• The Inaugural Address: UWA Matters

    Posted: April 10, 2015

    Author: Dr. Ken Tucker

    Members of the Board of Trustees, honored guests, alumni, and friends, on behalf of the truly outstanding faculty, staff, and students of the University of West Alabama, welcome to our beautiful campus and thank you for being here. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be standing before you today as we celebrate our great University–180 years of proud tradition and educational excellence, and still going strong. To be sure, we have our share of issues and challenges, as all organizations do, but what we do matters–it mattered 180 years ago and it matters today!

    Speaking of age, I am reminded of a recent story about two of our older alumni. Glen Bridges and his wife Imogene went to the state fair every year, and every year Glen would say, “Imogene, I’d like to ride in that helicopter.” Imogene always replied, “I know Glen, but that helicopter ride is fifty dollars, and fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” One year Imogene and Glen went to the fair, and Glen said, “Imogene, I’m 85 years old. If I don’t ride that helicopter, I might never get another chance.” To this, Imogene replied, “Glen, that helicopter ride is fifty dollars, and fifty dollars is fifty dollars.” The pilot overheard the couple and said, “Folks, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take the both of you for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say a word, I won’t charge you! But if you say one word, it’s fifty dollars.” Glen and Imogene agreed and up they went. The pilot did all kinds of fancy maneuvers, but not a word was heard. He did his daredevil tricks over and over again, but still not a word. When they landed, the pilot turned to Glen and said, “By golly, I did everything I could to get you to yell out, but you didn’t. I’m impressed!” Glen replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, I almost said something back there when Imogene fell out, but you know, fifty dollars is fifty dollars!”

    Before we go further, please allow me to recognize and thank some very special people. First let me express my sincere appreciation to our Board of Trustees for their confidence and support in selecting me to be the next President of this fine institution. I look forward to working with the best, most experienced, most qualified, and most dedicated Board that I have ever worked with. I also want to thank our excellent administrators, faculty, and staff for their continued support and encouragement as we transition into this new era. I would typically recognize all of the dignitaries in the audience at this point, but there are too many to thank individually, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out, so please accept my sincere thanks for being here and working with us to make this University the best it can be. I do, however, need to recognize and thank my family. Indeed it is family, along with faith, friends, meaningful work, and positive contribution that make life worth living.

    I must give special recognition to my mother, Dr. Betty Jean Tucker. The first Dr. Tucker was a longtime English professor and chairperson of the Division of Languages and Literature at then Livingston University. Ever the consummate professional, she is legendary for her tough but fair teaching style and the ubiquitous positive impact she had on so many young lives. She, along with the finest man I have ever known, her husband and my father, Howard Tucker, were born during the Great Depression and exemplified the characteristics of what Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation: honor, sacrifice, duty, courage, respect, and a deep affection for God, country, and family. Role models for us all!!

    And then there is my beautiful, intelligent, funny, and talented wife, Mary, who also deserves special recognition for her years of support and sacrifice while I was traveling extensively and working multiple jobs simultaneously. I recall, admittedly vaguely, those early years when she was working full time (which she always has done), and I was teaching an overload at LU, plus serving as the Director of both the Small Business Development Center and the Center for Business and Economic Services, while also traveling to Thomasville and Monroeville at night to teach undergraduate and graduate courses, and in addition writing my dissertation on the weekends at my parents’ house in Linden – and we had four daughters under the age of four. She still hasn’t forgiven me!

    Speaking of our daughters, of whom we are exceedingly proud, they are indeed intelligent, beautiful, accomplished, kind and caring. Three of the four (Allison, Kimberly, and Lara) were married within a four-month period a couple of years ago, and Rachel married last year, which explains why a hat will be passed around for contributions at the end of this address. We are equally proud of our newly acquired sons-in-law: Shawn, Tim, Chase, and David. We could not have asked for any better men to love our daughters and join our family. I would also like to recognize my sister, Tracy, and her husband, Randy Lill–both proud UWA graduates.

    Mary’s family is also with us today, including her mother, Theddie, and father, George Murray, a Pearl Harbor survivor and Battle of the Bulge veteran of World War II, and at 96 still a formidable force to be reckoned with – also both proud examples of the Greatest Generation. Mary’s sister, Cathy Friar and our favorite niece, Kris Berkhof, have traveled from Texas to be with us today as well. Thank you for being here! And a special thanks to all of our family friends and University friends who are here to pay homage to our great University. I would be remiss if I did not also offer a special thank you to the Inauguration Committee for the outstanding job they did in planning and organizing the inauguration activities and events. Would Dr. Tina Jones, Mary Grace Edmonds, Dr. Amy Jones, Betsy Compton, and Margaret Hagood please stand and be recognized. Let’s give them a rousing round of applause for a job well done.

    I’ll bet you didn’t know that Terry Bunn, in addition to being a successful business executive and President of our Board of Trustees, also plays the bagpipes. As a bag piper, he has played many, many gigs. Recently Terry was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. The man had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the Mississippi back country. As Terry was not familiar with the Delta backwoods, he got lost and being a typical man, he didn’t stop for directions. He finally arrived an hour late and saw that the funeral director had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch.

    Terry felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. He went to the side of the grave and looked down and discovered that the vault lid was already in place. He didn’t know what else to do, so he started to play. The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. Terry played out his heart and soul for this man with no family and no friends. He played like he had never played before for this homeless man. And as he played Amazing Grace, the workers began to weep. They wept; Terry wept; they all wept together.

    When Terry finished, he packed up his bagpipes and started for the truck. Though his head hung low, his heart was full. As Terry opened the door to his truck, he heard one of the workers say, “I never seen nothing like that before, and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for 20 years.”

    Now that we have duly thanked everyone and their third cousin twice removed, let’s talk about our University. There is absolutely nothing, nothing more important than what we do at this institution. We change lives for the better, every day. What we do matters! We help students gain the knowledge, skills, and ability to be successful throughout their lifetime. We are so fortunate to be part of a profession where we can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives–from providing a quality, accessible, affordable education to many first generation college students who might not have that opportunity otherwise, to preparing a technically-trained, skilled workforce for business and industry employers, to delivering needed outreach services to area non-profits, public institutions, and government agencies, to developing cutting-edge applied research, to collaborating with public and private organizations to enhance economic and community development opportunities for citizens in the Black Belt region, to increasing the overall quality of life for all those we serve.

    There is a story told about a little boy whose father, to keep him busy, cut up a picture of the world and told the child to put it back together. To the father’s amazement, the child did it in a matter of minutes. “How did you do that so quickly?” he asked. “Oh, it was easy,” the boy said. “There was a picture of a man on the back. When I put the man together, the world turned out all right.” That’s what we do; we put the person together, and if we do our job right, the world will turn out okay. Not only is this our job, it is our calling, our privilege, and our responsibility, and we are accountable for achieving positive results. By putting first things first, and focusing our efforts on what is truly important, we add tremendous value to our students’ overall college experience. Many of our students lack the financial and social support that students at larger, research-based institutions have, but by the time they graduate they have developed the confidence, leadership and interpersonal skills, application-oriented experience, and critical thinking and decision-making acumen to compete successfully in the marketplace and in life against any graduate from any university.

    As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a better place; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” And isn’t that what we all desire – to be successful, to know that our lives have mattered, that we have made a meaningful difference in the lives of others, that we are important, if only to a few special people, that we are worthy? Life is about relationships; we accomplish precious little of value by ourselves. The first and last things in our lives are people, and we should take better care of those special to us, or those in our charge. UWA’s longtime motto is “There is something about this place.” That something is our people: caring, collaborative faculty; helpful, supportive staff; dedicated, diligent administrators and Board members; and a welcoming, cooperative community. We are family. We care about each other and go above and beyond in caring for our students. We genuinely care about their success: academically, athletically, socially, and emotionally. We work tirelessly and selflessly to help our students become successful in their careers, in their family life, and in their communities. With proper mentoring, our students internalize the keys to success: work hard, maintain a positive attitude, treat all people with respect, and balance competing priorities.

    I am reminded of a quote by William Jennings Bryan, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” As I have met with different university departments, alumni groups, and external partners these past few months, I have been extremely gratified by the positive energy and optimistic outlook I have encountered. Morale is higher than it has been in years and people are genuinely excited about working together positively and progressively to help move this University forward. As we work together to achieve our goals related to enrollment growth, financial stability, and enhanced corporate culture, there is a new sense of empowerment among all stakeholders. To become widely known as a high performance, values-driven, caring organization, we must unleash innovation and creative energy and work together collaboratively to achieve what the Japanese call Kaizen, tiny improvements in a thousand different places – which over time amounts to major positive change.

    Stephen Covey, the author of the bestselling business book of all time, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, quotes an anonymous author thus: “Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results.” It is no secret that UWA experienced a tumultuous time last year, but the future is exceedingly bright. We are getting the right people in the right places, with the support they need to achieve extraordinary results. We are on a positive path forward, acting with integrity, transparency, and accountability, and proactively pursuing any and all opportunities for continuous improvement. Covey calls this “Sharpening the Saw” or forever getting better.

    I will close with former President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows great enthusiasm and great devotion; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Let us pledge here today, as Roosevelt implores, to continue to stay in the arena, to strive valiantly, to fully spend ourselves in our worthy cause, and to dare greatly. Let’s commit to do great things together, because what we do matters! Let us also commit to be guided in this effort by the insightfulness of the Serenity Prayer: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    Thank you again for being here. Please join us for a reception at the Bell Conference Center, but if you are unable to do so, please travel safely and God Bless!
    See More UWA News