New President Suzanne Vares-Lum Delivers Inaugural Remarks on East-West Center’s Regional Role


First woman and Native Hawaiian to lead the Center tells online audience that challenges can be met with ‘solutions rooted in authentic, people-to-people understanding and culturally informed expertise.’

Suzanne Vares-Lum giving inaugural speech

Honolulu (Jan. 10, 2022) – The East-West Center’s new President, Suzanne Vares-Lum, gave an inaugural address Monday as part of a change-of-responsibility ceremony broadcast from the Center’s renowned campus and observed by nearly 500 online viewers. The theme of the event, during which Vares-Lum received a ceremonial lauhala mat symbolizing transfer of the Center’s stewardship, was Ka ulana ‘ana i ka piko – In weaving, you begin at the center.

“I am keenly aware that I am standing on the shoulders of past and present giants as I inherit stewardship of an institution that has had an unparalleled impact in so many ways,” said Vares-Lum. “The Indo-Pacific, where East meets West, matters now as never before. We face unprecedented challenges—environmental damage and climate change, authoritarian influence and strained alliances, corruption, disease, and pandemics—with enormous consequences that will reverberate around the globe. At the East-West Center, we realize these challenges can be met if our solutions are rooted in authentic, people-to-people understanding and culturally informed expertise. This is why our mission—using the tools of cooperative study, research, and dialogue to promote understanding in our region—has never been more important.”

Lauhala mat—symbol of hope

Lauhala mat ceremony at Suzanne Vares-Lum inaugural addressIn a ceremony led by Kahu Kordell Kekoa, EWC Board of Governors Chair Dr. James Scott and outgoing President Dr. Richard Vuylsteke presented Vares-Lum with a lauhala mat that Kekoa said symbolizes responsibility for a community woven together from many strands, as well as a place where people can sit together to build a better world. Members of Vares-Lum’s family also participated in the ceremony, representing the support of many hands that is required for leadership. 

Noting the Hawaiian saying that provided the ceremony’s theme, ‘In weaving you begin at the piko, or center,’ Vares-Lum said: “What is our Center’s piko? It is our shared values: respect, equality, service, quietly working toward peace on a person-to-person level. It is our all-of-society focus: harnessing research, education, and training across sectors, cultures, and professions. And it is our common aspirations—what we work to accomplish together: combatting the effects of the pandemic and climate change; supporting effective governance; public accountability, and human rights; and creating new knowledge and fostering new ideas to promote freedom, prosperity, peace, and dignity.”

Sharing her vision for the future of the Center, Vares-Lum asked the audience to imagine “a state of the art, world-class center for inclusive US and Indo-Pacific engagement that advances peaceful, just, and prosperous communities. A ‘go-to’ institution for thought leadership and capacity development on critical challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region. A nexus for sustaining and enhancing positive and productive relations between the US, Asia, and the Pacific Island nations. An institute of hope for us all.”

About Suzanne Vares-Lum 

Ms. Suzanne (Suzy) Puanani Vares-Lum took office as President of the East-West Center at the beginning of January. She is the first woman and first Native Hawaiian to be chosen for this role.

As a retired Major General, Vares-Lum has advised the most senior officials at US Indo-Pacific Command and cultivated key relationships with nations throughout the region. She has led collaborative initiatives in the Pacific and is a seasoned speaker and advocate on regional issues; leadership and mentorship; and women, peace, and security. 

As a community leader, Vares-Lum serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, including the American Red Cross Pacific Islands Region. She has also worked to promote Hawaiʻi’s economic diversification, workforce development, and community dialogues on issues regarding land and water.


Watch Pres. Vares-Lum's inaugural address