Former UT presidents share turning points

Meara Isenberg

Former UT President William Cunningham remembers a turbulent 24 hours that began over lunch with former Texas Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who wanted to bring quality higher education to South Texas. 

Cunningham said he told Bullock he had a detailed plan, but there was just one problem.

“There was no plan,” Cunningham said. “Nada, zippo, zero.”

Cunningham said he decided at that moment to be focused, act quickly and devise one. Bullock liked Cunningham’s plan and, as a result, gave over a billion dollars to bring South Texas institutions up to par with other parts of the state.

Cunningham joined former UT President Bill Powers in the Bass Concert Hall on Monday evening where the two shared turning points in their lives as part of the University Lectures Series.

Cunningham also encouraged students to be flexible, listen to mentors and take advantage of their resources.

“Plans are fine, they are important,” Cunningham said. “However, many of you will change your majors, careers, job locations, relationships many times over the course of your lives. We know that life comes with no guarantees.”

Powers said there is no better way to improve than to take risks and learn from them.  

Powers said he has done this in his own life by going to Berkeley during the free speech movement, traveling the world and going to law school.

“One of the things I’ve realized about your generation, the millennials … you all are caring and thoughtful,” Powers said. “You care about each other and you care about the community. The future is going to unfold, and I encourage you to let it unfold right in front of you.”

Radio-television-film freshman Nick Payne came to the lecture for his undergraduate studies class, but said he learned much more than he expected.

“I honestly wasn’t quite sure what it was about at first, but now that I’m here, I see the key point of it is about finding your own path and passion in life,” Payne said. “I saw their viewpoints on the different ways I could do so.”

Payne said he found it comforting that the former presidents did not come from great success, but worked themselves up into their positions.

“That’s all it takes — to use what your passion is, and to put everything into it,” Payne said.