UArts Inaugurates President David Yager, Holds 140th Anniversary Gala

October 17, 2016

The University of the Arts kicked off the celebration of our 140th Anniversary in style, presenting a 140th Anniversary Gala followed by the Inauguration of President David Yager.





In a unique and dynamic ceremony that also featured dance, theater and musical performances, the University inaugurated President David Yager on Monday, Oct. 17. The ceremony was held at the Merriam Theater.

In his address, President Yager asked the audience to close their eyes and imagine a University of the Arts of the future, one that is the most provocative, imaginative, entrepreneurial, socially engaged, authentic and influential school of the arts in the country.

“Mark today in your calendar, as we celebrate 140 years and this inauguration. We are standing at the threshold of something new… the University of the Arts will be what it has always been—distinctive and bold—and it will be like something we have never seen before. Because that is our obligation—and our passion—as artists and makers.”

In addition, honorary doctor of fine arts degrees were awarded to Stan Lee, the Marvel Comics legend;  Ron Yerxa, a film producer known for the Oscar-nominated Nebraska, as well as Little Miss Sunshine and Cold Mountain; and Freeman Hrabowski III, prominent American educator and president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The ceremony also included greetings and congratulations by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who declared the day “UArts Day” in the city of Philadelphia. University of the Arts Board Chair Jeffrey Lutsky served as the master of ceremonies for the event.

In a video presentation of the award to Stan Lee, the 93-year-old entertainment icon answered questions from UArts students and offered career advice to them, urging them to choose a career that they truly enjoy rather than one that may pay better but not offer the same level of satisfaction. He expressed his delight at the honor—his first-ever honorary degree—exclaiming, “Oh wow, I’m a doctor!”

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, who was deeply involved in the 1960s Civil Rights movement, offered a stirring acceptance speech that championed diversity, and that praised the role of artists in our society as a group that appreciates differences among us, finds common ground and what it means to be human, and most importantly that imagines possibilities.

And film producer Ron Yerxa offered an amusing and insightful look at how time changes our memory of films that made an emotional impact on us, with those memories shifting to reflect our evolution as individuals and our emotional needs.

The ceremony featured two performances by students from the School of Dance, the Ira Brind School of Theater Arts and the School of Music’s “Z” Big Band with vocalist Liz Radogonda, an assistant professor of Music. A raucous and joyous WhoaFat, an alumni New Orleans jazz band, led the procession and recession to and from Hamilton Hall.


On Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Hyatt at the Bellevue, more than 400 guests attended the Gala, a high-energy evening that wove together musical and theatrical performances, awards and remarks to create an impactful evening honoring the University’s history and its exciting future. Performances included dancers, musicians, visual artists and actors from the University of the Arts community, and a special set by Tony and Grammy award-winning actor and singer, Leslie Odom, Jr., of Hamilton fame. Most well-known for his role as ‘Aaron Burr’ in the Broadway sensation Hamilton, Philadelphia native Odom performed songs from the musical and a series of jazz standards. 

President Yager took the opportunity to announce an exciting development, for UArts’ Glass program and for the University as a whole—our first-ever endowed chair, the Effron Family Chair in Glass, made possible by the generosity of Trustee Brian Effron and his wife, Sherry.