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Savannah Guthrie Survives First-Day Hazing on Today

07/10/2012 at 10:45 AM EDT

Savannah Guthrie: 'Today' First Day A-Okay
Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer
Peter Kramer/NBC
Now that she's taken her spot next to Matt Lauer on the Today show, Savannah Guthrie has plenty of reasons to be happy – and possibly a little embarrassed, too.

On her official welcome to her morning gig Monday, Guthrie, 40, endured a friendly hazing-like induction, in which viewers caught a glimpse of a favorite childhood book about an aspiring cheerleader, as well as a clip of her singing and playing the guitar to Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."

"It was just such a warm welcome, and how could you not feel really good after that?" she tells PEOPLE of her on-air introduction, which also included heartfelt comments from friends, her mother and former colleagues. "I'm thankful and excited for the future."

Her promotion from 9 a.m. anchor to co-host came after Ann Curry's departure from the show June 28, a decision linked to a slip in ratings since Meredith Vieira's resignation last summer.

"I just want to say that I'm so proud and honored to be in a place occupied by so many women I admire," she said during the newscast, pointing to her predecessors, who have also included Barbara Walters and Jane Pauley.

Reporting by LESLEY MESSER

For the full interview with Savannah Guthrie, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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