Fall Convocation 2013

“And Nothing was Horses that We Couldn’t Ride”
(From an untitled song written by Willie Nelson)
Fall Convocation Speech
President Denise M. Trauth
Strahan Coliseum
August 23, 2013
9 a.m.

Thank you, Gene, and good morning to all of you.

Once again we find ourselves ushering in a new academic year, with much to reflect on – and just as much to look forward to.

For example, this year we will begin the celebration of the 50th anniversary of admitting African-American students at Texas State, which was part of a significant step forward for civil rights in our nation.

The 2014-2015 Common Experience theme, “In Pursuit of Democracy’s Promise: Desegregating Texas State, Looking Back 50 Years,” will culminate this celebration at the university.

Speaking of themes, there were several that marked this past year which may have a familiar ring.

The biggest construction program in the history of the university is coming to a close.

Demand for admission to Texas State continues to set records.

And we have reached extraordinary milestones in research and fundraising, but we’ll get to all of that in a moment.

First, I want to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of the past year, because it is your efforts that make this an amazing university.

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We begin this new academic year with a salute to some of our colleagues by honoring them for their outstanding teaching, research, service, mentoring, and dedication to diversity.

Each year we present presidential awards for outstanding teaching, research and creative activities, and service.

This year’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching go to two individuals who are passionate about their fields and convey that excitement to their students.

Please join me in honoring Cindy Royal, associate professor of mass communication, and Kym Fox, senior lecturer of journalism.

We also are honoring two faculty members this morning for their scholarly activities.

Both have made significant contributions to their disciplines and to the intellectual life of the university.

They are examples of Texas State’s commitment to research, scholarship, and creative activity as part of the teaching and learning experience.

We are pleased to present the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activities to:   

Jian Shen, professor of mathematics, and Oleg Komogortsev, who recently was promoted to associate professor of computer science.

We ask our faculty to serve, as well as to teach and conduct research.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Service is given to faculty who exemplify our commitment to public service as a responsibility to our university, our professional fields, and our community.

Please join me as we honor Roseann Mandziuk, professor of communication studies, and Kathy Ybañez-Llorente, who also was just promoted to associate professor of professional counseling.

Each year, we recognize one faculty member with the Presidential Seminar Award.

Recipients then share their research or creative activity with their peers.

The 2013-14 honoree is being recognized for his superlative research and current contributions to his discipline.

The next Presidential Seminar will be presented by Taylor Acee, assistant professor of developmental education.

Ernie Dominguez, former Associated Student Government president and a member of the Alumni Association, will help make our next presentation.

Each year the Alumni Association recognizes an outstanding teacher with its Teaching Award of Honor.

Today’s honoree is an associate professor of communication studies.  

She’s known for developing a strong rapport with students, maintaining an active research agenda, and being a prolific essayist on topics such as presidential rhetoric.

On behalf of our alumni, we present this Teaching Award of Honor to Ann Burnette.

Our Faculty Senate chooses from among its colleagues a recipient of the Everette Swinney Faculty Senate Teaching Awards.

I would like Michel Conroy, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor of art and design, to come forward to help make the presentation of this year’s award.

Everette Swinney Award recipients are chosen on the basis of their dedication to the teaching profession, their influence on the lives of students, and their contributions to the university as a whole.

They have combined their commitment to teaching with strong records of scholarly achievement, service and mentoring peers and students.

These awards are named for a beloved retired faculty member and longtime chair of the Faculty Senate.

With great pleasure, we present the Everette Swinney Teaching Award to Kenneth Margerison, professor of history.

I also would like to point out that earlier this year Ken became our 20th Piper Professor.

We will hold a reception in his honor on September 26th.

Last fall, another one of our professors was named Regents’ Professor by the Texas State University System Board of Regents.

Each year, the board honors professors whose performance and contributions to the educational community have been exemplary.

The 2012 recipient becomes Texas State’s eighth professor to be recognized with this award, and only the 17th in the entire system to be so honored.

Our 2012 Regents’ Professor is Robert McLean, professor of microbiology.

This morning, we are recognizing as University Distinguished Professors two tenured professors whose careers in teaching, research, and service have been superior and recognized at the state, national, and international levels.

Please help me congratulate our new University Distinguished Professors Michael Forstner, professor of biology; and Vedaraman Sriraman, professor of engineering technology.

For their years of outstanding teaching, creative work and service at Texas State, four retired faculty members have been named Distinguished Professors Emeriti, and we recognize them today.

Our honorees are James Randy Cook, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Methods; Robert Patton, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Health and Human Performance; Douglas Skinner, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Music; and James Irvin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who could not be with us today.

Today we also honor one faculty member and one staff member for their dedication to the pursuit and celebration of diversity.

Recipients of the Excellence in Diversity Award are Patricia Prado, executive assistant in the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Support Services; and Eugene Lee, artist in residence and a faculty member in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

We want to include in our introductions this morning the 2013 Employee of the Year. She was chosen from among the 12 Employees of the Month.

Please help us congratulate Elizabeth McDonald, events and publicity coordinator in the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

And we want to introduce this year’s winners of the Mariel Muir Mentoring Award. Each year we honor a faculty member and a staff member for mentoring our students and employees.

We are proud to recognize this morning Lanita Legan, associate director of the LBJ Student Center; and Marian Houser, associate professor of communication studies.

Let’s give all of these outstanding faculty and staff members one more round of applause.

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It is fitting that each year we begin convocation by recognizing our many outstanding faculty and staff because, after all, it is their collective efforts that help define who we are as an institution.

It is through our faculty and staff’s commitment that we have become a harbinger of excellence and it is their continued dedication that fosters renewed vitality and success.

It has been an interesting summer, filled with lots to talk about.

Sadly, we lost the eleventh president of this university. Bob Hardesty died on July 8. President Emeritus Hardesty had many successes.

Among them: He worked with then-chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Larry Temple, to secure permission to use our HEAF money to build Alkek Library.

This was at a time when the Coordinating Board told us repeatedly that we were a regional teachers’ college and that we didn’t need a major library.

It took a year, but Bob worked hard behind the scenes to gain that needed approval.

Bob also had the good sense to accept the first gift from Bill and Sally Wittliff for what was then called the Southwestern Writers Collection, and what now has become the Wittliff Collections.

Although he was best known in Texas as a former president of our university, he was more widely known as the chief speechwriter for President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

His writing was revered in many circles, and he took his craft seriously.

So, for those who knew him, you might see how Bob likely bristled when President Johnson asked him to keep the speeches short and simple.

Bob’s obituary in the New York Times aptly captured his essence.

It quoted Bob as once saying “Brevity was the cardinal rule,” when he recalled his days as a speechwriter for the president.

You could argue Bob got a bit dramatic when he characterized as “brutal” LBJ’s directive to write four-word sentences and four-sentence paragraphs.

The New York Times obit closes with a fitting quote from Bob, in which he responds to a question about what he would do on a rare weekend off.

Bob said: “I’m going to go home, drink whiskey and do nothing for 48 hours but think in long, convoluted sentences.”

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On a happier note this summer, we moved closer to substantial completion of the Performing Arts Center. The center will be completed this fall and we will be able to begin spring semester 2014 classes in the building. It will be dedicated next February, and, believe me, there will be quite a celebration.

This extraordinary new building will be a centerpiece for the university, and will provide a high-end venue for our remarkably talented and creative performing arts students and faculty.

It also will serve as yet another connection to the community, as we expect many people from inside and outside the Texas State family to benefit from this beautiful new facility.

And just up Edward Gary Street from the Performing Arts Center is the recently finished outdoor space adjacent to the Education Building.

The freshly planted grass and new trees make it a very inviting space, and I’m certain it will be a popular draw once the weather conditions resemble more of a cooling fall than a scorching summer.

Speaking of new trappings, we are in the midst of our largest construction campaign in this university’s 114-year history.

We celebrate the completion of other vital projects for Texas State. The Brogdon Hall renovation is done and students have moved in. South Campus utility upgrades will be completed in September. The facelift and roof repair for Old Main will be completed this fall. The Comal Building – formerly the Psychology Building – renovation will be completed in July 2014.

A series of electrical infrastructure upgrades will be completed in fall 2014. And the new West Campus Housing Complex on           Moore Street will be ready for occupancy in time for fall 2014.

If that isn’t enough to make you dizzy, we also just added our first round-about on campus, between JCK and the theatre building.

This is very cool. And certainly a sign of how contemporary we are.

But it does pose a challenge.

It has been most interesting to watch cars approach the traffic circle.

Some drivers pause, wondering whether to go right or left. Going left, of course, leads to head-on collisions. Others speed up.

These are undoubtedly people from the east coast, whose experience has taught them that merging is not meant to be a collaborative process.

Then there are the poor lost souls who just go ‘round and ‘round, afraid to make a mistake.

My biggest fear is that our freshmen, who never seem compelled to drive the right way on a one-way street anyhow, will use driving the wrong way on a traffic circle as a way to assert their independence.

On another note, a very bright spot for the university occurred this summer when one of our own represented the Bobcat community very well on the national stage.

Paul Goldschmidt, an All-American first baseman for the Bobcat baseball team in 2009 who now plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks, appeared in his first Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

To say the least, he’s having a very good year. He is among the National League leaders in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average.

And in the All-Star Game, he was one of only three players on his team to get a hit, and the only one to get an extra-base hit.

But what I really like about this young man is that he has remained humble despite a meteoric rise in the national spotlight.

A recent article in USA Today noted that he has a great deal of humility.

In the player’s parking lot outside the Diamondback’s stadium, which holds Ferraris, Mercedes Benzes, and BMWs, his vehicle of choice is a Ford pickup.

It is refreshing to see that in today’s sports celebrity arena, where fans often are bombarded with tales of inflated egos and misbehaving athletes, that there are role models such as Paul Goldschmidt.

Speaking of sports, we have other reasons to be proud of our student-athletes.

Just last month, the NCAA reported the most current data that showed all 16 of Texas State’s athletics teams exceeded the required academic progress rates to stave off sanctions and be eligible to compete in post-season championships at the Division I level.

In fact, these just released data show that eight of our 16 teams scored a perfect 1,000 in their Academic Progress Rate.

To illustrate the depth of that achievement, no university in the Western Athletic Conference that year had more than three teams score a 1,000 on the Academic Progress Rate.

We had eight.

And only one university in the Sun Belt Conference that year had four athletic teams score a perfect 1,000.

Again, we had eight.

Moreover, all of our teams, which are tracked over multiple years, exceeded the NCAA Division I requirement of 900 points by at least 46 points.

So we are most proud of our student-athletes for being stars in the classroom while being such admirable ambassadors for us on the field and on the court.

We look forward to our first year in the Sun Belt Conference and our first home conference match when our volleyball team takes on Louisiana-Lafayette on September 27.

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Like many of you, I use the summer to catch up on reading that I haven’t gotten to during the academic year.

A book that I read this summer is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Ben will be joining us in the Department of English as the University Endowed Chair in Creative Writing for 2014 through 2016.

The novel chronicles Billy Lynn – a member of the Army’s Bravo Company – and one of eight who survived a fierce firefight in Iraq.

These Bravo Company heroes are whisked to Texas and spend Thanksgiving being celebrated and subjected to media scrutiny.

At one point, Billy Lynn is asked about everyday life during the war, to which he responds: “We call Iraq the ‘abnormal normal’ ‘cause over there the weirdest stuff is just everyday life.”

Now, you have to understand that I’m reading this book as the Texas Legislature, having concluded its regular session, is called into a first special session … and then a second special session … and then a third special session.

And, all the while, I’m hoping and praying that the governor will add Tuition Revenue Bonds to the agenda for one of the special sessions.

Which, of course, did not happen.

For those of you who have been Austin watching with me, Billy Lynn’s characterization is an apt descriptor of the Capitol: “the weirdest stuff is just everyday life.”

Although we are very disappointed that the legislative session did not yield construction funds for us, we still remain in a position far better than that of other public universities in Texas, partly because we have been exceptional stewards of our resources and partly because we have used our planning process to figure out how to increase our resource base.

Among the favorable outcomes was an increase in formula funding. This annual increase – which amounts to $9.4 million, and is the first increase in a decade that we have received – is due to two factors.

First, we have a growing enrollment. Second, we are changing our mix of academic programs such that we have more doctoral programs, more masters students, and more of the highly funded disciplines.

Some of you have been asking where that money from the Legislature will go.

Let me tell you how fast $9.4 million can disappear.

First, as you know, we have funded a 2 ½ percent merit pool for faculty and staff salary increases. That cost about $3.9 million.

Second, the ongoing increase in the cost of the employee and retiree group health insurance premiums will require an increase of $2.5 million in our benefits budgets.  

Third, the Legislature made across-the-board reductions to the university group health insurance allocations made on our behalf to the Employee Retirement System. That will cost us an additional $1.1 million to backfill this reduction.  

Fourth, increases in the retirement contribution percentage rate mandated by the Legislature will add $401,000 to our benefits cost.  

Fifth, utilities and maintenance on new buildings coming on line during the upcoming year will require an additional $1 million.  

To recap, we received an additional $9.4 million and these five items will use 8.9 million of those dollars.  

In addition to these costs, one of the biggest concerns that we have with the upcoming budget year has to do with the cost of Hazlewood and Hazlewood legacy tuition and fee waivers for veterans and their dependents.  

We believe that a conservative estimate of the increase for the upcoming year is $1.4 million.  

This increase is in addition to the $13.5 million waived last year, so that’s about a $15 million cost for Hazlewood this year.  

The Legislature appropriated some one-time relief for us and we are grateful for that. The new ongoing “endowment” fund created by the Legislature will not produce any distribution until 2015, and we estimate receiving $800,000 per year when we do get a distribution for Hazlewood costs.

So going into the year, we’ve already used up all of the additional money that we are receiving in support from the State of Texas.  

However, we do anticipate continued enrollment growth, and that will allow us to fund other strategic priorities.  

It appears that we will have another record enrollment this fall. We remain the state’s fifth-largest university and are now the 33rd-largest university in the country, and all indications are that we will continue on a path of growth.

But that growth – at least on a percentage basis – should be more at the graduate than undergraduate level.

By the time we stopped taking them in July, we received nearly 24,000 freshman applications for admission, which was a record, and up 9 percent from the number of applications we received in the previous year.

We all know that growth does not come without increased costs, so once the fall semester begins and additional revenue is accounted for, we will first increase the faculty salary budgets so that departments can pay for the additional faculty who are teaching the additional sections spurred by our growth.  

We also will fund our formula for increasing the maintenance and operating budgets of these academic departments. Finally, we do anticipate being able to fund additional faculty positions and a few new staff lines.

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Ten years after we began fall semester with a new name that dropped “Southwest,” once again the Legislature approved a name change for the university.

As of September 1, we officially will drop “San Marcos” from Texas State University, which, for obvious reasons, tended to create confusion when we referenced our campus to the north, which had the name “Texas State University-San Marcos Round Rock Campus.”

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It wasn’t just the Texas Legislature dominating headlines this summer. One of the great shocks in July was the news that the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy.

I say shock because even though we could see it coming, it is still hard to believe that what was one of the great American cities is now bankrupt. Detroit has a lot of problems, including widespread corruption.

But still, this bankruptcy is a cautionary tale. Detroit’s long-term economic base withered and with it middle-class jobs disappeared.

The college educated moved out to find better opportunities and those who remained could not pay sufficient taxes to keep the city afloat.

Simply put, Detroit did not appropriately evolve to meet the needs of a changing world. So let’s slide over to Texas and see what we can learn.

Although Texas is in the midst of a huge oil and gas boom, one that could go on for some time, there is also a boom in Texas’ population.

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, eight of the 15 fastest-growing large U.S. cities for the year ending July 1, 2012, were in Texas.

And just as that oil and gas boom was starting, Texas was adding roughly 35,000 people to its population each month.

What is disconcerting is that most of this population growth is coming from groups that historically have not gone to college.

So, to review: We have a fast-rising population. And the prospect that a good number within this booming population won’t have the skills essential to take on the jobs of the changing high-tech workforce.

In fact, in some ways we are going in the opposite direction: too many of the jobs being created across the country and in Texas are either part time or low-paying or both – not enough to contribute to the tax base Texas needs.

Sound familiar?

To meet the needs of our changing demographics, there must be a greater focus on counseling, advising and mentoring to ensure that students in those historically underrepresented populations have a meaningful opportunity to be successful in their academic pursuits.

Fortunately, we already are on a path to serve these students. Last year, we opened our Personalized Academic and Career Exploration (or PACE) Center, where we put an array of services for freshman into one hub. It helps us keep close tabs on our freshmen, who statistically are at greatest risk of not continuing their college education.

In the fall 2012 semester alone PACE advisors conducted 4,737 individual appointments with students, not including walk-in advising sessions.

Since freshmen become sophomores, we also launched a Second-Year Experience that helps keep those students connected with services and more engaged with the university community when they begin their second year at Texas State.

So as you can see, we have a robust plan in place for retaining our students, and the level of attention we give them rivals that of what smaller private colleges offer.

And we are paying attention to the other dynamics taking place in this country’s workforce.

The master’s degree is increasingly becoming the credential needed to ensure upward mobility in many careers, including business, health and educational administration, just to name a few.

For example, in order to sit for the CPA exam in Texas, one must have 150 credit hours of college instruction.

And the most coveted jobs in nursing and law enforcement require advanced degrees for those who want to ascend to the top positions in those fields.

I’m pleased to say that this has been something we’ve made central in our strategic plan.

Recognizing that the 21st-century marketplace is placing a higher premium on advanced skills, we’ve made adding more master’s programs a priority.

We have two new master’s programs launching this fall: a Master of Science in Nursing, which is a pathway to produce more nurse practitioners; and a Master of Arts in Psychological Research.

There are plans to add two more master’s programs in fall 2014: a Master of Science in Engineering; and a master’s degree in dementia studies, which will be an online program.

One final note of news this summer that is related to our helping the Texas economy to evolve is STAR Park gaining its fourth client, Quantum Materials Corporation, which develops nanomaterials for products such as solar cells.

As many of you recall, STAR Park opened last November. It is Texas State’s most recent commitment to the convergence of technology, business and economic development to impact the regional economy.

STAR One is the technology incubator anchoring the park. It provides support for the development of new ventures and laboratory space for established firms to strategically work with Texas State faculty, staff and students.

The research park’s sophisticated lab space and its proximity to San Antonio and Austin make it an attractive location for prospective technology companies.

For now, the emphasis is primarily on new polymers and advanced nanomaterials, and the research park provides the support for research and commercializing efforts.

Over time we can add up to seven more buildings as the need arises. And I should point out that STAR Park is not being funded via tuition dollars.

What we shouldn’t lose sight of is that this incubator also is a catalyst for economic growth, which could pay big dividends to the San Marcos community in the form of added jobs.

STAR Park is one more manifestation of how Texas State is meeting the needs of our state’s changing workforce.

And it grows out of our commitment to research and scholarly and creative activities. Research not only leads to discovery and new knowledge, it offers opportunity and advancement for our faculty and students.

Faculty who are actively engaged in research bring cutting-edge knowledge to the classroom. And we know having a robust research program attracts the brightest students and faculty.

So, we have ramped up our research activities. Since fiscal year 2005, our research expenditures have increased by 312 percent. This has led to some exciting outcomes.

Perhaps the most notable occurred last year when we became the state’s eighth Emerging Research University, a designation used by the state Coordinating Board to identify those institutions that are on their way to becoming National Research – or Tier One – universities.

That designation has helped us raise philanthropic research funding, which is augmented through a state matching fund.

Of the 7 million philanthropic research dollars we’ve raised since attaining that designation, Texas State is eligible for an additional $4.2 million in matching funds.

We have received $624,000 of those matching funds in this fiscal year, and we will receive a little more than $1 million dollars in fiscal year 2014. We expect to receive the remaining balance in the next biennium.

Ninety percent of these matching dollars will be given to the unit or project that raised the money triggering the match.

But 10 percent will go into the university’s Research Enhancement Program – a fund competitively available to all full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty at the university.

These new dollars will not displace funds already in the program. They are a new addition to the program.

Another new pool of money that will be available this year will be administered by our new dean of the Graduate College.

Two gracious benefactors, one of whom had no personal or family connection to Texas State that we know of, bequeathed close to $1.5 million to the university, which we placed in an endowment to be used to augment graduate student funding.

We know that to attract the best graduate students, we need to increase our financial packages. This is a high priority for the university.

Meanwhile, we will continue to enhance our plan for moving from an Emerging Research University to a Research University.

Central to that move is the production of doctoral graduates. We now have 12 doctoral programs and we plan to pursue more.

Coming out of our most recent strategic planning process, we expect to submit proposals to the Coordinating Board in 2016 for Ph.D.s in applied anthropology, computer science and public administration.

Also, we are experiencing a steady rise in the number of doctoral students. We had 444 doctoral students last fall. We anticipate 465 this fall.

A steady-state doctoral enrollment for our 12 programs is about 500 students. At the rate those programs are growing, we could be averaging 500 doctoral students as early as fall 2015.

The task force we assembled last year to chart our course to Research University Status is working on a plan that will help us achieve our goal in the most strategic way.

We still have quite a road ahead, but we know we have the will and the spirit to get us there. Let me tell you about a couple of the requirements that we will need to achieve.

One requirement to become eligible to receive National Research University funding from the state is that the university must have at least $45 million in restricted research expenditures annually.

Restricted funds are those that come from external sources and are limited in their use for research only.

In fiscal year 2012, Texas State had $21.8 million in restricted research expenditures, which represented a 93 percent increase over the previous five years.

But you can see that going from $21.8 million to $45 million will take a lot of hard work.

A second criterion requires that a university’s endowment must reach $400 million.

For this purpose, at Texas State, the university’s “endowment” includes endowed dollars held in the Development Foundation, the McCoy Foundation and the University Endowment.

Across these three entities we now have about $140 million.

Our average growth rate over the last seven years has been about 22 percent per year. So achieving $400 million is certainly doable in the next 10 years.

A third criterion requires us to have a chapter of a national honor society – either Phi Beta Kappa or Phi Kappa Phi.

As many of you may have heard, we were approved last spring for a chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, which will be active this fall and this year’s seniors will be eligible for inclusion in it by next spring.

We expect to have representatives of the national office here on October 30th for an installation ceremony recognizing the new chapter.

Our ongoing efforts to boost scholarships and enhance undergraduate education already have positioned us to achieve and maintain a fourth criterion – and the last one I will talk about.

We are required to have at least 50 percent of our freshman class come from the top quartile of their high school graduating class.

If you look at the last three years of incoming classes at Texas State, you’ll see that we have been at 49 percent in 2012; 48 percent in 2011; and 52 percent in 2010. So we are hovering around 50 percent.

To attract the best freshmen, however, we must be competitive with our peer institutions and provide significant scholarship funding. And to do that we need philanthropic support.

Let me tell you about a recent success story in this area that occurred this summer. With absolutely no knowledge that this was going to happen beforehand, I received a letter from the novelist James Patterson saying he wanted to set up a scholarship program in our College of Education.

We didn’t cultivate a gift from him, but it was his team that identified Texas State as one of 17 top teacher-education programs in the country. And he made gifts to all 17 of those schools.

His gift to Texas State will provide eight, $6,000 scholarships this fall to incoming freshmen seeking to become teachers. And there is a likelihood that these scholarships will be renewed and that this program will grow.

The point here is that this noteworthy novelist, moved by his passion for literacy and his love for teaching, wanted to do something to advance teacher education. And he chose Texas State because he recognized the quality of our teacher education program.

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As we continue to raise money for scholarships and for all of our other goals, we hope to build on our hard work thus far in our “Pride in Action” campaign.

As we enter the last six months of this campaign, I am pleased to report that we have raised over $144 million since we began, which is well over our campaign goal of $110 million.

What’s more is that roughly 86 percent of the funds raised are in cash or five-year pledges.

That means we have access to the funds much sooner than we would if they were in the form of planned gifts, like life insurance, which could take years to produce proceeds. Having this much cash is unusual in today’s campaigns, which typically have a much larger percentage of planned gifts.

I must say, based on our performance so far, there is cause for a feeling of encouragement over the final few months of the campaign.

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Let me end by explaining the title of this convocation speech.

It was an idyllic night late last April when the university was hosting a group of donors to the St. David’s Foundation – a foundation that has given us $8 million to support our nursing programs.

We were in Alkek Library and Bill Wittliff was leading a tour of the Collections.

Someone in the group called attention to a glass-cased exhibit of an early Willie Nelson composition book, which contained songs penned when the singer-songwriter was a young man.  

The book was opened to a page containing a song, handwritten by Willie himself, that was never recorded.   

The song is about that time in a young couple’s relationship when life was full of excitement. When the stars seem to line up.

And Willie beautifully crystalized it with the words, “…And nothing was horses that we couldn’t ride.”

As Bill Wittliff was repeating that line, what flashed through my mind was that these words characterized where our university is right now.

“…And nothing was horses that we couldn’t ride.”

With fewer resources than practically any other university in the state – whether you look at dollars, square footage, or other metrics – we have managed to line up our stars.   

From the PACE Center to STAR Park; from the almost finished Performing Arts Center to the expanded Bobcat Stadium; from the newest Ph.D. program in Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization to the oldest program in the College of Education.

Truly remarkable things are taking place at Texas State. Our current standing reflects the dedication and passion our university community has for the well-being of this institution.

And we are most pleased that you all are a part of it.

Thank you for everything you do to make this university better, and I look forward to spending another productive year with you at Texas State.