Remarks to the 2016 President’s Gala
November 5, 2016
Let me add my welcome to all of you, and my thanks as well. As members of the Morgan and Lory Societies, you are a force that has propelled Colorado State forward, and our conversations with you must always begin and end with our sincere and heartfelt thanks.
Let’s thank, as well, Matt Helmer and the entire events team who have made this such a special evening, as well as those who prepared and served our wonderful meal.
When I’m determining the topic for a speech, I often turn to things that are on my mind — events of the day. As I was on a plane earlier this week thinking about this speech, my notes read: election, Cubs, election, anniversary (some of you will recall that at this event last year it was the evening before our oldest daughter’s wedding and I felt the need to say some things about that), Cubs, and election. Well, I try to keep my family’s private life out of the public eye, the Cubs were the subject of my Green & Gold Gala speech (and I’m still a little emotional about that), and one should never talk politics at a non-political gala, so I thought I’d take a different approach.
This evening, I turned to the theme that Matt Helmer and his events team had used to build this event around: that of this space and place. This Great Hall in which we dine was originally a library, and that word is still etched in the stone on the front of this wonderful building. It was later transformed into the Music Building for Colorado A&M, and of course, today it celebrates our reason for being: our students and their success. Time, of course, always brings change, but I’m proud that at CSU we generally maintain a healthy connection to our heritage, the legacy left us by those who built this great American university.
In that spirit, a letterpress originally used in this library was used to print your invitations to this event. The décor of the room focuses on the history of this library and even the style of the tables is modelled after study-group orientations, designed to foster conversation, important to building community — and thus, tying back to the roles of literature and music — the previous uses of this space — in enriching a community.
Sticking with this library theme, at each of your places is a book as a gift. I chose “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I love this book. I own four copies. Two were gifts, and the fourth was because I forgot I’d already purchased one to keep on my boat where I spend part of my summer.
There are, of course, many themes one can pull from this book — indeed, books have been written on each of these themes!
• Hiring the best people to surround you as a leader.
• Making sure that truly intellectually diverse viewpoints are heard throughout your decision making.
• Assuring a place for those who disagree with you but share the same long-term goals within the tent.
• And, of course, simply the innate leadership talent of Lincoln.
This last point is no stranger to those of you who have heard me speak. I almost always mention Lincoln when I speak. I don’t think that I did last year because I was focused on Jenny’s marriage, the one-year anniversary of which we celebrated last week. Interestingly, the word “anniversary” comes from the genitive “anni,” meaning “year,” and the past participle of the Latin “ventere,” meaning “to turn.” The words combine to mean “returning annually,” and the original use of the word was in conjunction with the date of a person’s death. In the modern day, it has come to represent a celebration of love and commitment.
And, of course, we celebrate other “annual returning” days: holidays, birthdays, commemorations. We want — we need — to commemorate, to celebrate, to honor certain events. This Gala falls into that category — a way for us to annually celebrate you and your amazing faith in and commitment to this university and what she stands for.
And that faith in, commitment to and love of this university has characterized the history of CSU – which, in turn, brings us back to this theme of library, a place where we collect our history — not simply to retain our heritage, but so that we can learn from it and avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Somewhere in this library once resided, I imagine, some of the early works of Isaac Asimov, the physiologist and biochemist who went on to be one of the world’s great science fiction writers. Last summer, I went back and reread Asimov’s 14-book collection that spans the next millennium of human existence. I was struck that one of the main themes was not the future and what was new — as one might assume with science fiction — but how many of the lessons of mankind’s past and much of our collective knowledge had been forgotten.
And forgotten lessons — and the subsequent cost — brings us back to Lincoln and “Team of Rivals.” Has anyone ever led our nation in a more divided time than Lincoln? And yet, throughout this book, we find and see examples of his desire to preserve the nation, the republic, the union, as a foundation for a future for all – ALL – Americans. These are lessons we, as we sit here this evening, fervently hope that our current leaders will remember as whomever is chosen to lead us forward as a nation picks up the reins of government and makes the transition from politically campaigning to governing. Whomever we as Americans elect will need all of our help to deal with the problems of this day.
Just as Lincoln, in his day, leaned heavily on the support of an inner circle of close friends. In a letter to Henry Asbury of Quincy, Illinois, in 1858, Lincoln wrote the following (paraphrased slightly): “The cause must not be surrendered at the end of one or even one hundred defeats.” And that, in turn, brings us back to the Chicago Cubs. I think Lincoln might have said it this way:
“The cause must not be surrendered at the end of one or even one hundred defeats. But 108? That’s enough.” And indeed it was.
Now for those of you playing speech bingo to stay awake, you now note that despite my misgivings, the library theme has strayed into my daughter’s anniversary, the election, and the Cubs. Maybe we can’t control our subconscious. But we can control the time that we give it. So on that note, please join me in raising your glasses.
• To perseverance,
• to remembering the life-changing moments of our past,
• to our collective future,
• and to the role that Colorado State – because of you, the members of the Morgan and Lory Societies – will play in that future –
• may it be a bright and inclusive one.
Thank you. Thank you for all that you do, and thank you for coming this evening. God bless.