Aubrey Lashaway was one of the first to interact with President Santa J. Ono at the community reception March 7 at the Michigan League, the continuation of a day’s worth of activities surrounding Ono’s inauguration as U-M’s 15th president.
After Ono delivered remarks — punctuated by “Go Blue” — Lashaway approached him, spoke with him and got her picture taken with him.
She did not talk to him about pressing issues or initiatives but rather about common ground.
“I just wanted to talk to him a little about his experience playing cello as a fellow musician,” said Lashaway, a communications specialist at the School for Environment and Sustainability and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research. “I was in the Michigan Marching Band from 2003-07, and we talked a little bit about our love for music.”
That level of approachability was on full display at the reception, where a long line of people waited for the opportunity to meet Ono and share a few words with the new president.
Lashaway said she was moved during the president’s inauguration speech when he spoke of his diverse background and that of his family.
“He’s going to be a wonderful president,” she said. “He has that connection between not only the faculty, which is important, but the student community as well, which is really important to grow and excel.”
Inauguration Day featured a symposium with two panel discussions in the morning, followed by an academic procession and the installation ceremony in Hill Auditorium in the afternoon.
The celebration of Ono’s presidency continued on the second floor of the Michigan League, where students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters gathered for the community reception.
People mingled amid tables adorned with maize-and-blue tablecloths and flower arrangements as the president’s inauguration speech streamed live on large screens. The event featured plenty of free snacks such as hot dogs, churros, cookies and popcorn, plus coffee stations serving up lattes and cappuccinos.
Standing at a table watching Ono’s inauguration speech, Sarah Kuljian, student services coordinator for the Judaic Studies program in LSA, said she appreciates how the president uses social media to engage with the community. That could make him seem more relatable and approachable to students, she said.
“One challenge U-M faces is that we’re a predominantly white institution,” she said. “It’s important for students, faculty and staff to see folks who look like them, like President Ono, in positions of power.”
After the installation ceremony was complete and attendees made their way to the League, Ono was introduced by Central Student Government President Noah Zimmerman to those gathered in the ballroom.
“We are truly honored to have him at the helm of our university,” Zimmerman said. “His dedication to student and faculty well-being, sustainability, DEI and academic and athletic success demonstrates his commitment to student engagement and welfare.”
Ono thanked those in attendance, including “cherished friends and colleagues who have traveled all over the world to be here,” but offered reminders that U-M is about more than one person.
He cited examples of the collaborative work needed for U-M to own and operate its own hospital and world-class Medical School, conduct field studies leading to the success of the polio vaccine and organize the teach-in that was a precursor to Earth Day.
He added that in order for U-M to build upon two centuries of progress and achievement, “it will take all of us, it will take all of us who come after us.”
Ono then quoted U-M alumnus and Baseball Hall of Famer Branch Rickey, who said, “It’s not the honor that you take with you, but the heritage that you leave behind for others.”
“In that spirit I look forward to all that we will accomplish together,” Ono said.
Adeeb Mozip, executive director of business operations for the Office of Enrollment Management, has been with U-M a short while — starting around the time Ono took over Oct. 14.
He shared a brief conversation with Ono at the reception and found him to be “personable and approachable.”
“I think his personal journey resonates with me as an immigrant and someone who is passionate about higher education,” Mozip said. “Just seeing someone who has devoted his life and has been able to make change and real impact in different ways but in a very collective way. You can see his impact in art and science and leadership.”
Alumna Syreeta Cheatom, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nuclear engineering from U-M in 1995, came to the reception decked out in head-to-toe maize and blue.
“President Ono seems very committed, and I think he’s going to be a good fit for us,” she said.
Students Meghan Vaibar, a senior, and Alexis Grzesikowski, a sophomore, said they wanted to attend the reception to show their support for Ono. Vaibar said the president is generating buzz among the student body.
“He has done a lot of community appearances, and he seems genuinely excited to interact with students,” she said.
Vaibar said she hopes Ono initiates classroom upgrades and other needed facility improvements on campus.
Bill Wenzell, president of the U-M Club of Greater Detroit, also gave Ono’s presidency high marks. He said Ono has the intellect and skill to tackle complicated issues, such as the intersection of academics and athletics when it comes to the “name, image and likeness” issue in collegiate sports.
Kasius Williamson, a sophomore who DJ’d the reception, said Ono has done a great job meeting and interacting with students across campus. He said he would like to see the president take steps to increase African American student enrollment.
“We only have 4% Black students here. That number needs to rise,” he said.