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Sept. 22 was the proudest day of my professional life. It was the inauguration ceremony where I officially became the first-ever joint president in the combined 276-year history of the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University.

Inaugurations for higher education presidents happen every year across the country, but this one is different. It's symbolic of an evolution that has happened at these schools.

St. Ben's and St. John's are six miles apart. Our combined 3,000-plus acres of campuses are saturated with central Minnesota's finest nature and feature countless architectural gems. Besides our exquisite campuses, we are known for being among the top in the country for student job placement, a strong liberal arts institution where students learn how to think (not what to think), and of course, the perfect place to take in a football game on a beautiful fall Saturday.

For decades, our schools have offered joint curriculum, but the partnership between St. Ben's and St. John's stopped there. Now, with one president, a unified leadership team and a joint governance structure, our two schools are embracing unity, and we're calling it "Strong Integration."

Our students have always been integrated. The vibe on our campuses is just like any other school, but there happens to be two of them, connected by a shuttle bus that brings students to and from each campus many times per day. And at each campus, the mission of developing students has holistically remained the same.

Strong Integration represents an innovative approach to higher education, a sector not typically known for its innovation. Our goal is to ensure that St. Ben's and St. John's can be more nimble, adaptive and responsive to the intensifying headwinds facing American higher education. Together, our schools are doing what no two institutions in higher education have yet to accomplish. We are two independent corporate entities celebrating what makes us unique.

The student experience will always be at the center of our enterprise, and we are doubling down on our commitment to shaping and delivering an increasingly more sophisticated, powerful, integrated and contemporary one. A student experience that responds to the needs of our students and society while being unapologetic about our mission and traditions. A student experience that shapes Bennies and Johnnies into leaders who will solve the complex problems of the 21st century. We want our students to become the better world. To leave the campsite of life better than they found it.

At a time when many higher education institutions are struggling, we are evolving for our students and our communities. A St. Ben's and St. John's educational experience has never been more relevant, necessary and important for meeting the world's great needs than it is right now. As we embrace our unity, we will flourish.

Brian J. Bruess is president of the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University.