On Monday, January 16th Dr. Vincent delivered introductory remarks at the 23rd annual community march celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. which began at the MLK Jr. statue on the East Mall of the UT Austin campus. The theme for the 2017 celebration was “Dream Even Further.”
MLK Day Community March and Celebration
Remarks by Dr. Gregory J. Vincent
Good morning, happy MLK Day, and welcome to The University of Texas at Austin. I’m Dr. Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement and I’d like to thank you all for joining us at the foot of our Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial as we honor the man and his legacy, one which still carries on today.
This statute is one of only six dedicated to MLK on college campuses across the country – a fact which we do not take lightly. The idea to erect a sculpture of MLK can be traced to the fall of 1987 when a group of students formed the Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture Foundation. But, it was not be for another eight years until real progress would be made.
In 1995 a student-led referendum, which was approved with a two-thirds majority of students, and later approved by the Legislature and authorized by the Board of Regents, financed the construction of the statue through a $1 per-student, per-semester fee for four years. We are forever indebted to Marlen Whitley, who as Student Government President was the driving force behind the student referendum.
On September 24, 1999, Dr. King, bronzed and dressed in shirt and tie under black robe with his right arm outstretched, made his first public appearance on campus and has been here to watch over all of us ever since.
The journey toward completion of the Dr. King statue is representative of much of the work we undertake on this campus. While at times slow and methodical, there is always purpose as we build toward greatness. I’m proud of all that we accomplish on a year-by-year basis and that was particularly true of 2016.
Last year we reached closure at the Supreme Court in the Fisher case, which affirmed deference to academic freedom and the university’s holistic admissions policy. This past year also saw the celebration in partnership with The Precursors, of the 60th anniversary of the first African American undergraduates to enroll at UT Austin. The celebration was one of the most important events we have ever held on campus. It was attended by more than 1,000 people, many of them students who were inspired the Precursors and their stories of persistence.
In discussing the impact of our earliest of African American undergraduates, it was our President, Dr. Gregory Fenves who said at the celebration, “You made it possible for those who have followed in your footsteps to pursue their dreams, as well, in the halls of higher education. Through your courage and perseverance, you taught this university the importance of having a more inclusive study body that reflects the entire state of Texas.” I say this often, but how lucky are we to have a leader that truly gets IT?
Thank you all again for joining us this fine morning and with that it’s now my pleasure to introduce the 29th President of UT Austin, Gregory L. Fenves. President Fenves began his tenure last summer by leading us with strength through the conclusion of the aforementioned Fisher v. University of Texas case. During his first full year as president, our university saw our four year graduation rate climb to over 60-percent for the first time in our university’s history – due in large part to the student success initiatives he implemented as Provost.
I am fond of repeating the line from the President’s Inaugural Address where he said that excellence and diversity are mutually reinforcing. I see that every day in our division and to know that we have a president that fully backs our mission and understands the importance of diversity and community engagement makes coming to work a joyful experience.
Please join me in welcoming President Gregory Fenves.