UofL President Neeli Bendapudi addresses the crowd during her inauguration. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Nothing says the University of Louisville is rebuilding like the announcement of a major donation in the middle of newly installed President Neeli Bendapudi’s inauguration.

The undisclosed, yet “substantial” gift from the Trager family and Republic Bank Foundation will continue the university’s optimal aging research, Bendapudi said in her inaugural address Thursday afternoon.

“This is one awesome inauguration present,” she said.

Hundreds of students, faculty and local leaders came out in the heat to formally install Bendapudi as the school’s first female and first minority president. She is UofL’s 18th president overall.

With many wearing regalia and the choir and marching band present, the inauguration rivaled the pomp of a graduation, but UofL’s campus was saying hello instead of goodbye.

After a monthslong search, UofL’s board of trustees hired the former University of Kansas provost in April. Students and faculty expressed excitement and hope for the school’s future even before Bendapudi officially began in May.

Months later, that sense of optimism hasn’t died, UofL Provost Beth Boehm said during the inauguration. Bendapudi is a “breath of fresh air,” she said, and has revived UofL with her energy and optimism.

Board chairman David Grissom, who helped hire Bendapudi, said she has restored excitement on campus and made people “eager” to follow her.

During Bendapudi’s first interview, “we knew we found our president,” Grissom told the crowd.

In her address, Bendapudi focused on the future of UofL, especially its role in the Louisville community and state, and her goal of making UofL a good place to invest was on display, as she described how UofL students will work to improve the lives of Louisville’s aging community before announcing the Trager gift.

It is the fourth major gift to UofL during Bendapudi’s tenure. The gifts together have brought millions to the university after a period of stagnant donations.

The Trager gift will go towards UofL’s Institute for Sustainable Health and Optimal Aging, which will be renamed the Trager Family Institute for Optimal Aging. The institute performs research in the field of aging and connects the aging services community to resources for older adults, caregivers, businesses, service providers and researchers.

The gift also will create the Republic Bank Foundation Optimal Aging Clinic, which will use the research conducted at the Trager Family Institute and offer hands-on services, according to a news release.

“At the beginning of this new chapter for the university, with much optimism for the city, the university and President Bendapudi, we felt that it was important to show our support,” Steve Trager, chairman and CEO of Republic Bank, said in the release.

Thursday’s inauguration ceremony completed Bendapudi’s formal introduction to campus and to Louisville, six months after her hiring and two months into her first semester.

She spoke alongside local leaders Tuesday at a Town and Gown forum, one event in a week of inauguration-centric activities. In another, students could make stuffed cardinals and meet Bendapudi in an ice cream social.

With classes canceled for the event, students gathered around the edges of Grawemeyer Hall, some wearing custom shirts welcoming Bendapudi. At one point, Bendapudi gave them all a shout-out, telling them she loved them.

“It’s not in the script, but I cannot resist,” she said, receiving cheers in response.