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Opinions > Other voices

May 11, 2002

Former students good to Texas A&M

By Ron Douglas
Special to The Eagle

When I joined the Texas A&M University community a little more than six years ago, it did not take long before the meaning of “the Aggie spirit” and its enduring nature were made clear to me by the efforts of the Association of Former Students.

Unlike many other colleges and universities, where the involvement of alumni in the lives of their alma mater is limited largely to attending class reunions and football games, what I found here was a remarkable spirit of generosity toward enhancing the university’s academic mission.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Aggies love class reunions and football games as much as anyone. But their dedication to Texas A&M as an educational institution is exhibited year-round, not only on autumn Saturdays. They understand the value of a Texas A&M education in their lives, and are tireless in their commitment to ensuring that current and future Aggies receive the same quality education.

From incoming freshmen to our employees and our most distinguished faculty, the Association and its more than 250,000 members worldwide daily touch the lives of virtually our entire campus community.

Last year alone, the Association and its members directly contributed some $1.5 million to the Division of Academic Affairs to support projects and programs ranging from student scholarships to faculty and staff award programs, orientation programs for new faculty, libraries and faculty development leave.

Association funding supports a variety of programs that directly benefit our students every day. For instance, supplemental instruction provided through the Center for Academic Excellence helps students to achieve at the highest academic level, and programs in the Career Center regularly help Aggies launch their careers. Still other students, who may never have come to Texas A&M, first learn about the opportunities available at the university from one of the many recruiting programs funded in part by the Association.

As unrestricted funds, the decision of how to use best these contributions rests with those receiving them, such as deans and department heads who frequently use them to support other enrichment activities. They are truly an investment in excellence.

And the above figure accounts for only about half of the $3 million total Texas A&M received from the Association last year. A sizable sum, to be sure, but one that I believe also illustrates the power of teamwork: Spread among all living graduates, it breaks down to less than $1 dollar a month each.

So, we see that each member of the Aggie family touches upon the lives of all others — occasionally in ways much more personal than academics. Unrestricted Association funds also help pay for farewell receptions for retiring employees, allowing the university community to come together and thank faculty, staff and administrators for their dedicated service. They help pat for flowers for funerals and hospital stays.

In these and many other ways, the bond among us is strengthened and our sense of community enhanced by the same group that organizes class reunions and football tailgate parties, the same Association of Former Students that commits itself year-round to our ongoing quest for excellence.

This generosity is as much an Aggie tradition as Muster or standing during football games, and represents the same feelings of loyalty and duty to Texas A&M as mourning a fellow Aggie whom one may never have met or remaining at the ready to take the football field if called upon.

And it has been, in the words of Association executive director Porter Garner, invaluable to making Texas A&M the world-class university it is today. “Former students feel an obligation to Texas A&M,” the 1979 graduate and second-generation Aggie said last fall. “I hear it all the time: ‘I could never give back to Texas A&M what I got from it.’ Is there any other school whose former students would say something like that? I can’t think of any.” Nor can I. Nor, after my years at Texas A&M, can I think of another school that would engender in its graduates such a feeling.

And, as another school year draws to a close with this weekend’s commencement exercises, the cycle begins anew: Our university sends forth into the world young men and women who will make a positive difference wherever they go, but who will always remember where they came from, and that they can still make a difference there, as well.

And what a difference they do make.

• Ron Douglas is provost and executive vice president of Texas A&M University.

The Bryan - College Station Eagle

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