OREM — The Utah Valley University community cheered and waved pompoms Wednesday to celebrate the inauguration of President Astrid S. Tuminez, a scholar and corporate leader described by her daughter as a mother who is "fearless in showing her love and support."
Student athletes described her as a rabid fan, often seated in the front row of games and matches waving pompoms.
UVU wrestler Matthew Findlay said she gets so into it that "at times we've all thought she's just going to jump on the mat and tag team it."
And as for the crowd waving pompoms Wednesday, which was a surprise, Tuminez effused, "Really, seriously, the pompoms are the best part of today's inauguration."
The ceremony that put Tuminez's unique stamp on her presidency of the state's largest university included the performance of a Filipino folk song by the UVU Chamber Choir and an eighth-century Buddhist prayer by the niece of the 14th Dalai Lama, Khando Chazotsang.
Tuminez is the seventh president of the dual-mission university and the first woman to hold the post.
Utah State Board of Regents Chairman Harris Simmons, who performed the investiture of Tuminez, noted she "is a perfect fit for UVU now and for the future."
That is due in part to her educational preparation and her corporate career, most recently as Microsoft's regional director of corporate, external and legal affairs in Southeast Asia.
But it was Tuminez's unlikely path from growing up in poverty in the Philippines to earning an undergraduate degree at BYU followed by graduate degrees from two of the most selective universities in the world, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that will help her guide students who seek to improve themselves and their circumstances with a college education, he said.
Utah State University President Noelle Cockett said much has been made of women leading half of the state's colleges and universities, which well exceeds the national average. They, along with Westminster College President Bethami Dobkin, are sometimes referred to as the "mighty five."
This is not a function of the state meeting an "affirmative action" goal, Cockett said.
Rather, it says something about their credentials, scholarship and style of leadership, which is "inclusive. We get the right people around the table regardless of rank or title."
The ceremony, which included the customary pomp and circumstance, was held in the just-opened Noorda Center concert hall with students, faculty, elected officials and religious leaders in attendance, including President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
It was a celebration of family, as well, including Tuminez's 85-year-old mother, her siblings, her spouse, Jeffrey S. Tolk, and three children, Michal, Whitman and Leo.
Her daughter, Michal Tuminez Tolk, said in moving to Utah, the family had to get used to Utahns' "excessive friendliness and copious amounts of sugar shared with us."
Tuminez Tolk said her mother jumps into every challenge without fear, and it's one of the things she admires most about her. "She's so confident and brave and able to handle any situation with great courage and class."
No matter the circumstance, she rises to meet it, "even thriving in the face of fear."
Tuminez removed her academic gown to address the audience. Her address included a long list of thank yous to mentors, leaders, new friends and family, among them Catholic nuns who reached out to her and her siblings and enrolled them in their school at no cost.
It was transformative. The nuns, who were educators, turned "the ordinary metal of my brain into gold," Tuminez said.
One teacher transformed her from "literally an illiterate 5-year-old into a voracious reader."
She recalled her father, who learned to speak English from American soldiers, which meant he knew many swear words, which she learned, too.
He was a man of few words, but the one thing he said a lot was "do the right thing."
Tuminez said her vision of UVU includes exceptional care, accountability and results.
"Exceptional care must begin by seeing one another by who we really are," she said.
While some may debate the value of post-secondary education, UVU can serve learners wherever they are on their journeys.
"We mean it when we say 'Come as you are. UVU has a place for you,' " she said.
She told the story of her nephew-in-law, Fabio, who emigrated to the United States when he was 3 years old from Brazil. He believed he would become a construction worker like his father.
An ecclesiastical leader encouraged him to try college.
"Having never taken the ACT or the SAT, he came to UVU, open admission, mistakenly enrolled himself in a pre-med biology class," she said.
He got accepted to Cornell University medical school and completed a residency in Rochester, New York. "Today Fabio is a full-fledged cardio-thoracic surgeon."
Not everyone will become a cardiothoracic surgeon like Fabio "and that's the second beauty of Utah Valley University," she said.
"We have a dual mission where we unabashedly combine and integrate the openness, rigor and richness of two types of institutions, a full university and a community college. You want to cook, come here. You want to fly a plane, come here. You want to study philosophy, come here. You want to get a master's in cybersecurity, come here.…I believe this is a model that is very appropriate at a time that society is more divided and we have more severe inequality."4 comments on this story
The question of whether post-secondary education is worthwhile is somewhat answered by a question writer Malcolm Gladwell asks about human capital: "What percentage of those who are capable of achieving something actually achieve it?"
It takes a village, she said.
For Tuminez, it started in the Philippine village of Pali, where she was delivered by a half-blind male midwife. Then, at her mother's insistence, the family moved to the slums of Gomez, where Catholic nuns nurtured her intellect.
The most recent stop on her journey is the village of Orem, Utah.
"I started life as a statistic and I would have remained a statistic had people not helped me," she said.