History & Traditions
The Presidential Inauguration is an opportunity to celebrate the University at Albany’s honored past while advancing our future. Each element of the inauguration ceremony has a special meaning steeped in history.
In the United States, collegiate presidential inaugurations originated with the nation’s nine colonial colleges in the 17th century. The inauguration of a new president serves as a rite of passage that formally acknowledges a change in leadership within the context of continuity and tradition.
The colorful attire worn by participants in the inaugural procession, as well as commencement processions, has its roots in medieval traditions that reach back to the earliest universities of Paris, Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge. Medieval students enjoyed the status of clerics during their university years, so we can assume their attire was inspired by the clerical dress of the time. The ceremonial robe began as a monk’s robe to stave off the cold in monasteries. They have since been modernized, using hoods, color and varying sleeve lengths to denote degree levels and fields of study.
Descending from the Middle Ages, chains of office are massive metal necklaces worn by the president on ceremonial occasions as part of his or her regalia. They can be made of bronze, sterling silver, or gold plate, and are usually anchored by a large medallion depicting the school seal. Links are customized, and are often cast in the shapes of school symbols or engraved with meaningful words, a latin motto, a statement of academic values, or the names of university presidents. The head of the school’s governing body carries the chain of office in the inaugural procession and places it on the neck of the new president at the moment he or she is installed. The chain of office is reserved for wear as part of the president’s academic costume.
The University at Albany’s current Presidential Medallion, designed by Kurt J. Matzdorf Silversmith, Inc. of New Paltz, New York in 1992, is a sterling silver medallion commissioned by former President H. Patrick Swygert as a permanent symbol of his investiture as president. It is likely based on the Medallion of the University created by former President Vincent O’Leary in 1978. The chain of office was passed on to former President Karen R. Hitchcock at her inauguration in 1996. It will be presented to Dr. Jones at his installation on September 28th, and subsequently worn at commencements and other formal academic convocations.
The mace came into existence during medieval times as a weapon used mainly by bishops who were forbidden by canonical rule from shedding blood. By the late 16th century, the mace had become a ceremonial object and, as a symbol of authority, it was adopted by universities and colleges. The Academic mace symbolizes the authority invested in the president by a school’s governing body. It is used only on formal academic occasions such as commencements and presidential inaugurations, when participants are in full regalia. It is typically carried by the Grand Marshal.
The mace of the University at Albany is a gift from the Class of 1930, presented to the University on the fiftieth anniversary of the class. It is made of bronze and walnut, and its base reflects the fluted columns of the campus, while the staff and head echo the overall modern look of architect Edward Durrell Stone’s design. There are several symbols which are incorporated into the design of the mace, including an open book, symbolizing teaching and learning, and the Greek letter Omega, symbolizing the infinite, the ultimate end, as well as the classical tradition of the search for understanding and enlightenment.
For the inauguration of a new president, it is appropriate to invite certain alumni, faculty, donors, students, community leaders, representatives of learned societies, and delegates from other schools to march in the inauguration procession. Delegates march in the procession wearing their school’s regalia and ordered according to their organization’s founding date, with oldest first. The final member of the inauguration procession is the new president, who walks alone. UAlbany looks forward to hosting these varied constituencies on September 28th for Dr. Jones’ installation.
Since the University at Albany’s beginnings as the New York State Normal College, Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom, has been the institutions enduring symbol. Today, Minerva, wearing her distinctive helmet, continues to symbolize the University at Albany’s proud past and long-standing reputation for educational excellence.
UAlbany’s white plaster statue of Minerva, which stands over 7 feet tall, was purchased in 1888. While there is no official record of where she came from, remembrances have it that the statue was purchased with funds from a $1 student fee collected for make-up exams. The statue was originally located at 88 Willett Street until 1906, when a devastating fire broke out in the college’s administrative offices. A brave custodian, Charles Wurtham, rescued the statue from the burning building. Minerva then assumed her new home in the rotunda of Draper Hall, serving as a popular meeting place for students who would often say, “Meetcha at Minnie.” In 1966, as a gift to the University, the Senior Class of 1967 moved the statue from the downtown campus to the new main campus and paid for her refurbishment. The Class named themselves the “Guardians of Minerva.” Today, Minerva graces the lobby of the Science Library.
Seals have been part of universities since the Middle Ages. University seals are the legal mark of the school’s governing body, and are one of a school’s most important symbols of office. Different from the school logo, the academic seal is used to authenticate official documents such as diplomas and other legal records. The seal if incorporated into most academic ceremonies, especially inaugurations, because of its symbolic and real significance.
The University at Albany’s seal features Minerva, who first appeared on the University seal around 1913. Since 1960, the Latin motto, “Wisdom both for its own sake and for the sake of teaching” has been included. There have been many renderings over the years, but the current seal was introduced in April of 2003, a time when UAlbany was gaining recognition both nationally and internationally. It was updated along with the University logo to reflect the quality of academic and research programs as UAlbany.
College of the Empire State,
Mother of an army great,
Thou the molder of our fate,
Thee we sing today.
Thine the hand with clasp so strong,
Holding tho' the years be long,
Thou the burden of our song,
Thee we sing today.
Ways of pleasantness are thine,
Leading where in wisdom's shrine,
Joy and cheer, and hope divine,
Ever dwell for aye.
Thine the voice whose call we hear,
Thine the hand which holds us near,
Thine the heart, so true, so dear,
Cherished, loved always. Wisdom's duty heeds thy call,
Ever in Minerva's thrall,
Pass the torch from one to all,
Guide each destiny.
'Neath the Purple and the Gold,
Let thy history unfold,
Sons and daughters, young and old,
Hail to Albany.
More UAlbany History and Traditions
For more information regarding the history and traditions of the University at Albany, please visit the exhibit, Celebrating Students and Faculty of the University at Albany 1844-2014 in the University's Science Library Atrium. The exhibit is free to all and is open during Science Library business hours. The exhibit will run from September 21, 2013 - May 1, 2014.