One great pleasure in modern society, a joy within easy reach of almost everyone, comes each day as we set out for work or for home and switch on the car radio or CD player to listen to music. Not too long ago, I was driving toward Gustavus Street in the late afternoon when suddenly a song of great beauty captivated me. The words, I would suspect, are familiar to many of you.
Today while the blossom still clings to the vine
I'll taste your strawberries, Íll drink your sweet wine,
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joys that are mine today.
Fragile and fleeting, our experiences are like blossoms, not fixed to the vine of life, but clinging, still clinging, today. Tomorrow, even a million tomorrows, are gone even before they arrive; the strawberries and wine of this moment are our only comfort.
When I first heard this song, one of my children was about to finish her college years, and her image as a newborn, then as a little girl, and now as a young woman flashed before my eyes. A blossom was about to cling no longer to the vine, I thought. The words and music penetrated deeply to my already weakened spirit.
We in the University live our lives in apparent defiance of time, of the warning in this beautiful song. Just as a semester or a course or a class or an article begins to lose its luster, it drops aside and we experience the repeated, unfailing rush of new blossoms, new semesters, new faces, new joys. University life continually begins, again and again, with an energy that supersedes all that came before. To us is given the great gift of seemingly endless springs, with new blossoms so intense that we scarcely notice when former flowers cease to cling and fall. We need not even fear becoming too dependent upon the blessings of renewal and rebirth, for they are deeply embedded in the University experience, gifts not in danger of being reclaimed by the giver or cancelled by an unexpected twist of fate. Ours is the business of new life.
This year promises may unparalleled opportunities for Texas A&M International University. We will open our science building and planetarium, begin the building of our enhanced athletic facilities, establish a new residential community. Each of these events, each of these blessings, will allow life on this campus to enjoy significant and rich expansion. To manage our growth at a time when state revenues contract and shrink is indeed a challenge, but we have for two years been in that dialogue, and reasonable strategies are under discussion or already in place.
We should this year feel the beginning of a transition to a new place in our history. The staggering effort necessary to build this campus, this curriculum, this faculty, this staff, has now produced a gorgeous campus, a diverse community, and stable programs. For the first time in many years, we are in a position to begin to think about issues not framed by deadlines, to reflect, as our academic training encourages, upon our profession, the quality and content of the life of the mind at Texas A&M International University. To lead and to institutionalize this reflection, I this year will form the President’s Academic Advisory Council, charging that group first to take up the matter of integrity in the academy, to push forward the ideas and suggestions captured in discussion groups at our recent assembly, and then to move to other topics as we or they may feel appropriate. The group will consist those who have been named university Scholars of the Year, and now also our Teacher of the Year, of those honored as Regents’ Professors, of our academic deans and the director of the Canseco School of Nursing, of our Provost, Senate President, the Director of the Killam Library, and faculty holders of the Zaffirini Medal. This diverse group of nineteen, forming President’s Academic Advisory Council, will look at issues affecting the intellectual life of this campus, and make recommendations as to how we might strengthen and improve that life.
To those of you, students and faculty, joining our community this year, I bid you welcome. Please challenge us with your new ideas and fresh perspectives. Make better our strawberries and wine. You are the new blossoms.
(Remarks delivered at the University Convocation, September 2, 2004.)