Montana State University President Waded Cruzado was sworn in Friday as MSU's 12th president and declared her commitment to "moving mountains" and working with Montanans to build an even better and stronger university, one that will "empower the people and serve the world."

Cruzado, 50, MSU's first woman and first minority president, spoke to roughly 1,000 people attending her formal inauguration ceremony in the Strand Union Building.

Placing her hand on a fragile Bible that belonged to the Rev. James Reid, the second president in the university's 117-year history, Cruzado was sworn in by Montana Board of Regents Chairman Clayton Christian.

The ceremony was marked by considerable pomp. A presidential medallion -- made for MSU's 1993 centennial of Montana silver, copper and ice blue sapphires -- was placed around her neck.

Cruzado said she felt "gratitude, joy and humility." She was surrounded by deans, past presidents, regents, Bozeman's mayor and other dignitaries wearing academic robes and black velvet caps, a tradition dating back to the 12th century. One child declared they looked like wizards.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, wearing his trademark jeans, blazer and bolo tie, told the audience that when Lewis and Clark first came West, native people measured wealth in fast horses and plentiful buffalo, and it wasn't uncommon to try to steal your neighbor's fastest horse.

Schweitzer told audience members from New Mexico, where Cruzado formerly worked, "We have just stolen your fastest horse."

Cruzado has been at work as president since January, and her inaugural speech showed she has learned the vocabulary of Montana, the "last best place."

She retold the history of America's land-grant colleges, created in 1862 when the Morrill Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The idea of the federal government providing land to start colleges for ordinary citizens was controversial then, she said, attacked by opponents as "monstrous," "dangerous" and "robbing the treasury."

Land-grant universities like MSU, she said, were created to strengthen democracy and freedom, to build states' economies, and "educate the sons and daughters of the working class."

Cruzado bragged a bit about MSU - its students' high test scores and success winning national scholarships, and the record $109 million in research done by its professors and scientists.

"We attract the best and brightest, and we will continue to do so," Cruzado said.

But she also noted that nearly a third of students drop out after their freshman year, and after six years not quite half graduate. That is "simply unacceptable," she said, vowing that MSU will improve.

Looking to the future, Cruzado laid out several broad goals for MSU. She said "once and for all" the university will embrace distance or online education, to reach people in every corner of the state. She said she would set aside money for faculty who want to create new online courses or transform existing classes.

Cruzado challenged MSU to "move mountains" -- to break down traditional barriers between faculty in different fields and come up with new interdisciplinary research projects. For example, she said, 75 professors are working on different aspects of microbiology; 65 are researching ecosystems.

MSU needs to think outside the lines, she said, "to find big solutions to big problems."

Cruzado also promised to redouble efforts to help Montana's tribal and rural communities; to find new ways to keep excellent faculty; to launch a major fundraising capital campaign; to streamline administration; to increase "shared governance" with employees; and to commit to openness and transparency.

Former New Mexico Gov. Garrey Carruthers, now business dean at New Mexico State University, said Cruzado had been "a rarity" while provost there, "loved by students, faculty staff and the Legislature. ... She promoted the university, but never herself."

Sheila Stearns, commissioner of higher education and Cruzado's boss, read letters from a physician and a college professor, both former students from Cruzado's native Puerto Rico, who said she had an impact on their lives. One called her "charming, witty, outgoing and eloquent."

The ceremony included a native blessing from white-haired Henrietta Mann, a Cheyenne-Arapaho and special advisor to MSU presidents, as well as an Indian honor song.

Children from Irving School sang "This Land is Your Land," and college students in the MSU Chorale sang a song inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's dreams of flying.

At the end, the MSU Spirit of the West Marching Band played "Stand Up and Cheer" as the Bobcat mascot, Champ, escorted Cruzado out.

Cruzado then stood in a receiving line, accepting hugs and good wishes from hundreds of employees, alumni and friends.

With Cruzado were her daughter, Brenda Mazo, 23, who is studying comparative literature in Puerto Rico, and her mother, Daisy Salas, 67, who said she felt "very proud."

Despite the rain, hundreds then gathered under a huge tent on a muddy lawn for a free chicken and roast beef lunch, while the local band Poco Loco played salsa songs with a Latin beat.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.