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Pepperdine Celebrates the Inauguration of James A. Gash as the University's Eighth President and Chief Executive Officer

September 26, 2019  | 5 min read

In the presence of thousands of members of the Pepperdine community, joined by more than 100 delegates representing institutions of higher learning throughout the nation, James A. Gash (JD ’93) was formally inaugurated as the eighth president and chief executive officer of Pepperdine University during a ceremony hosted at Alumni Park in Malibu on September 25, 2019.

The ceremony featured greetings from community leaders as well as faculty, staff, students, and alumni representatives who emphasized President Gash’s leadership in and commitment to faith, academics, and community. Pierre Long-Tao Tang, assistant professor of music and director of instrumental ensembles who joined the faculty in the fall of 2019, led the Pepperdine Wind Ensemble in performances of classical and contemporary selections.

In his welcome address, Michael Feltner, dean of the Frank R. Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, defined the presidency by explaining that, “The true measure of the success of a Pepperdine president is in the success experienced by our graduates and how well they serve the communities and people they engage throughout their lifetimes. Because of our mission, the indelible mark cast on Pepperdine students by the vision, leadership, and values of our president impacts not only those students, but the world.”

Reflecting on Geroge Pepperdine’s vision for the school as well as the University's history, Rick Marrs, provost and chief academic officer of Pepperdine, officially opened the 2019–20 academic year following an invocation from Helen Easterling Williams, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Pete Peterson, dean of the School of Public Policy, and a performance of the national anthem led by the Pepperdine Wind Ensemble and Pepperdine Concert Choir under the direction of Ryan Board, Pepperdine director of choral activities.

Marrs introduced Senator Henry Stern, who represents California’s 27th District, which includes the City of Malibu; the Honorable Bart Magunda Katureebe, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Uganda; and Phil Schubert, president of Abilene Christian University, who delivered official greetings to President Gash and attendees.

Henry Tumwesige, the falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned young man President Gash met during his first visit to Uganda in 2010, was also in attendance to commemorate the auspicious occasion. Tumwesige’s story served as the inspiration behind Gash’s efforts to reform the African country's courts system, eventually resulting in the development of the Sudreau Global Justice Program at the Pepperdine School of Law. Gash’s involvement in Tumwesige’s trial inspired the making of the award-winning 39-minute documentary, REMAND, viewed by the Pepperdine community during a special screening at Smothers Theatre in the evening following the inauguration ceremony.

In his address, Katureebe credited President Gash and President Emeritus Andrew K. Benton for the vast improvements Uganda’s justice system has undergone since the University and the nation launched their partnership many years ago. 

In appreciation of the historic positive social impact, Uganda’s minister of justice and constitutional affairs, the principal judge of the Courts of Judicature, three justices of the superior courts, the director of public prosecutions, the solicitor general, the chief registrar of the judiciary, and other senior government officials of Uganda also traveled nearly 10,000 miles to witness the inauguration ceremony.

Highlighting President Gash’s success as a 20-year Pepperdine professor and administrator, Paul L. Caron, the Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean of the Pepperdine School of Law, shared that “Jim’s greatest legacy at the School of Law is in the lives of his students. He famously learned the names of every one of his students during the first week of classes, and he remembers them to this day. Jim invests heavily in the lives of his students and builds deep and enduring relationships with them.”

Jim Gash - Pepperdine UniversityThe investiture ceremony commenced following remarks from Dee Anna Smith (’86), chair of the Pepperdine University Board of Regents; President Emeritus Benton; Sara Jackson (’74), Pepperdine University chancellor; and David Davenport, the sixth president of Pepperdine University. Enthusiastic cheers from the crowd could be heard across the Malibu campus as Davenport escorted President Gash to the podium and President Emeritus Benton placed the medallion on President Gash.

Officially presenting her husband as “the eighth president of Pepperdine University,” First Lady Joline Gash (’92) declared Pepperdine’s promises to fully integrate faith, academic excellence, and community to provide students with a world-class education and to be known as a place of community, adding that, “As the one who knows him best, I can assure you that [Jim] won’t rest until the great promises of Pepperdine are making waves across the world by sending highly trained leaders of character and faith to restore hope, healing, and virtue to every industry and institution.”

In his inaugural address, which explored the future of the University through the metaphor of the Pepperdine community climbing a mountain together, President Gash noted, “The world needs more Pepperdine. Our mandate [and] our unique gift to the world is our students. Our mandate is to train up and send out these students as brilliant leaders of faith, character, courage, and creativity.”

Emphasizing that while Pepperdine has achieved notable global success over the last eight decades, President Gash urged the community to continue the climb in order to reach even greater heights. As he put it, “Many great men and women have given their careers and livelihoods to build the excellent university we now enjoy. Many of them are here today. But I guarantee you those very same pillars of this institution would not want us to rest. They didn’t pass the baton for us to sit or walk or stand still holding tightly to what we have already achieved. They passed the baton for us to run and climb higher still.”

Specifically, he conveyed that Pepperdine must strengthen its students “intellectually, spiritually, and relationally so that they have the courage to lead and serve with global influence and the courage to pursue leadership and service where it matters. And it matters in two places: it matters where there is power and it matters where there is poverty.”

Highlighting the University’s Church of Christ heritage, President Gash explained that as a Christian institute of higher education, all are welcome at Pepperdine’s “open table.”

“We invite and welcome those of different faiths and no faith. We invite and welcome those with varying political views. We invite and welcome those with diverse backgrounds. We invite and welcome those from every race, creed, and ethnicity,” he said. “We invite everyone here because God designed life that way. He designed us to do life together. He designed us to need each other. To belong to each other. He designed us with different gifts and different views. He strengthens us and teaches us through the vehicle of different perspectives. The reason we invite the world here is because we become better and stronger when we ascend together as God’s family.” 

Closing his remarks in a prayer from Isaiah 64, President Gash further expressed his passion for togetherness and a strong sense of community by asking that “God pour out his favor on Pepperdine as we ascend. Together.”

The ceremony concluded with a benediction led by Deryck J. van Rensburg, dean of the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, and closing remarks from Provost Marrs.

The weeklong celebration included a praise and worship event on September 23 at Firestone Fieldhouse, with a special performance by internationally acclaimed Christian music praise and worship group Hillsong Worship. The evening also featured guest speakers Bob Goff, New York Times best-selling author and founder of nonprofit organization Love Does, and Dave Clayton, lead church planter and pastor at Ethos Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Jennifer J. Wiseman, renowned astronomer and astrophysicist, delivered the inauguration keynote lecture “A Universe of Wonder, Challenge, and Possibility,” which examined the cosmos through the dual lens of science and faith, on September 24 at Smothers Theatre.

The full inauguration ceremony is available on the Pepperdine University page on the Livestream website.