Scott Olson was Winona State University’s rock-star president Friday afternoon.
In a rousing and sometimes off-the-cuff inauguration speech at McGown gymnasium he invoked Bruce Springsteen, whom Olson called his muse, described Winona and WSU as the island of hopes and dreams, and compared students to pilgrims seeking a better life through higher education.
Olson often stepped away from the podium and into the crowd as he laid out his vision for the university.
“Why hope and dream?” he asked. “Without hopes and dreams, our lives lead nowhere. We cannot afford not to hope and dream.”
Hundreds of faculty, staff and community members attended the inauguration, held about nine months after he started work as WSU’s newest president.
Other speakers included Steven Rosenstone, the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, Winona Mayor Mark Peterson, and Larry Pogemiller, the director of the state Office of Higher Education.
Three former WSU presidents—Judith Ramaley, Darrell Krueger, and Robert Dufresne—were all in attendance.
At the beginning of his speech, Olson asked several sections of attendees to stand and be honored, including the former presidents, faculty, staff, community members, former WSU employees and others.
Olson promised to work collaboratively with staff and faculty and said dissent and debate would be required to tackle tough problems and subjects.
“We is much smarter than me,” he said.
Olson vowed to keep higher education affordable for all at WSU, while investing in the classroom and instruction.
“We will strive to remove affordability as a barrier,” he said.
Olson also vowed to address the problem of the achievement gap between white and minority students in Minnesota, a topic important to him since he brought diversity issues into the spotlight at WSU last semester.
“We will not rest until we can figure out how to close that gap,” he said. “Our campus will be rich and alive in diversity in all its forms.”
Olson said his dream is to distill the essence of WSU.
“My dream is being an even purer version of what we have always been: A community of learners improving the world,” he said.
Afterward, attendees met with Olson at a public reception, where many said they were impressed with Olson and his time so far as president.
“I was really inspired by his hopes and dreams,” said St. Charles mayor Bill Spitzer.
“It’s a big day for Winona,” said Winona mayor Mark Peterson. “I’m very excited for president Olson.”