Dear Alumni and Friends of Seattle University,
For the past 23 years I have had the privilege and the joy to serve as the president of Seattle University and to get to know and work with and enjoy the support of many of you. Together with our Board of Trustees we have been planning for several years for the choice of and transition to the next president of the university. In accordance with this plan I submitted today to the Board a letter indicating my intention to retire June 30, 2021, sixteen months from now. The reason for this length of time before stepping down is to allow the university, under the authority of the Board, to consult about what leadership qualities are needed for the next era of the university and to seek and elect that person.
When I was chosen as president, my predecessor, Fr. William J. Sullivan, S.J., humorously said that since he was the 20th president of the university and had served 20 years, that since I would be the 21st president, I should serve 21 years. I thought it was a good joke . . . and impossible! I am simply amazed that by the grace of God and the support of such wonderful persons such as yourselves, I find myself now having surpassed Fr. Sullivan’s suggestion and intending to retire after 24 years. It has been a great personal blessing, a challenge to growth and a wonderful experience of enrichment from students, alumni, friends, donors, civic and corporate leaders and university colleagues, and a tremendous way of living out my Jesuit, priestly calling and ministry. I have often said I have the best job in Seattle: to be a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, a president of an independent university, this Seattle University, in this city. How could you beat that?! This has sustained me; you have sustained me.
While there is plenty of time in the coming 16 months to reflect on these years, it is time now for me to express as fully and in as heartfelt a way as I can my gratitude to you as friends and as persons who believe in Seattle University and support and are served by its mission. It has been and is really all about people, good people like you, and the privilege to know and serve and work with and be helped by you. Seattle University really is an expanding circle of a community of persons. I hope you know what joy there is to be at the heart of this circle of community, to love it and to be loved by it.
I think especially of our alumni—more than half of whom from our entire history have my name on their diploma—who alone prove by the kind of persons they are and their impact on society that we are fulfilling our mission as a Catholic and Jesuit university. I had the privilege of consulting with the community, to discern and to write that mission: Seattle University is dedicated to the education of the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for just and humane world. While as president I may have written it, and the Board approved it, and the university colleagues have given their all to implement it, and at times our students have challenged us to live up to it, only our alumni show in their lives that the mission is being fulfilled.
Some may ask what accomplishments of these years stand out. For me they are the mission itself, new scholarship programs such as the Costco, Fostering and Alfie Scholars, two campaigns to which you responded so generously, the creation and development of the Seattle University Youth Initiative serving our neighborhood, bringing Seattle U back to where it belongs as a Division I Athletics school, transforming the campus, striving to live the full consequences of a richly diverse and inclusively excellent community, supporting faculty and staff as we seek to share leadership among ourselves, our partnerships within the city and region, and above all the clarity and commitment to our Jesuit education for new times for the sake of the future of our students.
It is clear to me that Seattle University is moving into a new era which calls for the leadership of a new president and renewed support from you our friends and alumni. This new era will build on the recently articulated strategic directions, vision and goals for the university for the next five years: A Jesuit University of Distinction for a Time of Change. The most exciting time of Seattle University is beyond those five years. The next president will have the privilege and joy to shape that future together with you. What an opportunity!
People ask me what I will do next. First of all I will give myself fully in these next 16 months to position the university as promisingly as possible for the next president. Then I would like some time off from these 24 years of Jesuit leadership and administration as well as the 10 years before that. After a dialogue with my Jesuit Provincial, I then look forward to whatever he chooses to mission me to as a Jesuit, hopefully using all that these years of experience, support from you and God’s grace have given me.
Please know my personal gratitude to you and my thanks on behalf of Seattle University.
Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.