Celebrating the 2020 Distinguished Alumnus Award Winners

When the 2020 class of Distinguished Alumni of The University of Texas took the stage on Nov. 12, 2021, and put on their burnt-orange jackets for the very first time, it had been a long time coming.  

Since 1958, these awards have been an annual occasion. Longhorns who have made a name for themselves and pioneered their way to the top of their fields receive the highest honor from their alma mater. Because 2020 was 2020, the awards presentation had to be postponed for another year. But the delayed gratification for these Texas Exes was something special to behold. 

As they beamed under the bright lights and gave their remarks to a crowd of loved ones, past recipients, and colleagues, it was almost as though life as we once knew it was finally back. From a political mastermind and a world-renowned architect to a passionate advocate for education and the arts and two women who broke huge barriers in public service and finance—they are now Longhorns who will never be forgotten. 

Arleas Upton Kea
BA ’79, JD ’82, Life Member 
Chairman for External Affairs, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation 

“I have had my share of experiences where I felt the adverse impact of being overlooked and being left out of many additional opportunities. But because of the experiences, because of the teaching, the training, and the exposure that I got here at UT, I was able to overcome so much of the adversity and develop strategies for success, both in my personal and professional endeavors. So, I think I really am a testament to what UT can do to change not just the path of a single life, my life, but by extension, the many lives whose paths have crossed mine.”      

Craig Dykers
BArch ’85, Life Member
Architect, Snøhetta  

“My brother and I were the first in our family to receive a university degree. Our parents were poor and from families of historically maligned populations. They had no education after the age of 15. They worked all their lives and saved their money up so that we could go to college. UT accepted my brother and me so we could get the chance my family didn’t have. I cannot thank my parents enough for their love and support and the university for giving my family the chance to succeed.” 

Paul Begala
BA ’83, JD ’90, Life Member
Political Analyst, CNN 

“We are family—bound together as part of a cause that is larger than ourselves: The University of Texas. A place where the son of a salesman and a secretary, and the daughter of a soldier and another secretary, can get a first-class education and rise to work in the White House. And because of the time, talent, and treasure of every person in this room, that cause, our beloved university, will endure … till Gabriel blows his horn.” 

Gabriela Franco Parcella
BBA, MPA ’91, Life Member
Managing Partner, Merlone Geier Partners; President, Merlone Geier Management, LLC  

“My parents came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1960s, leaving their entire family behind. My strongest memory as a child was their focus on education. My dad always said to me and my siblings, ‘The three of you need to go to UT Austin.’ There was really no other choice. It was the best school and where he wanted his children to be educated. He got his wish—all three of us graduated from The University of Texas.”  

Jeanne Klein
BS ’67, Life Member
Advocate for Public Education and the Arts  

“My grandfather, Lewis Johnson, became the first in our family to attend UT. He recognized the great education he was getting. And that led him and his good friend, John Sinclair, to collaborate on the song ‘The Eyes of Texas.’ The song was built off a statement by then-university president William Prather. He wanted everyone in the state to realize and have pride that they were given a great education at The University of Texas. That UT pride was their intent. For me, I have felt the eyes of Texas upon me my entire life.”  

“Their achievements reaffirm the great pride we have in our alma mater, and they serve as inspiration for the next generation of Longhorns.” 

– Robert A. Estrada
Immediate Past President of the Texas Exes, BS ’69, JD ’83, Life Member,  
2018 Distinguished Alumnus 

CREDITS: Matt Wright-Steel


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