Towers of Old Main Celebration

…Time and again I come back to the notion of how lucky our students and faculty are to have people like our Towers of Old Main – people willing to share the benefits of their hard work with strangers.When I was in college, there just weren’t a lot of scholarships available.Some of that was because I went to Central Michigan University, which didn’t have the endowment a larger university might have.I could have used a scholarship, because my parents couldn’t pay for my education. I had two older brothers in college at the same time, two younger sibling, and my family’s financial situation just didn’t allow for my parents to help with support for college. I was going to have to do that on my own.

So I had to work my way through college in a variety of jobs during the school year and throughout the summer.My jobs included working weeknights at the front desk in a residence hall, night-time security in a housing project, electrician’s assistant, meat cutter in a butcher shop, and yes, a rock n’ roll star on the weekends—at least a star in my mind.  Sandy and I married while I was an undergraduate so she also worked and made significant contributions to our income.She delayed her education so I could finish. I continued to work at the butcher shop while I was working on my master’s degree, as well, and Sandy continued to work while I was working on my PhD.Of course, there’s a lot to be said for working hard and staying the course. There is a great sense of accomplishment in taking the steepest path to your goal – just to prove you have what it takes.But the truth is that at any given moment I think we were one financial crisis away from disaster and perhaps throwing in the towel.

Think about it. If I’d dropped out, I might be managing a butcher shop right now – I was pretty good at deboning chickens! I certainly couldn’t at that time foresee where my academic career would take me.But while there is something to be said for doing it on your own, there is perhaps more to be said for being able to seize the opportunities a college campus provides.I’ve heard Provost Jim Coleman mention that the opportunity to do undergraduate research transformed his life and set him on an entirely new career path.
Similar to Jim, I had an undergraduate research experience that eventually set me on my path to become a neuroscientist.  But, I do remember the great effort it took to get to class, work 30 hours per week or more, and still try to carve out hours to gain the very valuable research experience that defined my career.

That’s why Sandy and I wanted to support Advance Arkansas.We know how hard it is to persevere, especially as both of us were first generation college students.We know how tempting it is to buckle under that financial pressure and call it quits – and we have data that shows, unfortunately, that this happens much too often.The greater your financial need, the more likely you are to drop out. And we know how having to work long hours can actually impoverish your college experience, and limit what you learn and have time to do and experience.

And so I’m grateful that there are people like you willing to transform the lives of others.I think it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. So thank you all for making dreams come true here at the University of Arkansas.