Your University: The Measure of Forty
For poets and philosophers, historians and intellectuals, momentous experiences come in units of forty. A quick survey of Famous 40s suggests which experiences demand the storied number. Testing one’s strength and cleansing the soul can take 40 days -- Jesus’ time in the wilderness before beginning public life -- or 40 years -- the Hebrews’ time in the desert before entering the Promised Land. “Los cuarenta días” teach patience to married couples following the birth of a child. To ensure adequate preparation, both Advent and Lent contain 40 days.
The number may also imply lots of time passing: 40 days and 40 nights of rain to float Noah’s arc and eliminate everything else. And 40 (or successive groups of 40) can signal moments of fulfillment, of maturity, of readiness for a new awakening: Muhammed was 40 when he received the first revelations from the angel Gabriel. Moses was 40 when he fled Egypt to live in the land of Midian, 80 when he saw and heard the burning bush, 120 when he died on Mt. Nebo in sight of the promised land.
Texas A&M International University (then Texas A&I University-Laredo) opened its doors in September, 1970, the first upper-level institution in the State. How did these first 40 get going? Evolve? Where are we now? When in 1973 he put our story together for the accreditors, former president Dr. Billy F. Cowart imagined change as our primary goal, our license to continue into the future, writing:
We... intend the tale to go on as long as we can help to produce useful change in the thinking, the knowledge, the behavior, and the feelings of the students in South Texas
When in February, 1994 she came to break ground for our first building, Governor Ann Richards envisioned an institution preparing our young people “for any challenge and any change that comes their way.” At that time, Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock reminded us of how far we have come and how bright the future, saying: “No longer are the young people of South Texas shackled with an outdated and outmoded system of higher education.”
Dr. Cowart, Governor Ann Richards, and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock were not offering cheerful meliorisms without strategies for battle. Each inaugurated succeeding eras of herculean effort. The most recent fruit of those continuing labors came on September 9, 2010, as Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst joined Senator Judith Zaffirini to cut the ribbon for our newest building, the University Success Center.
The Senator recounted how during his seven years as Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Dewhurst has consistently championed growth and expansion for the University in Laredo. And Mr. Dewhurst repeated the poetic vision he articulated at the time he was named Mr. South Texas: “I want to see the landscape of South Texas painted with the dreams of its children.” In securing funding for the University Success Center, our Senator and our Lieutenant Governor place a color-rich palette and brushes in the hands of young South Texans.
Our story begins as one of vast imaginings: challenge, change, new life. For many of these first 40 years, lawmakers and citizens have lifted us forward, confident in the promise that expanded education brings expanded life. Today, as we look around the campus, as we read in U.S. News and World Report how highly fellow teachers and counselors value this University, we realize that we are now fully formed. We will grow much, much more. Programs such as engineering will expand our offerings; badly needed new buildings will continue to rise. But a walk on these grounds leads visitors through a campus stunningly beautiful, intelligently planned, wisely cared for, in the first bloom of youthful maturity.
Forty years have passed. The bush burns brightly, the angel beckons. Like Moses and Muhammed at 40, our University has now come of age, equipped to fulfill the aspirations of those who first laid it out and saw it through the first decades of robust growth. When asked what the future holds for Laredo’s university, Senator Zaffirini speaks for all of us when she says: “We have just begun!”
Ray M. Keck III
Professor of Spanish
Texas A&M International University