Oscar acceptance speeches are sometimes amusing, occasionally tearful, and usually rote as each recipient thanks her producer, manicurist, and second cousins. If you want to hear an acceptance speech that truly inspires, come to The University of Texas’ annual Distinguished Alumnus Awards, presented by the Texas Exes.
As they received their awards on Friday, the six 2012 winners had heartfelt, evocative, and yes, laugh-out-loud funny things to say. Right down the line, they were uniformly inspiring—not just in their advice for success, but most of all in their reflections on how higher education enriches life.
Former First Lady of the United States Laura Bush, MLS ’73, made the crowd laugh recalling the Austin of the ’70s, when she earned a master’s in library science. She wasn’t really hippie material, she said—as evidenced by the fact that she named her cat, Dewey, after the Dewey Decimal System.
“If you looked out over the audience that was seated in the beer-soaked concrete floor of the Armadillo World Headquarters grooving to the young musician named Bruce Springsteen, you would have to look hard to find a future Republican First Lady of the United States, but there I was,” Bush said. “But even more entrancing than Austin itself was the University at its heart. The world was wildly changing all around us when I was a college student, but UT represented for me something solid, and tranquil, and eternal.”
Leading trial attorney and philanthropist Julius Glickman, BA ’62, LLB ’66, Life Member, thought big, reflecting on how human wisdom is acquired. That led him to higher education—and to how it is delivered and received.
“Education is learning to think for yourself, to write well, to persuade with a reasoned position, to gain perspective, to critically analyze, to ask the right question, and to innovate,” Glickman said. “The factor associated most often with the development of these skills is the amount of personal contact that a student has with the teacher. Not online lectures, but interaction with real people in a small class, a professor’s office, or over coffee.”
Retired Exxon Mobil Corp. vice president and general counsel Charles Matthews, BA ’67, Life Member, spoke about the importance of protecting UT’s ever-growing reputation. “We are so proud of what the University has done today to achieve its great ranking and rating,” he said. “And as I think about that song that we all like to sing, ‘The Eyes of Texas are Upon You,’ I think it’s only partially correct. It is the eyes of the nation, and yes, the eyes of the world, that are now upon you and this great University. And we need to keep it that way, and we will work to do so.”
Admiral Bill McRaven, BJ ’77, who joins Admiral Bobby R. Inman as only the second four-star admiral to emerge from UT and win the Distinguished Alumnus Award, spoke about the diversity he was exposed to at the University. “The school taught me to be compassionate, and it opened my mind to different cultures and ideas. Jester dormitory was filled with international students, and I minored in Middle Eastern Studies,” he said.
“I have, as they say, sailed the seven seas, and worked with soldiers from dozens of countries,” McRaven added. “Most of these soldiers are completely different in many respects, and yet I found that all people regardless of their ethnic, social, or cultural background are basically the same, and they all deserve our respect until they prove otherwise.”
Houston civic leader and health care advocate Melinda Perrin, BS ’69, Life Member, reflected on helping found the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Eduation. “As I said in a Board of Regents meeting, our coalition will not stand idly by while outside interest with no history of dedication or service to our University attempt to influence the direction of our institution and diminish the hard work of dedicated people over generations,” she said. “We should all aim to preserve enduring values like ethical conduct, critical thinking, studies of arts and humanities, and a culture of excellence that supports a lifetime of learning. But to prevail will require our united, passionate, engaged advocacy.”
Bull Ventures and ANSI Capital president and CEO Hector Ruiz, BS ’68, MS ’70, Life Member, grew up in Piedras Negras, Mexico, walking across the border to Texas every day for school. UT transformed his worldview forever, he said. “We were in a place where I really felt that civil discourse was really respected and that education, fairness, and justice were shared values by the community at The University of Texas at that time. And that the poverty I had experienced as a child, and the bigotry in my youth, did not matter here.
“What mattered at UT was to have that intellectual curiosity, and to desire learn and persevere, and to stick with things,” Ruiz said. “And those qualities I had in spades.”
From left: Laura Bush, Julius Glickman, Charles Matthews, Admiral William McRaven, Melinda Perrin, and Hector Ruiz.
Photo by Mark Rutkowski