The inauguration of any university president is, by nature, a historic event.
But when Nora Miller was inaugurated as the 15th president of Mississippi University for Women Friday before a gathering of 1,200 at The W’s Rent Auditorium, it marked another historic milestone in the university’s 135-year history.
In a 75-minute ceremony, Miller (class of 1983) officially became the first MUW alumnus to assume the president’s post.
“Today marks an important milestone in the history of this institution,” said Shane Hooper, board president for the State Institutions of Higher Learning, in his opening greeting to the audience. “Nora Miller is an example of all the innovations of this institution that are fortified by its traditions. As an alumna, and as someone with almost two decades of experience at this institution, Nora Miller brings a sense of shared experience to this position. We have every confidence in her leadership.”
Miller’s selection to succeed Jim Borsig — first as acting president after Borsig’s retirement in June, and now as official president — was based in large part on her wide range of experience at The W, beginning in 2001 when she joined the administration. Over the next 17 years, Miller served in a variety of capacities, most recently as the university’s vice president for administration and chief financial officer.
Her experience in administration and finance — Miller holds MUW degrees in both business administration and accounting and is a certified public accountant — was widely perceived as her greatest asset moving into her new role.
Speakers on Friday noted Miller’s knowledge of university financing, her attention to detail and her intimate knowledge of both MUW and the IHL — where she previously served as director of budget and financial analysis and director of internal audit — will greatly benefit The W.
“This day is not about me or how I got to this place,” she told her audience. “This day is about The W. It’s a day to honor or past, celebrate our present and a day to light the way for our future.”
From student to president
In her 25-minute address, Miller affirmed the university’s commitment to its mission and goals, highlighted the vision for the university going forward, expressed the W’s commitment to the community and reinforced the W’s belief in the value of liberal arts education.
She made particular note of The W’s commitment to innovation while honoring its history.
As a student at a time when MUW was going through a major transition — she noted that she was a senior when the first male student was admitted to the W in 1982 — Miller said traditions and changes don’t have to be in conflict.
“We are a living, growing organism that is constantly adapting and evolving,” Miller said. “Together, we will face these challenges. Together we will let our light shine.”
Near the end of her address, Miller allowed the audience a glimpse into the more personal side of its new president.
“It’s time for a little audience participation,” Miller said. “Earlier we recognized our alumni. Now, I would like to ask my fellow W classmates from the class of 1983 to please stand. Remember, what happened in the 80s stays in the 80s. And to another group, will my high school and college era friends who are here today please stand and be recognized. I remind you the same thing applies to what happened in the 70s.”
Miller then called for her family members in audience to stand — a group of more than a dozen that included her husband, children, grandchildren, siblings and nieces and nephews.
“I am blessed to come from a big, loving, sentimental Irish Catholic family,” said Miller, who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri.
“Lastly, I’d like to express my gratitude to those who are no longer with us, but were key to my being here in the first place,” she said. “My mom is the one who encouraged me to open the envelope from Mississippi University for Women despite my 17-year-old declaration that I was not going to Mississippi and I was not going to that school. But when my dad saw that there was a generous scholarship offer, he asked me to find out if The W was academically competitive and not the finishing school I told him I was afraid of going to. Here I am all these years later.”
“My scholarship made my college education possible,” she added. “My newfound friends and the support of my family helped keep my initial homesickness at bay.”
Miller closed her address by recalling the support of her older brother, Kevin, during her first weeks away from home.
“Those early calls from Kevin helped not only me to get over the homesickness but also any other girl who answered the third-floor phone at the dormitory,” Miller said. “In my large, sentimental family, Kevin was the most sentimental and I’ll give him credit for adopting our formal family motto that gives honor to our Irish roots — Erin Go Bragh. In our family lingo, it simply means, ‘I love you and I better shut up before I start to cry.’ So I’ll give that a Southern twist and simply close with ‘Erin Go Bragh, y’all.'”
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