President Judy Sakaki officially takes office at Sonoma State University

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It was a day of pomp and show at Sonoma State University on Thursday as faculty, students and academic leaders from throughout the state gathered on the Rohnert Park campus for the formal investiture of its new president, Judy K. Sakaki.

“I’m confident students will look to Judy, to her journey, to her vision, her passion, her presence and her example, to help them see they too, belong, and Sonoma State is right for them,” California State University Chancellor Timothy White said before presenting Sakaki with the Presidential Medallion, representing the “authority and responsibility of the office of the president.”

The gesture formalized Sakaki’s position as the seventh president of SSU and the first woman in the office since Marjorie Wagner 40 years ago.

She is also the first Japanese-American woman in the country to head a four-year university and her Japanese heritage was in evidence throughout.

The two-hour program began with a procession of 100 faculty members in academic regalia, and included a Buddhist offering of gratitude and a traditional Japanese taiko drum and flute performance.

Sakaki referenced her parents’ inspiring Japanese phrases and ended her remarks with a thank you and an “arigato.” The festivities concluded with a free concert by Hiroshima, a jazz-fusion band.

Sakaki wore the regalia of Sonoma State, a “Seawolf blue” robe with four bars on the sleeve. Concealed beneath was a heart-shaped pin in honor of her late parents. Her mother made the pin while being held at a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

She chose “Dance with Change” as the day’s theme, and reiterated her commitment to “re-imagine a student-centered university.”

“We have reprioritized the academic mission of the university and we are focused on our students and on their success. These commitments will continue to shape more changes in the months and years to come,” she said.

Investiture ceremonies are a longstanding academic tradition commonly practiced in the state university system and the University of California.

Sakaki is one of five new CSU presidents hired last year and all five are undergoing formal investitures.

Although she has been on the job nine months, an investiture ceremony can be held anytime within the first year.

Sakaki invited Michael Drake, former president of UC Irvine and now president of Ohio State University, to deliver the keynote address in Weill Hall at The Green Music Center.

Drake, she said was an important mentor during a critical time in her career. He described her as “one of the bright stars of the education galaxy.”

The ceremony also featured the inaugural performance of a new alma mater song, “Sonoma State Rising,” composed by music professor Brian Wilson and English professor Brantley Bryant. Afterward, Sakaki manned an open-air photo booth. Several hundred people lined up for a hug and a picture with the new president.

The campus budgeted $100,000 for the day’s activities, which included a reception after the ceremony.

The university expects to offset some of the cost with donations from local business sponsors and the SSU Alumni Association.

The list of special guests included dignitaries from both the California State and University of California systems, including other CSU presidents and trustees, as well as several UC regents and officials from the UC Office of the President.

Sakaki has served in both systems, most recently as UC’s vice president for student affairs, working out of the office of the president under Janet Napolitano, a friend of Sakaki’s who did not attend Thursday.

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