2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards: A Moment in Time

Each year, some of the best and brightest return to the Forty Acres to receive the most prestigious honor bestowed upon UT-Austin alumni: the Distinguished Alumnus Award. The annual ceremony recognizes six recipients who have become celebrated leaders in their profession. This year’s class includes a news anchor, a vaunted ballet choreographer, a sitting governor, a former UT System regent, a successful entrepreneur, and a former U.S. representative. And for only the eighth time in the history of the Texas Exes, a stalwart friend of the university received the Distinguished Service Award.

About 600 attendees arrived at the Frank Erwin Center for the ceremony, with mood lighting and a stage replacing the normal hardwood and basketball hoops. Even more watched the live broadcast on Longhorn Network as the honorees gave their speeches, reflecting on the way UT shaped them into the successful leaders they are today. —Alex Vickery

The Honorable Greg Abbott
BBA ’81, Life Member
Governor of Texas

“When I got to the University of Texas it was everything I expected and more. By God, it even had a library in the shape of the state of Texas, sort of. I loved walking across this beautiful campus looking into grand buildings and trying to imagine the knowledge that was being learned in there. From campus, I was able to peer down Congress Avenue, look at the Capitol, and wonder if maybe I would work there one day. I doubted it. So I changed my major from political science to finance so I could have a good job when I graduated.”

Woody L. Hunt
BBA ’66, MBA ’70, Life Member
Executive Chairman, Hunt Companies and Former Regent

“We only spend a few years on the campus itself. Being an alum never ends. It’s an honor and I believe it holds responsibility as well. For some, the feeling you had when you were a student on campus is kept alive as a Texas Ex. Not all the feelings, some of those require youth. Still, being a Texas Ex keeps us connected to this very, very special place. For many it means never leaving Austin, for others there’s a certain pull, if you will, that keeps them coming back to UT for a variety of reasons. That pull can be anything; maybe it’s a Longhorn football game in the fall. Whatever the pull is for you, I hope you pay attention to it.”

The Honorable Preston “Pete” Geren
BA ’75, JD ’78, Life Member
President and CEO, Sid W. Richardson Foundation

“UT always has been a burr under the saddle of this state, and that’s a good thing … What do we expect of our flagship university? We’re Texas, but what does that mean? Are we Greeks, freaks, nerds, cowboys, or geeks? Cattle, cull, cotton, timber, and oil? Or microchips, green energy, robotics, and the cloud? Biochemists or ballerinas? Pickup trucks or Prius? Liberal or conservative? Willie and Waylon or Bieber and Beyonce? The answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.”

Arthel Neville
BJ ’86, Life Member
Fox News Anchor

“I can’t tell you that I have lots of memories of margaritas and late nights on Sixth Street. But I can tell you that this is where the foundation was laid. In an ironic way, I was able to see the benefits of the classes I took here at UT and my professors who taught them in real time, being a full-time student at UT while I was a full-time reporter. So I know the education here was paying off.”

Bobby Stillwell
BBA ’59, LLB ’61, Life Member
Retired Partner at Baker Botts and Former Regent

“This honor is now number one on my Longhorn ladder of experiences and achievements. It’s a clear number one, but I have to tell you that a close second is still Vince Young carrying that ball from the five yard line across the goal line to beat USC in the Rose Bowl and win the national championship.”

Septime Webre
BA ’84
International Ballet Choreographer and Artistic Director of The S&R Foundation/Halcyon Stage

“UT serves as a kind of incubator for young people who are figuring out where they fit in the world … what flavor of person they’re going to be in the world. It’s where I discovered what flavor of person I was going to be and how I might be of service to the world, how I might have an impact. It is awesome that UT provided that opportunity. But it’s even more awesome that UT valued my flavor, and it goes toe-to-toe and is on equal footing with being a governor or being a secretary of the Army or a celebrated journalist or all the other fabulous flavors one can be in the world. I’m really proud to have gone to a university that values so many flavors.”

Distinguished Service Award

William Powers, Jr.
Life Member
Former President, University of Texas at Austin, Joseph D. Jamail Centennial Chair in Law, and University Distinguished Teaching Professor

“I wasn’t born in Texas. But as they say, I got here as soon as I could: in August of 1977, almost 40 years ago. It was the day Elvis died. And I still vividly remember the very first student I met on our campus. It was Pete Geren, who we’re honoring tonight. And within just a couple of weeks I realized just what a special place this is. It’s one of the world’s—yes, one of the world’s—great teaching universities. We teach the next generation of leaders on a campus that helps discover planets that are orbiting distant stars, that helps us understand dark matter and yes, even helps us understand even better what Shakespeare is about. Every single one of us needs to work every day to keep it that way and to support our great university.”

Photographs by Adrian Whipp.


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