Introduction of Mitch Landrieu
November 19, 2019
Kent Student Center Ballroom
Your program for tonight's speaker lists the impressive biography of Mitch Landrieu, the 61st mayor of New Orleans, who served in that capacity from 2010 to 2018. And again, it is an impressive biography, including service as the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, being named Public Official of the Year, and winning the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
When I think of Mayor Landrieu, I think of a place, a geographic location, and I think of a word. The place I think of is a stretch of neutral ground in Mid-City New Orleans … a place I passed by many times after my son purchased a home in that area of New Orleans. And “neutral ground” is not a military term, or political term, although in a sense it did come to suggest both of these things. Instead, the neutral ground in New Orleans is an open strip of land between two streets that forms a kind of linear park in many of the neighborhoods in the Crescent City.
For on a stretch of neutral ground in Mid-City New Orleans stood a large, impossible-to-miss statue in honor of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. And its creation was no historical accident, built and dedicated as it was precisely when Jim Crow laws were being implemented throughout the nation, and especially in the U.S. South.
The word I think about when I think about Mayor Landrieu is “difficult.” Now wait a minute. I’m not saying the good mayor, our speaker tonight, is difficult. I’m thinking instead of its meaning when defined in the dictionary as “needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with or understand.”
You do not need me to tell you that we live in difficult times. And, this entire year we are remembering the most difficult moment in our university’s history, and indeed, what was one of the most difficult moments in our nation’s modern history: May 4, 1970.
And so, it gives me great honor to introduce an individual who took on the difficult conversations, and who made difficult decisions. It gives me great honor to introduce an individual who explained eloquently the issues surrounding a difficult situation, and who gracefully guided a divided city and its populace through a difficult decision.
It gives me great honor, in short, to introduce Mayor Mitch Landrieu as tonight’s Presidential Speaker.