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Dreaming Big Together

President-elect Jonathan Alger addressed staff, faculty, students, and alumni during a celebratory community event on April 10.

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AU president-elect Jonathan Alger spoke at a community welcome event on April 10. Photo by Jeff Watts

President-elect Jonathan Alger looked out into the crowd of hundreds of AU community members gathered at the Katzen Arts Center rotunda on April 10 and asked students to raise their hands high. Then, he spoke directly to them.

“You’re the inspiration and the reason we’re here,” said Alger who comes to AU from James Madison University, where he’s served as president for the last 12 years. “Let’s dream big together.”

While AU’s 16th president is still learning about the campus community he’ll join July 1, he shared what he already knows for certain: the people who study and work here are “the heartbeat of the university.”

“You challenge, you encourage, and you inspire,” Alger said. “I know these are challenging times in higher education, in our nation, and in our world. And I know that you have ideas, concerns, and hopes to share. While we can’t explore all of them today, I am committed to working side-by-side with all of you. We will listen to one another, we will learn, we will strive. We won’t get everything right, but we will move forward together.”

Joined by his wife, Mary Ann, Alger shared what drew him to American University.

“I especially like that AU’s mascot is an eagle. Throughout our nation’s history and on our coinage, the eagle has been an enduring symbol of courage, strength, hope, and opportunity,” said Alger, an avid coin collector. “As we get started this summer, I’m looking forward to spending time with all of you as we begin to write the next chapter in a great history. I want to hear your American dreams. What can we do together to build on the important work that has been done here to take this wonderful institution to even higher levels of excellence in the years to come?”

Alger’s buoyant message resonated with Thomas Merrill, chair of the Faculty Senate. “I’m hopeful that he’s going to be bringing lots of good things to the university,” said the SPA professor. “I’ve been quite pleased with him, and I thought the event was well done.”

Alger, a Harvard-educated lawyer and Rochester native, also shared his vision for AU during the hourlong event.

“AU has long exemplified themes of service, intellectual curiosity, community, and inclusion,” he said. “As the 16th president of the United States [Abraham Lincoln] might have said, AU’s mission and values reflect ‘the better angels of our nature.’ To borrow a phrase from another US president [Franklin D. Roosevelt], AU has essentially aspired to be an intellectual arsenal for democracy.”

Those words connected with Jessica Bancroft, chair of the AU Staff Council and associate director of professional studies.

“He sounded optimistic,” Bancroft said. “He’s got a great background for a lot of things that AU has been working towards. I think he’s going to do a good job.”

John Rodriguez, SIS-SPA/BA ’25, who also hails from Rochester, said he was excited to hear from Alger in person. The honors student said he was impressed with Alger’s passion for higher education and his commitment to first-generation college students like him.

At JMU, Alger created the Valley Scholars Program for first-generation students from public schools in the region, and Rodriguez looks forward to how Alger will build on that work at AU. “It just gives me hope,” Rodriguez said.

“He has this energy to him,” added Jeremy Schatten, director of identity and data management services in the Office of Information Technology. “He’s certainly done his homework about us. Having someone passionate and detail-oriented to see us through this time of change makes me feel good about where we're going.”

Payton Ziegler, SPA/BA ’24, MA ’25, also felt hopeful after Alger’s remarks. “It was helpful to have the welcome event before our new president is in place so we can see what the transition will look like.”