneurial culture and a ‘can do’ attitude, and we have tried to steer a middle course guided by the wisdom of those two American proverbs,” Dease said.
Change will be inevitable for St. Thomas, Dease said. In the next year, the university will complete a $500 million capital campaign, undergo its decennial self review and elect a new president.
Degnan said listening to the president’s addresses have always helped shape a theme and direction for faculty, but this one helped faculty remember him.
“I knew it would be his last send off address and I was looking forward to hearing that,” Degnan said.
Dease complimented his colleagues who will carry the university forward.
“I find myself immensely grateful,” Dease said. “I doubt any university president has been so fortunate.”
Heidi Enninga can be reached at email@example.com.