President Padilla

Valparaiso University Inaugural Remarks by José D. Padilla
on the occasion of his inauguration
as 19th President of Valparaiso University
October 30, 2021

Welcome all.  The Board of Directors, faculty, staff, students, alumni and the rest of the Valpo family.  Welcome to our guests from the community, the state and other parts of the country. Welcome to my brother and sister presidents and their representatives. 

Many of you have traveled far to be here.  Thank you for making the trip.  For many, it’s the first time on our campus. In this majestic Chapel of the Resurrection. 

I stood on these steps on March 1st – the first day on the job.  These past eight months have been some of the most rewarding and challenging of my life.  It’s been a journey of learning.  Of earning my place in the Valpo family.   Of sensing the imperceptible hand of God at work.  Seeing Him in the eyes of our students. 

I couldn’t be more excited and humbled by the privilege to lead Valparaiso University at this time of renaissance.  At the pivot point from a legacy that has shaped us, to a future we will shape together.  To be a drum major for this small yet mighty Lutheran university that punches above its weight … 60 miles east of Chicago … 60 miles west of South Bend … and 180 miles northwest of Indianapolis … For me, the center of the universe.  The epicenter for developing servant leaders from all faiths and backgrounds. 

Here at Valpo, knowledge meets faith. Purpose meets passion. Attitude meets action. And fear meets its match.

Bravery is required because these are challenging times for any university. More so for private, liberal arts universities that are tuition-dependent.  The list of challenges is not new: enrollment, demographic shifts, constantly changing economic models … … Online learning. And then, COVID.

But I have learned that we at Valpo were built for these times.

And who have been my teachers? You. The Board. Faculty. Staff.  Alumni. Community. And Students. You’ve been my teachers. Thank you. I have tried to be the best student possible – to be the servant leader you need and deserve. 

Let me tell you what I’ve learned from you all. 


THE BOARD - -I have learned how four short years can generate a lifetime of devotion.

You’ve given unselfishly of your time.  You and our predecessors have built this university.  You are carpenters who walk in the path of the greatest carpenter of all, God’s only son. 

FACULTY – I have learned how the power of scholarship and teaching can turn 18 year olds afraid of their shadows into 22 year olds casting long shadows.

I’ve been, at or affiliated with, three great universities: DePaul, the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan.  I’d stack Valpo faculty against any of them. 

Your research leaps off the page into people’s lives.  Because you are teachers first and foremost.  Valpo is no ivory tower – rather, it’s a home to towering servant-scholars, deeply engaged in the educational lives of students and the community … in ways that will resonate for years to come.  You are the splash and they are the ripple.

COMMUNITY – I’ve learned that the Valpo family extends beyond the borders of this campus. I’ve learned of the promise and potential of this region and state through the organizations, One Region, Northwest Indiana Forum, and the Latino Institute.  I’ve worked with the unselfish Chancellors from the IVY Tech Community Colleges in Gary and Valparaiso and College of DuPage in Illinois. I’ve learned that we can build together a center of learning and economic growth – no longer the stepchild of Chicago or an afterthought in Indianapolis or Springfield. 

ALUMNI AND FRIENDS OF THE UNIVERSITY – you have shown me generosity and love for this university.  You have welcomed me in ways that have touched my heart. Hilda, Camille, Jake and my dog Coach are so happy to live on campus with our new family – a family that has so welcomed us. Let me share two stories.

One day the widow of a professor came to my office to present me with a prayer shawl. It was knitted by an older alum who wanted to remain anonymous. As she knitted … she prayed for me. Now, her prayers drape softly around me, as does the shawl.

And this crucifix I am wearing was first worn by none other than O.P. Kretzmann. To our guests, O.P. is a legend.  President from 1940 to 1968.  He was ahead of his time. Integrating the university.  Bringing Bobby Kennedy to campus, just weeks before his assassination.  An alum, class of 1959, drove by herself all the way from central Illinois to give it to me. Every day, this crucifix makes me feel one heartbeat closer to the kind of president I aspire to be. Every day I ask, “What would O.P. do?”

And STAFF. We all know that this place wouldn’t run without you.  From helping students receive financial aid to keeping their dorms and classrooms safe.  From supporting their mental health to leading them in social justice projects.  You give them the intangibles that make college the best years of their lives. And staff, because of your hard work, for the first time ever, about 30% of our freshmen class will be students of color.

And STUDENTS – you have taught me about resilience and optimism …Man do you have swagger. You swagger standing still.   Soon after I started, we quickly shifted to full remote learning because of 60 positive COVID cases. Like champions, you worked together without missing a beat. … You took care of yourselves, and took care of your brothers and sisters, and because of your care, we were able to lift restrictions faster than expected. … Upper classmen and women – you led the way to an in-person graduation this spring and a 95% vaccination rate this fall.  Thank you.


Your success is not surprising because we transform students.  At Valpo, we educate people from all walks of life. Students who are well-heeled. And students with one pair of shoes. Students from families where college is an expectation. And students where college is a first. 

Some of our students come from families living paycheck to paycheck. Some have been homeless. We’re not just a safety net, we are a springboard for these students to leap into a new life.

I know something about the ability of education to transform lives. My father grew up dirt poor in Colorado … He never went to high school. He joined the Army and became a paratrooper. It’s only by the grace of God that his company sergeant – who was shocked that my Dad did not go to high school – made him get his GED in the Army. And then my Dad went to college on the GI Bill. Next, he became a teacher … then a high school counselor … and this man – who never went to high school – finished his career as a high school principal.

That is the power of learning … Of faith and the American Dream … where a farmhand in Colorado can become a principal in Michigan.  My Dad is no longer with us.  My regret is that Principal Joe Lloyd Padilla isn’t here to see President Jose Dewey Padilla. 

Think of how education changed my father. His story showed that where you start doesn’t dictate where you end.   Multiply the power of his transformation by Valpo’s 3,000 students. That’s a quiet revolution. 

Here we shepherd flocks that may be lost, struggling or in search of themselves.  That’s what we do as a great Lutheran university. 


We also produce servant leaders.  At a great Lutheran university, we put our faith into practice.  As the prophet James asks: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”

Practicing our faith is what we inspire our students to do.  Developing them into persons of faith through leadership and social justice programs on campus.  By having them focus less on their paychecks upon graduation and more on paying back … and paying it forward … and paying our dues in faith-based deeds.

As Martin Luther wrote: Let us also be generous [as Abraham was], and let us open the door to poor brethren and receive them with a joyful countenance. Our graduates are joyful warriors for the defenseless and dispirited.


We also seek to be force multipliers for our region and nation.  Valpo is a home of learning like few others. Where the liberal arts combine with business, engineering and health sciences to expand minds and horizons. Where the humanities are a point of pride … and where HUMANITY is our compass.

With our faculty, we are especially well-positioned to answer the call of our economy and nation, and the educated workforce they require.
Valpo can play a critical role in preparing the nation’s workforce for generations to come – preparing people for high-growth areas that demand the best in education. An educated workforce ignites a strong economy and sustains it over time.  We are a power source.


We are a power source in transition.  We have a storied legacy of doing good and meeting the challenges of the times. This legacy connects the generations and gives us the resilience to build on the past.  It informs our vision and gives us the nimbleness to ignite a renaissance that is an answer and an antidote for these times.

The renaissance will unfold through strategic planning process which has just started.   We must seize the moment, our moment … and be bold in our strategy … be bold in thought and action. We must turn difficult times into opportunities.  COVID has shown what we can do under the gun.  We can’t fear change.  Martin Luther didn’t.  If he had, we wouldn’t be here.  Valpo wouldn’t be here.

Change doesn’t dishonor our legacy.  It only burnishes it. We will sew a new coat with old, yet strong, thread … proven over time.  Because that is the tie that binds us over the generations. 


We all come to the race of life with different kinds of preparation.

I want Valpo to be the great equalizer.  Where we enable all people …. Brothers and sisters from all backgrounds … From all faiths, all races and ethnicities … to be ready for the race … and to compete with hope and heart … with humanity and humility … with vitality and vision.

And I know the race isn’t against each other. It’s a relay … with powerful hand-offs that propel us forward with purpose as individual servant leaders … That propel us forward as a Valpo family ready to lift up our community, our economy, our nation … Lift up our brothers and sisters to a life of learning, vocation and transformation.


We have no idea what this university is capable of. We’re on the cusp of a renaissance … of answering the call of society … of helping nurture a new economy through ever-widening education … a promise taking wing through students emboldened by the question “what if” and refusing to yield to the cynics’ warning “you can’t” – to those who think our best days are behind us … We’re emboldened to race forward together, urging each other on … emboldened by the possibility of a life well-lived … of a life that changes lives.

We are beacons who unselfishly light the way for each other.

This is Valpo’s path. Travel it with me … There is no “can’t” … there is only “what if” and “we will” and “we can, together … today.” 

May God Love You All.