The following is the text of my Investiture Speech (or view the video here):
Chancellor Renu Khator, Regent Welcome Wilson, President Jay Gogue and the many other presidents, including the UHD past presidents, and delegates, elected officials, faculty and alumni, friends and those of you who traveled far, I want to thank each of you for joining us today.
I am very pleased to have several family members here with me today and I would like to introduce, my wife, Celina; my father, Bill, who I am named after; my brother, Glenn; and my wife’s mother, Emma. Unfortunately, my Mother is no longer with us, but I am certain she is looking down from heaven and smiling with pride.
This is truly a very special day and occasion that brings new history to the University Of Houston-Downtown, UHD. I am deeply moved by all of the contributions we have received to fully fund this investiture and to create or expand several endowed scholarships for our students. I especially thank our sponsors and our donors. We are extremely grateful for your generosity and commitment to UHD! Your support truly is “Changing Lives, Building Futures.”
I also want to thank the regents, the past presidents, the faculty and staff of UHD, and the legislators. Your vision in establishing the University Of Houston-Downtown has given Houston an amazing university. UHD sits in the heart of the city, connected by freeway, rail and bayou. You had the foresight to build the university downtown and we receive students from every corner of Houston. Thank you.
As I stand here today, looking at my father, who has always been an inspiration to me, I cannot help but think of the theme of the investiture, “Changing Lives, Building Futures,” which resonates with my own life.
Education provided me with an immense opportunity for a very different life than I would have had without a college degree. After all, I never dreamt of being a university president.
In fact, growing up I didn’t think about going to college, at least not in the beginning. I was the only one in my family, including many cousins, to go to college and earn a degree directly out of high school.
Why was this the case? I am convinced it was because of my family. I grew up with parents committed to education. When I was in the third grade, my Dad went back to school. He had left high school to fight in World War II. He took classes at night while working full time. He would study at breakfast and dinner. And, sometimes I studied with him and with my Mom. I learned to love reading and to value education.
I remember when we got our first encyclopedia, buying a volume every week at the local store for 49 cents when we bought a bag of groceries. We traveled that summer for vacation and we missed one of the volumes, the letter “S.” It always seemed I needed something from that missing volume. Later, my Mom bought a complete set of the world book encyclopedia. I remember sitting down, grabbing each volume with excitement, looking at the pictures, and reading the articles.
My Mother often said, “Books open up the world. You can see places you could never visit and read about things you will never experience.”
Like many young boys, I thought I would be a firefighter or maybe a jet pilot. Most of my family had been in the armed forces or worked in aerospace. My Dad worked for the Department of Defense, my Mom had worked on airplanes during World War II, painting the dials on the control panels of the planes. Several aunts and cousins worked in the defense plants. In high school, I worked one summer as a machinist, grinding and polishing ailerons for the wings of the C5A transport carrier.
When I was in elementary school, my Dad took the family to the natural history museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park and I was awed by a display of dinosaurs. I wanted to dig up dinosaur bones. So, I got a little claw hammer and started digging up the backyard with our dog digging alongside me. We didn’t find any bones, but that didn’t stop me. I think we did some serious damage to a fruit tree. Later, I longed to be an astronaut and walk on the moon. When I started college, I wanted to be a doctor and save lives.
Now, I am a president and don’t do any of those things. Even so, college opened the door of opportunity and created pathways for my future. A college education meant that I could have more than just a job. It has allowed me several exciting careers. I’ve run a health center, worked in non-profits and for private industry. Later, I earned a doctoral degree and taught at various universities. And, of course, it led me here to Houston and onto this stage for this celebratory occasion.
And, I’m proud to be UHD’S President. Why? UHD is the thirteenth largest public university in Texas. It is also one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the country. We have truly great faculty and staff who are committed to this institution, to its mission, and to our students.
UHD opens the doors of opportunity for our students, who are often the first generation in their family to attend college. Most work at least 30 hours per week while attending classes and many of our students work full time.
At the same time, we understand higher education must be affordable and of the highest quality. UHD remains committed to opportunity, access and affordability. And, we are committed to excellence.
UHD is truly an opportunity university in Houston--the City of Opportunity. It is where working students and professionals can earn their degrees. And as you walk through the halls, you will see, UHD looks like Houston, just as Houston looks like the future of America!
Universities play a special role in society. But, there is always tension around change. Universities bridge yesterday with tomorrow. Universities are relics of time and thresholds to the future. They are bulwarks of tradition and engines of innovation. We wear these fancy robes and funny hats that go all the way back to the middle ages. An investiture was when the pope invested a bishop, or a king invested a lord with land and title. Of course, presidents don't have the power or authority of kings or lords. But, we oversee great universities, which study the past and make discoveries that can open up new and exciting worlds, and provide understanding of the past and present.
As Albert Einstein said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” That is what we help students do, to understand the present, to think critically, and to build bright futures.
We cannot linger in the past, lest we fail to grasp the future. Henry Kissinger once said, “It is far easier to change the course of history, than to change a history course.”
After all, it takes a professor years of research to earn a Ph.D. and, it can take even longer for disciplines to accept new ideas or new ways of doing things. But universities must change to better serve our students. The world is changing rapidly and we must change with it.
There is an old Hebrew proverb: “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.”
That was never more true than today. After all, as faculty, many of us were trained decades ago, in what is now a previous century. We are completing the first decade of not only a new century, but, indeed, a new millennium.
Today, students confront a turbulent, global economy with rising powers, such as China and India. In fact, this morning’s news had a story on the richest person in the world. It is no longer Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. It is communications giant Carlos Slim from Mexico. In fact, India, Brazil and Mexico accounted for four of the ten richest people in the world. So the world is changing. And, as we saw with the worldwide recession, every country’s economy is interdependent. We cannot predict what the future will bring. Yet, we must prepare our students for this very complex and changing world.
We also have entered a digital, interactive, connected and convergent world. The high school graduating class of 2020 enters the third grade next fall. They were born in the 21st century. They are growing up in a digital world—-where, for them, cell phones have always taken photographs, where their brothers and sisters have always sent each other text messages, and where the first place they go when they have a question is to Google or Wikipedia.
These students of the new millennium will need a very different education than what we received. It is our responsibility to provide it to them. We must to build a university that meets the needs of the 21st century.
Since I arrived, I have engaged the university in a broad and inclusive planning process. We are thinking about how teaching and learning must change to better prepare our students. In the next few years, you will see profound changes at UHD. I am excited by the enthusiasm and the willingness of our faculty and staff to try new things and to re-envision and remake the university. In fact, many UHD faculty are leaders in applying technology to their research and their teaching.
Universities are America’s best source of innovation, imagination, discovery, invention and creativity. Our students will become tomorrow’s teachers, social workers, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists and scientists. They will build tomorrow’s world and we must give them the tools today to make their world a better place. Who knows? One day one of our students may discover a cure for cancer—or at least, perhaps, the common cold.
Great universities are essential to America’s future. To maintain its leadership position internationally, more Americans must receive a college education. And they must be prepared for this world of growing complexity and rapid technological change.
We are working on plans to ensure that every student receives a deep and memorable experience at UHD, be it internships, undergraduate research, civic engagement or capstone projects. We will improve student success at UHD; we will increase the number of students who graduate each year.
At UHD, we care about Houston and Texas and we want to help create a city of the future, just as we are working to build a university of the future. We address social problems confronting Houston and urge our students to address these problems through research and community service. Over the next few years, we will develop new undergraduate and graduate degrees and will add more online courses and degrees to meet the needs of Houston’s and America’s changing global economy. And, we will build a strong, leading metropolitan comprehensive university, one that will make Houston proud. And, we will work hard to become a leader nationally in educating first generation students, especially Hispanics and African Americans.
A great city is more than skyscrapers. It is more than steel, concrete and highways. A great city such as Houston must have a spirit that transcends the present and captivates the imagination. Universities help create that spirit and raise the aspirations and imaginations of the citizenry.
Houston must have an educated citizenry and UHD helps do just that. But, we do more than simply train, educate and provide degrees. We elevate aspirations and thinking. We help our students achieve their dreams. We change lives and build futures.
In 1914, philosopher John Dewey who believed that education is life itself, wrote, “Universities are public, not just because they receive public funds, but because they serve the public good and prepare citizens for the good of society.” That’s what we do.
UHD provides students with opportunities for life-long learning. Of course, students work hard to earn degrees, but we also provide them with the tools to build a future: critical thinking skills, the ability to communicate, the ability to relate to others and work in teams, an appreciation for right and wrong, for ethics, diversity and the ability to work with individuals from all cultures and walks of life.
Our students gain lessons in leadership and the ability to look beyond themselves. They will have the skills to address the problems our country will face and make discoveries that our society will need as the world changes. We prepare students to be engaged citizens in today’s global society, which, in turn, strengthens the fabric of our democracy.
I am reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s. The country had just come out of a terrible depression and war loomed on the horizon. Yet, she was hopeful. For her America could not wait for tomorrow to construct a new world today. She said, “It is today we must create the world of the future.”
Yes! Today! We must create the future!
And, as the fifth President of the University of Houston-Downtown, I am very proud to be here and together we change lives and build futures.
And like that Black Eyed Peas’ song, "Let’s Get It Started!"