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Penn President Liz Magill (center) with former Penn Presidents Amy Gutmann (left) and Judith Rodin (right).

Credit: Jesse Zhang

Penn inaugurated Liz Magill as its ninth president Friday, formally commencing the tenure of the University's first new leader in 18 years. 

In a 30-minute inaugural address inside Irvine Auditorium, Magill said that Penn is called upon to "redouble" its commitment to preserving the truth and maximizing its commitment to people of all backgrounds. She cited University founder Ben Franklin's kite and key experiment, which produced the world's first lightning rods, as a parallel to her current call to action: "Let the experiment be made." 

“In its long and illustrious history, Penn has always met the moment. Now, and in the future, we will help make the moment," Magill said, adding that the University "has to evolve" like the city it is a part of. 

Magill also described what she sees as the "many" current challenges facing Penn and the world, saying that faith in democracy and the usefulness of institutions has "eroded around the world." She also described climate change as an "existential threat," warned of a "profoundly polarized society" that cannot agree on the facts, and said there is a widening gap between "those who have a lot and those who have far too little."

The inauguration festivities were steeped in tradition, adorned by ceremonial organ music and multicolored regalia worn by members of the academic procession. The procession walked from the west side of College Hall to Irvine Auditorium, where the ceremony was held and attended by over 900 people, according to University communications. During the procession, which was led by the University Secretary Medha Narvekar, Magill was joined by trustees, faculty, and administrators.

Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok presented Magill with three solid brass keys first used to inaugurate the school's provost in 1895, officially marking her investiture as president. 

 "Like any new beginning, we face it with excitement, joy, and a seriousness of purpose," Bok said of Magill's inauguration, describing it as a "renewal" for Penn. "We live in complicated times and cannot know what challenges are ahead. What I do know is we are ready." 

During the procession, a dozen protestors associated with the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes stood alongside the steps of Penn Commons and next to the Irvine Auditorium entrance on 34th and Spruce streets. One of the protestors, College senior Gigi Varlotta, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the coalition would continue to show up at University events until administrators — including Magill — commit to the preservation of the University City Townhomes.

Around 100 seats were empty inside the auditorium during the ceremony, which was invite-only but livestreamed online. Former University Presidents Amy Gutmann, the current United States ambassador to Germany, and Judith Rodin were in attendance. 

In addition to Magill, Bok, Faculty Senate Chair Vivian Gadsden, Penn Alumni President Ann Reese, and University of Virginia President Jim Ryan delivered speeches. During his speech, Ryan described Magill as a "Cavalier Quaker" and recalled first hearing of her when the two were undergraduates at Yale University, before becoming close work friends at UVA. 

"Although she is not a huge fan of sports analogies herself, she as much as anyone I know keeps her eye on the ball," Ryan said. 

Ryan added that UVA and Penn share a connection through their respective founders — Thomas Jefferson and Franklin. 

Magill, a legal and constitutional scholar who previously served as the provost of the University of Virginia, began her tenure as Penn's president on July 1. The festivities are set to continue Friday with a picnic and concert on Shoemaker Green and an academic symposium with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. Kagan is a former colleague of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom Magill clerked for after completing law school.