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Why Gov. Cox celebrated Utah State's president Friday evening

Betsy Cantwell stands behind a wooden lectern with a dark blue background.
Levi Sim
Utah State University
Elizabeth R. Cantwell gives a brief speech on May 19, 2023 at Utah State University. Cantwell is now the 17th president of USU.

Preaching to a room full of academics and members of the Aggie community, Utah State University President Elizabeth Cantwell delivered a simple message — faith in the power of education.

Cantwell, clad in a black and Aggie blue gown with a large medallion around her neck, told a Logan concert hall that her faith in the future of USU is what drives her.

“Today, as public higher education faces its own set of challenges, my faith is in the power of education to transform lives and give people better futures,” Cantwell said Friday.

Cantwell said Utah State will not only be a leader in the fields of science and technology, but an institution to lead Utah forward.

“This belief in the potential for good and the transformative power of education, and the promise of the next generation is why I stand before you today,” Cantwell told attendees to a Friday evening celebration of her leadership. “This is Utah State. This is Utah State’s moment, and I know that we are ready.”

Though it’s been nearly a year since Cantwell was named the 17th president of Utah State University, state leaders and the university officially celebrated Cantwell’s new era of leadership in Logan on Friday.

Utah State honored Cantwell during a formal investiture, a type of academic ceremony that “symbolizes the pursuit of knowledge” and recognizes a new point in history for a university, according to a USU news release. Investiture ceremonies typically take place within a new university president’s first year at the helm.

Seated feet away from Cantwell onstage Friday was Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who said he’s never been more proud to be an Aggie. A graduate of Utah State, Cox said Cantwell is the reason for his optimism. Leaning on his upbringing in central Utah, Cox said he hopes Cantwell’s tenure is marked by benefiting rural Utahns.

“I’ve never been more excited for our future,” Cox said. “President Cantwell, may God bless you as you take on this enormous responsibility of educating, lifting, helping those kids from small towns like Fairview, Utah to believe in themselves, but to be humble enough to believe in others.”

Cox was among those set who spoke during the Friday investiture ceremony — which was held at Utah State’s Newel & Jean Daines Concert Hall — along with Utah System of Higher Education Commissioner Geoffrey Landward and USU Board of Trustees chair Jacey Skinner.

“The investiture of a new president is one of the most significant markers that shapes the history of a university,” Jacey Skinner, chair of the USU Board of Trustees, said in the news release. “We expect President Cantwell’s tenure to bring opportunity for growth, improvement and advancement for our students and the institution.”

Cantwell came to Utah State from the University of Arizona, where she was the senior vice president of research and innovation. Prior to that, she was Arizona State University’s vice president for research development.

Since officially taking over at Utah State in August, Cantwell has crisscrossed the state to hold roundtable discussions with USU students, faculty and staff — asking the groups for their worries and insights on where USU can improve.

Cantwell has stressed her desire for the university to adapt and shift its goals toward addressing what Utahns’ future needs. She has also said the university is in need of changes, saying in February that USU was in need of a “complete reorganization” of its leadership structure.

For Cantwell, USU’s designation as a land-grant university — which USU itself describes as a type of institution that must provide “research-based programs and resources” for residents — means public service should be its main priority, whether it means serving the needs of students today or students in the future.

On Friday, Cantwell stressed the importance of USU’s role in the future of educating Utahs, both rural and urban, and leading the Beehive State into the future.

“Utah State University is more than an institution, it’s a testament to the enduring value of the land grant mission,” Cantwell said. “It’s a symbol of high hope for a world in flux, and the linchpin in an innovation ecosystem for a future that is yet to unfold.

Reporter Jacob Scholl covers northern Utah as part of a newly-created partnership between The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio. Scholl writes for The Tribune and appears on-air for UPR.