By Joseph Lyell —

An estimated 2,500 students, alumni and community members packed the lawn in front of Grawemeyer Hall for the Oct. 4 inauguration of U of L President Neeli Bendapudi.

Bendapudi started work May 15 as the university’s 18th president, the first woman and person of color to hold the position.

In her first public address April 3, she introduced her theme of making the university “a great place to learn, work and invest.”

Six months and one day later, she repeated that message.

“We need to be a place that champions diversity and fosters equity,” Bendapudi said.

Bendapudi said students should make the most out of their college years, and encouraged faculty and staff to work together provide an excellent educational experience.

“We want our students to tackle the great challenges of time. So we must ask of them more than simply ‘What is your major?'” Bendapudi said. “We’ve got to stop.”

She said to ask instead “How will you change your city, your world?”

U.S. Army Pacific Commander Gen. Robert Brown helped introduce Bendapudi, saying she is a trusted educator and a “tremendous” choice for president.

“She’s the right leader at the right time for this institution, if I can be so bold to say that. But it’s obvious,” Brown said.

The president’s colleagues also spoke highly of her before she took the stage.

“She is a breath of fresh air. Open, transparent, very energetic and very optimistic. She has restored the university’s optimism, and hopefully the community’s faith in it,” Provost Beth Boehm said.

Board of trustees chair David Grissom¬†touted both Bendapudi’s fundraising and “friend-raising” efforts at the university, saying she has already established beneficial relationships with community leaders.

“Once we met her, we knew we had found our president,” Grissom said.

Bendapudi challenged the audience and the community at large to invest in the university.

“Over the years and through many many changes and challenges, we have been charged by the state to be the premier metropolitan research university,” she said.

Bendapudi announced to support the continuation of that role, the Trager Family and Republic Bank Foundation have presented the university with a new gift to enhance U of L’s optimal aging institute.

“In the shadow of the Thinker, I ask you to think with me,” Bendpudi said.

Bendapudi used the statue as imagery for her vision for the future of U of L and the community.

“Think about a Louisville where every graduate of our public school system could have college credit before they even start a college degree program,” Bendapudi said.

She said she’d like every student in Louisville to see a clear path to success, and for community college students to see U of L as an option after they graduate.

“Think about a U of L where every student out there knows that they can count on not just one, but a whole set of mentors out there, deeply invested in the success of their mentees,” Bendapudi said.

Bendapudi also said education should never stop.

“Think about a U of L where every staff member knows there will be opportunities for professional development and lifelong learning,” she said.

Bendapudi concluded her inaugural speech by counting down from three and leading the audience in a “Go Cards!” cheer.

“There’s no question in my mind that at the University of Louisville, our greatest days are ahead of us. Thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime,” Bendapudi said.

Photo by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal