Wake Forest formally inaugurates Susan Wente

Wente, the university’s 14th president, is the first woman to lead Wake Forest


Courtesy of Wake Forest

President Susan Wente poses after her investiture.

Kristen Heilenman, Contributing Writer

March 25 marked a momentous occasion in Wake Forest history: Dr. Susan Wente’s formal inauguration as the first female president of the university.

Wente’s family, Wake Forest faculty, staff, students and alumni; local leaders, Board of Trustees members and representatives from other institutions of higher learning gathered in Wait Chapel for the ceremony. 

During her inaugural address, Wente drew on her cell biology background and structured her speech as a lesson on enzymes. In emphasizing the importance of being catalysts — as enzymes are — for advancing learning and education. In the midst of the speech, Wente announced the beginning of the “For Humanity” initiative. This initiative strives to create these catalysts by implementing 100 new scholarships by 2022.

“When we create opportunities at Wake Forest and share the transformative power of education, we deliver the mission of ‘Pro Humanitate’ to the world,” Wente said. “In addition to creating more opportunities through scholarships, we want everyone who comes to Wake Forest to not simply feel welcomed but [feel] that all can belong and thrive.”

From the beginning of her tenure at Wake Forest in July 2021, individuals involved in the community have noticed her leadership and commitment through tumultuous times in the university’s history, including a fertilizer plant fire. The inauguration ceremony was scheduled for this spring because of pandemic conditions in the fall.

“Dr. Wente, who has been leading the university since July of 2021, has shown herself to be a person who values discovery, seeks excellence and holds a strong vision for the future of Wake Forest,” Chairman of the Board of Trustees Matthew King said in his greeting to the president during the ceremony. “I have enjoyed the privilege of working closely with Dr. Wente over the past year. She became fully engaged in learning about Wake Forest long before arriving in July. Since then she has embraced our community with boundless energy and curiosity. I have observed this up close and on a consistent basis.” 

Other individuals also offered their greetings to the president, all praising Wente for the dedication she consistently shows toward the Wake Forest community. In her first eight months of tenure, Wente has already dealt with a plethora of situations: the aforementioned fertilizer plant fire, inclement weather days, rabid raccoons. Along with those situations, Wente has made sure to connect with students; at large events – football games, Wake ‘N Shake, Hit the Bricks – she was found connecting and conversing with attendees. 

“Dr. Wente, in this first year of your presidency, you have shown us that you value and understand the importance of accessibility for providing a robust and holistic student experience,” Student Government President Ally Swartzberg said in her greetings to the university president. “We appreciate your commitment to building strong relationships with student leaders across campus, and we look forward to continuing to work beside you as we move Wake Forest into the future.”

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, President of the Faculty Senate Matthew Phillips, Winston-Salem State University Chancellor Elwood Robinson and Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Maurice Green were among others who presented greetings.

“Dr. Wente, we are pleased that you have decided to make Winston-Salem your home,”  Joines said. “We hope your life and your work will be enriched because you are now a resident of Winston-Salem. We also hope that the vibrancy of this community will inspire you to lend your talents in advancing [and] elevating the level of this city and region.”

Throughout her inaugural address, Wente emphasized the importance of Wake Forest’s liberal arts education. She noted the significance of research in all aspects of education and announced an “inclusive project” to develop a “strategic vision” in the fall.  This vision includes how Wake Forest should contribute to society. With Wake Forest’s 200 year anniversary approaching in 12 years, the project will set goals for the university at that historic date.

“Our academic output makes a real-world difference,” Wente said. “It must continue to do so.”

Wente has high hopes for the future and plans to continue and strengthen the university’s partnership with local institutions: local Forsyth County schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Forsyth Humane Society, the Ronald McDonald House of Winston-Salem.

“As I look around, I am full of excitement and anticipation when I think of our future,” Wente said. “In the spirit of Pro Humanitate — together for humanity — we will heed the call to be catalysts for good in society. Thank you for entrusting me to lead this university. I am humbled and honored to serve as your 14th president.”