Inaugural Address | University of Portland

Inaugural Address

On September 23, 2022, Dr. Robert D. Kelly gave the following Inaugural Adress to members of the University of Portland community.

Thank you, Father Lies, and good afternoon to all! 

I stand before you today with a heart that is filled with profound gratitude and abiding hope.  

I begin, first, with gratitude. 

Being called to lead and to serve the University of Portland as its 21st President is the privilege, honor, and blessing of a lifetime. 

I am grateful to the Board of Regents for entrusting me with the awesome, sacred responsibility of guiding this great University and advancing our Catholic, Holy Cross mission. 

I am grateful to the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, who have and shall continue to minister, serve, teach, and lead here on The Bluff, and in whose footsteps I follow as President. I am grateful for their prayers, friendship, and support as I have taken on this role. 

I am grateful to the individuals who have spoken beautifully at today’s Ceremony – for your words of welcome and encouragement. 

I am almost speechless seeing friends and colleagues from virtually every area in the country.  You have shaped me in profound ways, and I am honored to share this day with you.

I am grateful to my family and mentors who have joined us today on The Bluff: my wife and partner, Dr. Bridget Turner Kelly, our children, my parents, extended family – for their love, for their support, and for keeping me grounded and humble. 

And I am grateful, perhaps most of all, to the students, staff, faculty, alumni, benefactors, and friends, who have so warmly welcomed me to The Bluff and who are our University’s reason for being.

Each encounter; each impromptu conversation on the Academic Quad; each meeting for lunch or drink at the Pilot House; each phone call, email, or text message – they have served as affirmation of my calling to be the University of Portland’s President. You are brilliant, dedicated, wise, loyal, devoted, and true. You are hope-filled, energetic, humorous, fun, and kind. You are extraordinary people, and I feel so blessed to have joined this community on The Bluff – to now count myself as a part of this magnificent family. 

So I stand before you today as a person filled with gratitude. 

And at the same time, my heart brims with a deep, abiding sense of hope. 

Spend time here on The Bluff, and you’ll quickly see that “hope” is something we speak of and think about quite often. 

It’s fitting. The motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross is, of course, ave crux, spes unica. “Hail the Cross, our only hope.” 

These words may be found everywhere you look on The Bluff. They are etched into the base of the Bell Tower that stands high above the Quad; they’re on stickers that decorate reusable water bottles and laptops; we often sing these words at Mass, including at the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows which we just celebrated.

Blessed Basil Moreau wrote beautifully about hope and, more specifically, how the cross upon which Jesus died was, while a symbol of pain and violence, is in reality, our source of hope.

He wrote about being a people with hope to bring, saying, “There is no failure the Lord’s love cannot reverse, no humiliation he cannot exchange for blessing, no anger he cannot dissolve, no routine he cannot transfigure. All is swallowed up in victory. He has nothing but gifts to offer. It remains only for us to find how even the cross can be borne as a gift.” 

Since joining The Bluff, and hearing so many people speak of hope, I’ve taken this concept – hope - to prayer and meditation. I’ve tried to understand how I define hope; how hope shows up in my life. I’ve tried to identify what constitutes my deepest hope. 

As a Catholic, my hope is similar to what Moreau wrote about: hope for redemption in Christ; hope for union with Christ. This is the source of my hope. 

This hope manifests itself in all aspects of my life. I hope for building the Kingdom of God on earth – where there is no violence or injustice, no poverty or cruelty or discord. An earthly dwelling where there is no racism, sexism, or suffering; where God’s creation is cared for and stewarded; where people live together in harmony.

I hope for my family and friends – for their health and happiness and success.

My sense is that each one of us, whether we are Catholic or not, whether we practice a faith or not, is engaged in a grand journey. How we walk with each other, talk to one another, agree, disagree, play, work and even love…we are on this journey, in this moment, together.

We are here to discern what we are truly hoping for; what our hearts tell us is right and true and good. We are here to envision such a world and feel deep in our bones that such a world is possible. And then, we are here to act; to execute; to do what we can with what we have been given to build the reality we hope for. 

So I ask you today: what are you hoping for? What is the world you wish to create? Do you feel that, despite all of the obstacles that may be in your way, you can create this world? And what will you do to bring this about? 

As I assume the Presidency of this great institution, I want to speak about my hope for this extraordinary university.

Earlier today, we gathered for a beautiful Mass here in the Chiles Center. We sang the hymn, “O God Beyond All Praising.” Now, those who know the hymn, and who were paying close attention to the lyrics, may have noticed something wonderful about the second verse. Its words were written by former Provost and Professor Emeritus Thomas Greene, and they speak of the University of Portland. 

Now, for your benefit and because I’d never hear the end of it from my family, I am not going to sing the verse. However, I will read it now: “O Christ our greatest teacher, we follow in your way. That we may serve our mission and glorify your name. Forming hearts and hands for service, may the world know of your love. University of Portland, your beacon on The Bluff.” 

Since I first heard the hymn a few months ago, the words “beacon on The Bluff” have resonated deeply with me. I’ve come to realize that they encapsulate my hope for the University of Portland. In sum, I hope that our University, now more than ever, lives into its calling to be a beacon on The Bluff. 

What does a beacon do? What purpose does it serve? 

A beacon brings light to the darkness. It guides toward the right path. A beacon doesn’t remain where it is, but rather, it penetrates; it travels. A beacon provides the comfort and confidence that can inspire you to go forth boldly, and it can remain by your side on the journey.

Our world, our nation, our community – they need beacons. And I am convinced that the University of Portland can be the beacon that our world longs for. 

In a world where disinformation and discord are currency, UP can be a beacon for the dissemination of truth, for testing hypotheses and gaining new wisdom, for modeling what it means to debate the thorny issues of the day and achieve new insight and understanding.

The University of Portland can lead the way in inspiring, educating, and preparing students and campus to partner with our great City and State to address local and global challenges, and gain a deeper understanding of our commitment to be an active engaged citizen.

In a world facing tremendous challenges – poverty, houselessness, inequality, racism, war, climate change, declining spirituality – UP can be a beacon for human dignity and stewardship of creation. A place that promotes the fundamental truth of the sacred nature of all humans, and the planet we have been given. With our tremendous knowledge, oriented towards justice, we can be the convenor of critical conversations. We can be the incubator for solutions to the problems that ail our society.

In a world that cries out for compassion, for concern for humanity, for recognizing the sacred and miraculous that exist all around us; for the virtues of charity, understanding, patience, kindness – UP can be a beacon for a life lived fully, and in solidarity with those around us.

My hope, too, is that this beacon is amplified, even by those who do not call the University their home. We can be the example that transforms the world.  Gathered here today are civic leaders, delegates from other educational institutions, people from all walks of life. I hope you will see today as an invitation to join us in our work. Together, we can be the beacon that our communities need.

God has given us all we need to set forth on this journey. We have a brilliant, thriving community that is full of people of faith and charity and goodwill. We have dedicated alumni and benefactors. We will soon have a new strategic plan – entitled Hope, Renewal, Transformation – that will be our guide. We have a Holy Cross mission and identity that endures because it anchors us in a truth that is real and lasting and permanent. We have all of the ingredients we need to hope and to build the beacon of which I have spoken.

I pledge to you that as I take on this role as President, ensuring the University of Portland’s role as a Beacon on The Bluff will be my primary goal. We have emitted a sacred light for 121 years; I will do all that I can to ensure that this light grows only stronger in the 121 years to come, and in the years that follow thereafter.

So I ask all who are assembled here today: what is your hope? What is the deepest longing in your life? What is our collective hope as a UP community? 

My hope is that UP truly becomes that Beacon on The Bluff we sang about earlier today. May we be the Beacon that is seen not just here in Portland, in Oregon, on the West Coast but the world over. May our students, staff, faculty, and alumni be guided by the light that comes from this Beacon. May they take that light from The Bluff to wherever it is they go, and whatever they do. 

Let us, together, endeavor to be a new Beacon on The Bluff, for all the world to see. 

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the University of Portland.