A time for change: University inaugurates first Hispanic president, makes history


Nina Martinez / Hilltop Views

President Fuentes stands before the crowd during her presidential address. Fuentes is making history by becoming the first Hispanic president at St. Edward’s University.

A live pianist and cellist greet visitors’ quiet shuffling with an orchestral rendition of “Oceans” by Hillsong. A podium with the seal of St. Edward’s stands on a stage, surrounded by floral arrangements in gold, blue and white. A sense of excitement lingers throughout the air as people anticipate the start of a historical inauguration.

Montserrat Fuentes, Ph.D., was honored this morning as the 24th president of St. Edward’s University, making history as the first Hispanic president. The inauguration took place at 11 a.m. in the Recreational and Athletic Center and was live-streamed for those unable to attend the event in person. Hilltop Views also live-tweeted the event. 

Board of Trustees Chair Steve Shadowen opened the ceremony with a call to order, followed by the national anthem sung by senior Mia Carter. After an invocation from Father Peter Walsh, Student Government Association president Jae De Leon took the stage for a campus welcome speech.

De Leon gives her welcome speech at the beginning of the ceremony, symbolizing the student body. (Nina Martinez / Hilltop Views)

“In the eight months she’s been here, she’s brought new energy and redefined what we thought a president should be,” De Leon said. “She’s set an example for all of us and brought inspiration.”

A warm welcome was given to Fuentes by several others. Guest speaker and alumna Luci Baines Johnson shared a moving speech where she reminisced on her days at the Hilltop and shared her excitement for Fuentes’ inauguration. 

“She will be someone we can believe in,” Johnson said. 

After Johnson’s speech, Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, D.D. Bishop and Diocese of Austin, blessed the President’s Medallion and offered a prayer for Fuentes. 

Fuentes’ family then made their way onto the stage where Shadowen had the honor of placing the medallion around her. Tears swelled in her eyes as family, friends, alumni, faculty and students cheered and clapped in a standing ovation. 

Fuentes tears up after the president’s medallion is placed around her. The President’s Medallion features a depiction of the university’s seal with a cross and anchors as the clasp.

“I am honored to stand before you as the 24th president of St. Edward’s University, and I am grateful for my family’s support on this journey,” Fuentes said during her presidential address. “We cannot tell what the future holds, but we are ready for whatever it brings. We will remain true to who we are as members of the Holy Cross. I cannot wait to work with you to elevate experiences at St. Edward’s. Today, I ask you for your support.”

Fuentes quoted her father several times during the address, stating he once told her these words, and now she wishes for St. Edward’s to live by them: “We must adapt without losing ourselves,” she said. 

At the end of the presidential address, visitors stood and cheered once more in honor of President Fuentes as she made her way back to her seat. Shadowen took the stage for the last time to make closing remarks.

“The Board of Trustees has gifted [St. Edward’s University] a leader and urges current students to join hands with President Fuentes and march confidently into the future,” Shadowen said. 

President Fuentes told Hilltop Views in an interview that making history at the university gave her a great sense of hope and responsibility.

“I want to make sure I work hard to bring opportunities to others,” she said. “I need to work hard to make sure that the education we are providing really truly helps to change the community and beyond. I am so enthusiastic about the future of this university and the community. I feel so blessed.”

The ceremony wrapped up with notes of the alma mater ringing through the speakers. Visitors sang along to the meaningful lyrics that are true for both the Hilltop and our new President: “Proudly, she stands tall.”