Appreciation Luncheon Honoring Lt. Governor David Dewhurst
July 20, 2006
Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to Texas A&M International University. The Laredo Chamber of Commerce, the LaMantia Family, Brenda and Rick Valls, International Bank of Commerce, Falcon International Bank, the Laredo Manufacturers Association, the Laredo Morning Times, and the University have invited you to join us in thanking two people whose work has transformed the lives of millions of Texans: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and State Senator Judith Zaffirini.
Today you are seated on a campus and in a community where, more clearly than perhaps anywhere else in the State, the commitment to Texas, the pledge of both Governor David Dewhurst and Senator Judith Zaffirini, is made real. Walk among these buildings. Touch these walls. Look into the faces of students whose families, even twenty-five years ago, could not have imagined that they would be attending a university, and here, in Laredo. Ladies and Gentlemen, our city and our region today bear scant resemblance to what we remember of even the recent past. And today we thank Governor Dewhurst and Senator Zaffirini for their crucial roles in bringing us dramatically forward and upward.
The famed Spanish philosopher, José Ortega y Gassett, was fond of asking: “What is the question of our day?” “¿Cuál es el tema de nuestro tiempo?” The question can, for us, be answered simply: What future are we building for our children and grandchildren? What will those who follow receive from our hands? What will they say of our effort? Those questions lead to a deeper one: Will the American dream continue to be a reality? If so, who will enjoy it? Can we ensure that it will be fairly within reach of our citizens?
The wisdom of the ages is clear. All is flux, nothing is fixed, the river does not cease its flow. Our society will flourish and grow or stagnate and divide. Our future will be a function of our education. Our success or lack of success in bringing education to all our people will determine our fate. The task, however, the dream to hand the bright lamp of learning to each citizen, is a daunting one. We are fully aware of the difficulties we now face. American children are not consistently competitive, in math and in science, with children from many other countries. In recent years, much time has gone into the search for easy answers, quick solutions which, when examined carefully, prove false. For example, we hear that the private sector educates better than the public. We therefore need to open to the public the doors of private institutions. On Tuesday, July 18th, The New York Times published the results of a study describing how, when parents’ education and income are considered, the differences between test scores in public and private institutions melt away.
Our history as a people teaches us that decisive change is possible. The world can be remade. Thomas Jefferson described the dream. Four score and seven years later Abraham Lincoln preserved it. One hundred years after that, Martin Luther King insisted that the dream become reality. Today, racism is not only bad manners. In its public manifestations, it is illegal. Happily for us, and in great measure because of David Dewhurst and Judith Zaffirini, our State is engaged in a great move upward in education, change and growth even more swift than the great movement forward in civil rights.
Let me share with you two examples of the extraordinary work of our honorees. In the last legislative session, a plan surfaced to save money by eliminating or greatly reducing Institutional Enhancement, a mechanism developed by the legislature in the mid-90s to fund the South Texas Initiative. We sat before many legislative committees and explained how the plan to reduce or eliminate this funding would also eliminate at least half of our faculty. “Thank you for your testimony,” we were repeatedly told. “These are indeed difficult times. We must all do our part.” Alarmed, we asked Senator Zaffirini for help. “You must speak directly to the Lieutenant Governor,” she said. “David Dewhurst needs to hear from you directly.” That same day, five South Texas universities, three from the A&M System and two from the UT System, were invited into Governor Dewhurst’s private conference room adjacent to his office in the Capitol. Within five minutes of beginning to explain our problem, he interrupted. “Stop. You don’t need to go any further. This is not going to happen. I will not permit higher education in South Texas to collapse. You have my word.” The word of our Lieutenant Governor, Ladies and Gentlemen, is an awesome thing!
This spring, all universities were apprehensive as we watched the legislature approach the question of tuition revenue bonds, the State’s mechanism for funding infrastructure on public university campuses in Texas. Senator Zaffirini responded to Governor Dewhurst’s call to chair a special committee to tackle this problem. The result: the largest single allotment for campus construction in the history of our State. And we in Laredo, Senator, cautiously hoped for a portion of our request. It was, thankfully, fully funded.
Today all of us on this stage, all of us in this room, face the multiple challenges of education with confidence and with courage. The American dream, the American experiment, is alive and well. Governor Dewhurst and Senator Zaffirini will continue to lead us and will continue, carefully and responsibly, to safeguard the promises of education for Texans.
I now present to you the person who more than any other has provided for this University and safeguarded its growth: Senator Judith Zaffirini.