Luther Alumni Magazine

Inaugural ceremony in the Center for Faith and Life. Photo by G.V. Suos '15

Paula Carlson inaugurated Luther’s 10th president

The inauguration of Paula J. Carlson as Luther’s 10th president was celebrated on October 10, 2014, during a ceremony that filled the Center for Faith and Life.

Luther Board of Regents chairperson Paul Torgerson ’73 presents the college’s presidential medallion to Paula J. Carlson during her investiture. Photo by Maria da Silva ’15
Luther Board of Regents chairperson Paul Torgerson ’73 presents the college’s presidential medallion to Paula J. Carlson during her investiture. Photo by Maria da Silva ’15

In attendance were members of the college’s student body, faculty, staff, regents past and present, the Decorah community, representatives of organizations and institutions of higher education from across the nation, the honorary consul general of Norway in Minneapolis, and bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Also present were past Luther presidents Richard Torgerson, H. George Anderson, and Elwin Farwell, and past interim presidents David Tiede, Richard Hemp ’64, and David Roslien ’58.

After Luther Board of Regents chairperson Paul Torgerson ’73 placed the presidential medallion around Carlson’s neck as a symbol of her office, the gathered community enthusiastically welcomed her with prolonged applause. Carlson then delivered her inaugural speech.

Inauguration Speech

Thank you.

I am honored and very happy to join the Luther community as the 10th president of Luther College.

Thanks to all of you for participating today in this inauguration ceremony. I am grateful for your presence and your witness here today. My special thanks to members of the Nordic Choir and the Luther College Orchestra, to their conductor Professor Daniel Baldwin, and to College Organist Gregory Peterson for the stirring and beautiful music you are offering us today.

My thanks to representatives from student organizations and to members of Luther’s athletic teams who are representing their teams here today. The year’s off to a good start. Go Norse! My thanks also to the Inauguration Committee for its diligent and dedicated work in planning this inauguration ceremony.

I’d like to add my welcome to Board Chair Torgerson’s to delegates from colleges and universities, representatives of higher education organizations in our state and region, the mayor of Decorah, the honorary consul general of Norway in Minneapolis, and the bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who join us today.

I am grateful for the participation today of members of Luther’s Board of Regents, past Regents, and Regents Emeriti. I’m grateful, too, for the presence and participation of friends, colleagues, and family members.

As I join the Luther community as its 10th president, I want to take note of an unusual and special occurrence. Joining us today are three previous presidents of Luther College and three interim presidents. Together with President Jeffrey Baker whom we remember with his family today, these presidents’ service to the college spans 51 years.

It’s rare and very special to gather presidents who represent a third of Luther’s history, and I’d like to introduce each of them to you now. The three interim presidents here today are the Rev. Dr. David Tiede, Mr. Richard Hemp, and Mr. David Roslien.

Dr. Richard Torgerson became Luther’s 9th president in 1999.

The Rev. Dr. H. George Anderson became Luther’s 7th president in 1982.

The Rev. Dr. Elwin Farwell became Luther’s 6th president in 1963.

Thank you for participating in my inauguration ceremony today. I am moved by your presence and privileged to be the steward now of this august legacy of leadership.

We are honored today at Luther College to be joined by distinguished guests as we celebrate Luther’s compelling mission and its vibrant community at this beginning of a new presidency.

Since 1861, the Luther College mission has called this community to offer its students an engaging, rigorous liberal arts education in a vibrant residential community. Throughout these 153 years, the curriculum’s essential element and the community’s defining characteristic has been the college’s commitment to the life of faith and learning in the Lutheran theological tradition. The past presidents here today, like the presidents who preceded them, have given the college wise leadership as the Luther community faced ever-changing environments, each with its own particular challenges and opportunities, each with its own possibilities for innovation and growth. These presidents led the college—building strength on strength—as faculty and staff created new programs, as new groups were welcomed to the student body, and as the campus grew to provide facilities for new possibilities in teaching and learning and to offer new spaces for a rich, vibrant community life.

The founders of Luther College chose a motto that proclaims the college’s mission: “Soli Deo Gloria”—to God alone the glory. From the college’s earliest years to this day, in ever-changing times with their new possibilities and opportunities, this motto has called the Luther college community to remember our roots and to live our mission, building strength on strength as we innovate to embrace our particular time with our particular challenges and opportunities.

In the Luther College mission statement, we affirm “the liberating power of faith and learning.” We state that we are “rooted in an understanding of grace and freedom that emboldens us in worship, study, and service to seek truth, examine our faith, and care for all God’s people.”

President Paula Carlson delivers her inauguration address. Photo by Maria da Silva ’15
President Paula Carlson delivers her inauguration address. Photo by Maria da Silva ’15

The distinctive ethos of the Luther College community is shaped by the “reforming spirit” of Martin Luther, the 16th century professor and Augustinian friar for whom the college is named. With his persistent, probing questions and his commitment to re-examining what were the intellectual and ecclesiastical “givens” of his day, Martin Luther sparked reform and renewal in the church, university, and society.

Tradition tells us that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, the German city where he was a professor of theology at the University and gave lectures on interpreting the Bible. Luther’s 95 theses are a series of statements and questions about grace, faith, and salvation. They are statements and questions that Luther wanted to examine fully and to debate rigorously. Writing his theses on a piece of parchment and then posting them on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg was Luther’s invitation to other scholars at the University to have a public discussion and debate about what Luther saw to be essential, crucial matters regarding faith, salvation, and especially God’s grace—the undeserved love and favor of God that many of us learned about in confirmation classes.

Luther chose to post his theses on October 31st because he knew that on November 1st—All Saints Day—many citizens of Wittenberg would be coming to the church for worship services. Luther knew that these townspeople would see his statements and questions as they passed through the church door. Posting notices on the Castle Church door was 16th century Wittenberg’s version of our Facebook postings, tweets and twitters, email blasts, bulk mailings, and television ads. In posting his 95 theses on the Castle Church door, Luther was using the most powerful social medium of his day. Luther’s posting was his invitation to all the citizens of Wittenberg to attend, witness, and so participate in the discussion and debate of his 95 theses that he was proposing to the scholars and professors at the University. Luther’s posting was an invitation for a wide, inclusive discussion and debate—a rigorous, engaged conversation and exchange of ideas about essential things—the things that matter most.

Like Martin Luther, the reformer for whom we are named, we at Luther College study, explore, investigate, question, examine, debate, and discuss ideas, questions, insights, and possibilities about essential things, about the things that matter most. We do this in our studies in Martin Luther’s own field of theology, and we also do this across the whole curriculum.

In thinking deeply and exploring widely across all fields in the college’s curriculum, we are also following the example of Martin Luther. As the University of Wittenberg became more and more important in the fast-moving Reformation that Luther sparked on that October day in 1517, Luther along with his colleague and friend Philipp Melancthon encouraged this engaged, thorough, deep thinking at the University in the fields of theology and religion, and also in history, literature, astronomy, geography, philology, and the new emerging fields of the natural sciences.

Our affirmation at Luther College of the “liberating power of faith and learning” is rooted in Luther’s and Melancthon’s pursuit and encouragement of engaged learning in all fields of study. At Luther College, our pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is shaped by our deep dedication to this integrated life of faith and learning.

In our mission statement, we assert that this distinctive way of learning offers students “an education that disciplines minds and develops whole persons equipped to understand and confront a changing society.” Our model of education offers students opportunities to acquire knowledge across many fields and to develop expertise in one. It offers them opportunities to become nimble thinkers, probing explorers of new ideas and experiences, adept integrators of seemingly disparate things, and agile creators of innovative ways to approach problems new and old. And our model of education offers students opportunities to acquire knowledge and develop skills in a community that equally values the pursuit of wisdom and the life of faith.

Essential to our model of education at Luther College is that we learn in community. We gather in this beautiful place—Decorah, Iowa—tucked in the Upper Iowa River’s stunning Oneota valley. Together in this place where—as our mission statement so beautifully reminds us—“river, woodland, and prairie meet,” we are “a community where students, faculty, and staff are enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by [our distinctive] life of faith and learning.” Rooted in the Lutheran theological and educational tradition, we are “people of all backgrounds,” people from many places and faith traditions. We join together here in this place, creating a diverse community as we seek knowledge, understanding, truth, and wisdom in all fields of learning and in our life together.

Several months ago, College Pastor Mike Blair asked me what image I would use to describe this kind of education, this distinctive model of education. I guess he assumed that as a professor and scholar in the field of literature, I would be thinking in images. And he was right. I told Pastor Blair that the image that for me best conveys this model of education is the prophet Isaiah’s image of God calling and welcoming all peoples to a great feast that God hosts. In chapter 55 of his writings, Isaiah describes God calling people together at an abundant feast and then urging them, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.”

Joining the Luther College community—I told Pastor Blair—with its rich and nourishing life of faith and learning together is like being welcomed to this great feast, to an abundant, life-giving offering of knowledge and wisdom shared in a community of faith.

Just a few weeks after our discussion of educational models and literary images, Pastor Blair emailed me. I could feel the excitement in his email. Pastor Blair said he had big news: we’d won the lectionary lotto. I had previously—blissfully—been unaware that there was such a thing as “lectionary lotto.” This was new to me. I thought maybe it was a special True Blue Norse thing that I should quickly and thoroughly investigate and then master. But no. It turns out it’s just a Pastor Blair thing.

As he looked ahead to the lectionary texts for day after tomorrow—the Sunday during this inauguration and homecoming weekend—Pastor Blair found something serendipitous. He saw that the first Scripture reading for this Sunday is from Isaiah 25, which includes another of the passages where Isaiah describes God’s great feast. Isaiah 25 verse 6 tells us, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”

Pastor Blair was right. We did indeed win the lectionary lotto. And so, this inauguration and homecoming weekend, I invite you to think of a Luther College education as our instance here in the beautiful Oneota valley in Decorah, Iowa, of God’s great feast, the feast that the prophet Isaiah tells us will nourish us with good food – with the rich, life-giving marrow of knowledge and with well-aged wisdom to strengthen us as we “learn in community” and “discern our callings,” preparing to go out into the world in many callings and vocations “to serve with distinction for the common good.”

I’m quickly learning that at Luther, sometimes this great feast is not solely a metaphorical feast—sometimes, it’s an actual feast.

Reading about the early history of the college, I was intrigued and delighted to learn about sketches of the first gatherings in celebration of the college’s founding and its mission. The sketches were done by Linka Preus, an immigrant artist married to the Rev. Hermann Amberg Preus, one of the college’s founders. A portion of one of Linka Preus’s sketches is included in the program today, and I invite you to look at it now. (It’s on the first page of the program.)

In Luther’s early years, an immigrant artist named Linka Preus drew sketches of the first gatherings in celebration of the college’s founding and its mission. This sketch depicts Luther’s first president, Peter Laurentius Larsen, at the feast held at the dedication of the first Main Hall in 1865. A selection of Preus’s sketches was featured outside of the Kristin Wigley-Fleming Fine Arts Gallery during Homecoming.Image courtesy of Luther College Archives
In Luther’s early years, an immigrant artist named Linka Preus drew sketches of the first gatherings in celebration of the college’s founding and its mission. This sketch depicts Luther’s first president, Peter Laurentius Larsen, at the feast held at the dedication of the first Main Hall in 1865. A selection of Preus’s sketches was featured outside of the Kristin Wigley-Fleming Fine Arts Gallery during Homecoming.Image courtesy of Luther College Archives


This sketch is of the feast held at the dedication of the first Main building at Luther. This large building was dedicated in 1865, just four years after the college’s founding. At the center of this sketch stands Luther’s first president—Peter Laurentius Larsen. He is surrounded by tables laden with many kinds of rich and nourishing food. Other people depicted in the sketch range from children playing among and under the tables to members of founding families circulating among the guests to community members helping to serve the feast to dignitaries sipping cups of coffee. In her sketch, Linka Preus carefully labeled the foods on the tables and named the people she included in the sketch. Above the people she sketched are words—some in English, some in Norwegian. These words are Linka Preus’s record of the words that the people she depicted were speaking at the moment she captured in her sketch.

When I first saw the sketch, the words of one person in particular caught my attention. Mr. Ole Birkem stands on the far right of the sketch. He remarks to Mrs. Koren—who is standing beside him—that he was pleased to have “100 healthy and diligent boys seeking admission” to this very new college. And he states that he was pleased that so many people showed their interest in this new college by coming to the dedication ceremony and feast of celebration for the new Main building.

Curious, I looked for records that might tell me how many people were at this dedication feast. I was astonished when I saw the numbers. Somewhere between six and ten thousand people attended the dedication ceremony for the first Main building. Two thousand people shared the feast of celebration after the dedication ceremony. Luther College—this very new college, with its 100 students—clearly mattered a great deal to thousands of people. Many people traveled long distances to be present at this dedication of the first Main in 1865. People from Decorah and the surrounding farms and towns provided abundant food. Community members helped to set up tables for the feast, to lay out the food, and to clean up after the feast.

So many people—present at the dedication ceremony and then joining together at the feast of celebration. Their participation and witness testify to the value they saw both in the present and long into the future for this new residential, liberal arts, college of the church. Their presence at the dedication and feast was a sign of their commitment to and support for this distinctive, extraordinary model of education. They saw in Luther College a place where—for many generations—students would learn in community, growing in knowledge and wisdom. They saw a place where—for many generations—students would pursue their callings and be prepared to serve with distinction for the common good.

The histories of Luther College report that this feast of celebration in 1865 concluded a long day filled with ceremony, speeches, greetings, and conversations. As the feast drew to a close on that mid-October day, night was falling. To mark the end of the celebration, candles were lit in the highest windows of Main—the imposing, impressive new three-story college building topped by a three-story tower. The glowing candles in these highest windows spelled out the motto the founders had chosen for Luther College: “Soli Deo Gloria.”

This fall, as we began the 154th new academic year at Luther College, twenty-four hundred students traveled to campus from places near and far, from across the street and from halfway around the world. They came to pursue their college studies with us at this college where we to this day embrace and proclaim our mission as a residential, liberal arts, college of the church. A college where students, faculty, and staff from many places and many backgrounds gather to learn in community, to grow in knowledge and wisdom. A college committed to an integrated life of faith and learning. A college where students discern their callings and prepare to serve with distinction for the common good.

This weekend, we welcome back to campus close to twenty-five hundred alumni and friends of the college, here to remember and to celebrate what a Luther College education has meant in their lives. If Linka Preus were here this weekend to sketch us and to record our conversations as we gather at ceremonies, events, and feasts over these days together, I’m confident that she would again find a vibrant, strong community; energy for new ventures; eagerness to embrace new opportunities and possibilities; resolve to assure the college thrives; ambition to serve with distinction for the common good; and commitment to an integrated life of faith and learning.

The luminous glow of the candles the founders of the college lit in the highest windows of the first Main—“Soli Deo Gloria”—will shine again in our gatherings this weekend as we remember and celebrate again the distinctive mission and community that is Luther College.

We are now the carriers of this light. We are called to be the stewards of this distinctive, extraordinary college. We are called to build strength on strength as together we live Luther’s mission in our time. I am honored and privileged as Luther’s 10th president to join with you in this calling.

Soli Deo Gloria