University Holds Belated Inauguration, Draws Regional, Academic Leaders

After two earlier attempts were thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic, La Sierra University held its inauguration on May 31 in celebration of its president, Dr. Joy Fehr.

On May 29, 2019, the La Sierra University Board of Trustees voted Fehr into the presidency as La Sierra’s fourth president since the institution re-organized as a university in 1990. Fehr officially took the helm July 1 of that year and serves as La Sierra’s first female president in its 100-year history.

A first inauguration scheduled for April 2020 was canceled as the pandemic advanced, and an attempted second ceremony planned for that November was also pulled back. The university returned to in-person classes in September 2021, and the inauguration was slated for May 2022.

The ceremony was held at the La Sierra University church and included regional civic, academic, and legislative leaders. Musical performances included a fanfare by the La Sierra University Wind Ensemble titled “Joy is a Bird.” It was directed by music professor and composer Giovanni Santos, who wrote the work under a commission by the La Sierra University College of Arts & Sciences.

Cheryl Harris Kisunzu, provost of Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland, delivered the inaugural address. She said that she drew inspiration from an unexpected source: La Sierra’s golden eagle mascot. “The female golden eagle is known for her ability to soar [like] the male, but she is known for agility, she is known for nesting abilities through which the offspring and the next generation is secured,” Kisunzu said. “And I thought, that’s our President Fehr. She is our inaugural presidential female golden eagle.”

She noted the golden eagle’s ability to rise on the currents, to take those entrusted to her to new heights. In that vein, Kisunzu played off the word rise—using it as an acronym for resilience, inclusion, service, and excellence—and incorporated examples of those traits from Fehr’s presidency. She concluded with words of wisdom that might be imparted from noted biblical female figures.

Bradford Newton, president of the Pacific Union Conference and chair of La Sierra’s Board of Trustees, conducted the presidential installation ceremony.

“Joy, your passion for excellence, your ability to see around the corners as we work on the strategic future of our university together, and your deep commitment to the enterprise of Seventh-day Adventist higher education instills confidence for the future,” Newton said.