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CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) — University of Miami (UM) students and faculty gathered to honor President Donna Shalala before she steps down later this year.
Shalala walked into the Student Activities Center in UM’s Coral Gables Campus to a crowd of a thousand applauding for her.
In typical style, she opened her speech with a joke line referencing Sebastian the ibis who was wearing a tuxedo for the occasion.
“Sebastian has been my best friend because he is the only one at the university that doesn’t talk back to me,” said Shalala.
She also spoke of her love for UM and its students whom she has always put first and of change.
“My love is not particularly for institutions, it’s for transforming institutions,” said Shalala.
Shalala has formed UM, bringing it among the top 50 universities in the country. She has more than doubled freshman enrollment. She’s also raised $3 billion for the university, vastly expanded its medical school, and added three million square feet of facilities.
This includes the Donna E. Shalala Student Center where Thursday’s event was held.
Shalala credited a “brilliant faculty” for most of the accomplishments the university has achieved.
As the fifth president in the university’s history, Shalala presidency has been marked by accelerated progress at the university but also some of the university’s darkest days.
She’s was at the center of the university’s defense during the more than two year investigation of the school by the NCAA. In addition to the NCAA sanctions, the school self-imposed severe sanctions including a two-year postseason ban which cost the Hurricanes a trip to the ACC Championship game and a bowl game.
Shalala said that the school learned a lot from the charges and the investigation.
Shalala announced her resignation through a letter published on the university’s website in September 2014.
Shalala in the past served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Clinton from 1993 to 2001.
Shalala is stepping down at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.