In honor of those who give…

A few months back, I found an entry on my calendar, “Greet and Thank Professor……..”  Because the meeting was set up just for him, I was a little intrigued and was curious to know which noteworthy act of teaching or research the professor had achieved.  So, I opened the attached note that said, “…for $1.5 million gift to establish an endowed chair.”

My immediate reaction was “Wow.” That is a significant gift and it is coming from a current faculty member!  I read the professor’s name again.  No, I could not recall the name from any of my conversations with the development staff.  And no, he was not from a discipline where an invention or a start-up company could have been the possible source of his fortune.  My curiosity remained.

At the scheduled time, I walked in the board room and there he was…an unassuming man with a totally down-to-earth attitude.  He appeared uncomfortable in tie, as if he had put it on just for the meeting. We shook hands and I thanked him sincerely for his generous gift. Then I proceeded to inquire about the reason behind his generosity.

He responded very matter-of-factly, “I have worked at UH for over 30 years and have had the most wonderful time. Every morning, I have been waking up excited to come to work, to see my students, and to do whatever I can to make this a better place. It has been my home; it has been my life.”

We talked some more about the evolution of the University and all of the trials and tribulations it had gone through.  During the span of 45 minutes or so, I noticed that he had never said one negative word about the university.  He was extremely proud of it and very gratified to have been a part of it.

Explaining how he amassed this wealth, he said, “I am not a big spender and I don’t have any obligations so I want to give it to the place that brought so much joy to my life.”  If you dissect his statement, it is clear that…

…He has been working hard for every dollar!

…He has not been splurging it on himself!

…He feels that the University had done more for him than he has done for the University even though he has devoted his entire life to teaching and research!

…He has no expectations for recognition!

Needless to say, the meeting made my day!  In fact, it made my year!  I have repeated his statement many, many times in my head.

Three months later, I saw his name again, and this time, it was in the context of a luncheon given in honor of the University of Houston 1927 Society.  In that room were many faculty and staff who shared similar feelings, and who had made a planned gift to the place that had given them so much!  Some were retired but many were current members of the faculty and staff. They had lived or were living in the trenches, having seen the best and the worst.  Yet, their love for their workplace went beyond their daily frustrations and struggles.  Like the faculty member, they all wanted to express their gratitude by securing the future of the university.

Even though, the professor expected no recognition, I am going to give you his name—Professor Robert Carp!  On behalf of the future generation of students and faculty who will be the beneficiaries, I thank Professor Carp and the members of the 1927 Society for their generosity.  You are indeed bigger than the institution!

The “Good Old Days” came back for a day!

I was not at the University of Houston when Coach Guy Lewis and his Phi Slama Jama team became a national sensation. Nor was I here when Coach Lewis made history by playing UCLA—and winning—in the first ever nationally televised basketball game. But from the day I arrived on campus in 2008, I started hearing about that magical time.  I could see it in the eyes of those who told me, with intense fondness, stories about the “good old days.”

So, when the time came, it didn’t take me any time to decide to make the trip to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the induction ceremony for Coach Lewis, and experience the magic myself.

I arrived in Springfield already on cloud nine since our Cougars had defeated Temple in a hard-fought game just a day before.  As I walked into the hotel lobby to check in, it was clear that celebrities were staying there. A line of visitors was already gathering behind ropes to catch a glimpse, or better yet, to grab their autographs.  A while later, I came down from my room to join our group, and sure enough, I soon saw who the fans had been waiting for –Elvyn Hayes and Clyde Drexler were in the middle of the commotion, hugging their Cougar fans, giving high-fives to each other, and signing autographs.

Decked in red, we all accompanied Coach Lewis, who was in his wheel chair, to the nearby hall. By then, Hakeem Olajuwon had also joined in the group.  I must admit that it felt like a Hollywood premier!  People were standing on both sides of the street, clapping and cheering for our icons.  Cougars had brought the biggest line-up of stars for this ceremony.  Our players were being stopped left and right by every television and radio station for a quick interview.

We then arrived at the buffet given in honor of the inductees.  The ballroom ceiling appeared awfully low and my neck soon started to hurt.  And then it dawned on me that the room was full of 7-foot basketball players!

For the next one hour, the event seemed like a big celebration for Cougars (no, I am not biased).  If anyone wanted to find Coach Lewis and his players, all one had to do was to look in the direction of the biggest and loudest group in the crowd.  Reporters, players, coaches, referees—all wanted to take photographs with Coach Lewis and his former star players.

The induction ceremony began with the pump and show of a live television awards program. At the appointed time, a short video was shown to introduce Coach Lewis, and then from the left of the stage Elvyn, Hakeem and Clyde wheeled Coach Lewis to center stage. Everyone in the hall jumped to their feet.   The applause lasted for what seemed like an eternity.  There was so much pent-up joy and gratitude in crowd’s heart, and it felt like they wanted to pour it all out that minute, right then and there.

On his face, Coach Lewis had the smile worthy of an artist’s brush or poet’s pen!

We all had teary eyes!  It truly was a special moment!  Thank you, Coach Lewis, for once again putting the University of Houston on the national map! It was a long time coming, but we are all happy that you finally honored the Hall of Fame by being a part of it!

Welcome home…to your dorm!

Last week was full of nervous anticipation. It was the final week of summer break and I knew that the campus would soon be buzzing with the energy of 40,000 students, with 8,000 of them living on campus. I had visited Cougar Village II on Friday and it still looked like a hard hat area. Carpets were being installed, doors and windows were being fixed and large areas were plastered with construction paper.

“Are you sure this place will be ready for move-in?” I asked my vice president. “We cannot afford to NOT open it on time.”

“Don’t worry,” I was told.  “We are on schedule.” I knew that might be an overly optimistic promise.

Last Thursday was the move-in day, and I decided to check out Cougar Village II. As I approached the area, I could hear loud music with a DJ playing the latest hits.  Soon, a gray station wagon pulled in and 3-4 volunteers wearing red shirts descended on it. The driver (mom) popped open the trunk and before any of the passengers could get out of the car, the contents from the trunk had been transferred to a waiting trolley. The president of the Faculty Senate greeted the family, shook hands with the student and began to push the trolley toward the front door. Still in shock, the family walked behind the trolley, only to be greeted by another group of volunteers giving them high-fives and “Welcome Home!” cheers.  Beaming with joy, the family walked in to the lobby where they were quickly led to the elevators.

No wait, no papers, no signing.  It was truly like coming home!

I noticed that in 1Fall_2013_Move_In_057-2724557412-O0 minutes, the family was down again, this time with water bottles and maps in their hands. I walked over to them to introduce myself and to asked them if everything was okay.

“Okay? Oh my gosh! We have never seen anything like this before,” said the dad, shaking his head in disbelief.  “We moved our other son to ______ and it was not half as nice.  You guys are the tops.”

“I am so jealous of Georgie. I want to come back to school,” said the sister who had graduated 6 years ago from UH.

I turned to the student and asked, “Are you happy? Do you like your suite?”

“I love it. I really do.”

“I am happy for you, I said, “But do you know what will make me even happier? It is the honor of shaking your hand when you walk across the stage with your degree.”  I told his parents, “Thank you for trusting us.  We will take good care of him.” They thanked me in return.

This same scene and the same conversation got repeated over and over again during the next two hours that I spent at Cougar Village II.

I was amazed that the building was finished, but I was more amazed that overnight, these staff and student volunteers had made it homey.  No amount of training could have ever taught them the passion needed to do that. It was their love for the school and dedication to new students that was on display. Thank you student volunteers, particularly Roxie, Patrick, Rima, Jonathan, Geordie, and Tanzeem. (Yes, I read your name tags!).  You all are an awesome team!

I left the campus that day reassured that the campus culture is definitely undergoing an important change, and this transformation had already taken deep roots.

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Commitment starts from the top…

Last Wednesday, we said farewell to three members of our Board of Regents: Nelda Blair, Jacob Monty, and Mica Mosbacher.  On that day, I felt particularly grateful as I thought of the legacy they were leaving behind. It was during their term that the University of Houston achieved its Tier One status from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  It was during their term that ESPN Game Day was held on campus in response to our nationally ranked Cougar football team. It was during their term that UH became the university of first choice, as the average freshmen SAT rose steadily to 1140. And indeed, it was during their term that 21 buildings at the cost of $1 billion were designed and constructed.

Of course, it takes a great community to build a great university, but the commitment must start from the top.  Our board members have shown an unwavering support for making the University of Houston an institution of which Houston and Texas can be proud of. Regent Mosbacher encouraged us to embrace change and have patience, since all good things take time.  Regent Monty always reminded us of our duty to serve the under-served and stay persistent. Regent Blair, who served as board chair for two years, was amazing in so many ways.

Yes, she really was amazing.  Just to give you a glimpse of her leadership style, here are few passages from the letter that I wrote in her Memory Book.

“I must admit that your first appearance on the campus as a board member was extremely intimidating…radiant red clothes, stiletto heels, large patterned handbag, bold jewelry, and a champion’s walk…it was the true ‘I have arrived’ look! We, the administration, huddled together and pondered over our future.  What followed was a deafening silence, for none of us had encountered your leadership style before.

Over the next few days, we googled and learned everything we could about you from secondary sources, but nothing was of much comfort. It seemed like your interests and achievements covered every facet of life from sports to television to courts and public office. Then came the retreat and you won us over with your sense of humor and the no-nonsense approach to everything.

You never, for one day, micro-managed anyone or anything, and yet you knew exactly where all the major issues stood on any given day. You could get to the bottom of an issue irrespective of how muddy the context was, how hidden the agendas were, and how loud the voices were. You had a clear view of your principles and you stood firm on them.

Every single day, I felt empowered yet accountable, under pressure to perform and yet fully supported to get the job done. I felt overwhelmed by the ‘Uniquely Nelda Look,’ and yet totally comfortable as myself. If it is not true leadership, I don’t know what is.

Thank you, Nelda!  You will always be in our hearts and you will always remain our Chair Blair!”

Today, I salute our regents–current and former–for their commitment to excellence, for their countless hours of volunteerism, and for their unwavering passion for all of our universities. We know that we stand tall on your shoulders! Thank you.

Gift of a dream…

My weekend started pretty rough on last Friday evening. After finishing a day-long meeting in Chicago, I rushed to the airport only to find that my flight had been delayed. “No problem,” I consoled myself, “it is better this way than missing the flight.” After a wait, we all boarded the plane only to be told 45 minutes later that the plane needed to go back to the hangar and that another one was on its way.  Another wait at the gate before I learned that the flight had been cancelled altogether.  I headed to the Service Center to see an agent.  The agent tapped his fingers on the keyboard while I tapped mine on the counter.  Then, he lifted his gaze and said, “I can rebook you on a flight tomorrow.”

“WHAT!!!!” I screamed, “Tomorrow? No, please, I want to go home and I want to go now.”  I must have looked either so pathetic or so overbearing that the agent looked down and started to tap his fingers again.  Two minutes later, he looked up, “Oh, I found you a seat in the next flight but it leaves now.” I was overjoyed, “I will take it.” I literally snatched the boarding pass from the agent and ran, once again, to catch my new flight.  But no sign of any airplane at the gate!  Delay, wait, more delay, more wait.  Finally the plane arrived and everyone boarded the aircraft.  We pulled about 20 feet from the gate and stopped again for a wait that seemed like forever.  Finally the plane got airborne and I breathed a big sigh of relief.  I was hungry and exhausted when I arrived in Houston very late that night.

I was still feeling sorry for myself the next morning when my alarm went off.  Oh, shoot!  I have a 7:30 am event on campus.  I grumbled for a moment but had no choice but to get up and go.  Upon arrival on campus, I saw that the place was buzzing with energy.  A crew of 600 volunteers was busy handling the last-minute logistics (Over 300 of them were UH students, staff and faculty in red shirts).  Outside under a large tent, hundreds of little children, their eyes still heavy with sleep, were standing in line with their parents.  I learned that 15,000 kids were expected to come to campus that day!

The event was Mayor Parker’s “Back to School Fest,” designed to give school children ready for the new year, and it was the first time for the University of Houston to host the event.  Mayor Parker arrived and cut the ceremonial ribbon. The Cougar marching band filled the atmosphere with Cougar spirit. And there wasn’t a sleepy face to be seen anymore.

Kids were pulling on their parents, wanting to touch Shasta while parents were pulling on their kids, wanting to grab a photo with the Mayor.  It was a festival like none other.  Multiple booths catered to every need a child may have on the first day of school: Immunizations, eye screenings, dental exams, and basic health check-ups.  Volunteers were handing out backpacks filled with basic school supplies, uniforms, and bags of food.  Lots of games, lots of fun, and lots of happiness in the air!

Then, someone reminded me that most of these kids had probably never been on a college campus.  As I talked to parents, I soon learned that was true for them too. College, to both parents and kids, was someone else’s dream, a cold and intimidating place where “others” went.

But not today! They seemed happy and comfortable.  Had this one visit started to melt the ice? Has this one visit made them realize that college could be “their” dream too?

I stopped some kids and asked, “Do you think one day you would like to come here, to the University of Houston?”

“Yes!” they said without the slightest hesitation.  “I hope so, I hope so,” nodded their parents. “You know you have to work very hard in school,” said others to their kids.  I knew then that, for many, the dream had already started that today.

Did I start this blog with the words “my weekend started pretty rough”?  Well, even if it did, it turned out to be a pretty special one. Don’t you agree?

An unusual request…an unusual thrill

Four years ago… it was a usual day until I received an unusual email from Betsy Cook Weber, our director of choral studies, inviting me to travel with the concert chorale to an international competition in Llangollen.

Llangollen?  Where on the Earth is this place?  I had never heard of it before. Chorale competition?  What is that all about?  I thought music was very personal.  Travel?  I know university presidents travel with their teams to football games but to music competition?

Even though it all sounded intriguing, my first reaction was a “How sweet, but no.” But after giving it some thought, I thought, “Why not?”  If I can travel with student athletes, why not with singers?”

So, my husband Suresh and I arranged our summer vacation around the event and headed to Llangollen, Wales.

But it was not as easy as we had thought.

The very first challenge was to pronounce the name – Llangollen – correctly, which felt like trying to speak after getting a Novocaine injection at the dentist (yes, try with the Welch twist!).  Next came a crash course in the rules of the competition.  And finally came the nightmare of driving through the narrow, curvy roads of Wales in the American-size car we had rented – what were we thinking!

Once there, though, we had three of the most memorable days of the year.  The small town of Llangollen was caught up in the frenzy of the festival and we, too, got the music fever.  All 36 of our students, looking elegant and confident, represented the University of Houston and our country with pride and professionalism.  Every time our group walked on the stage my heart pounded, just as it does when the kicker is about to kick a field goal in the last few seconds of a tied football game.

Suresh and I sat through every round of every competition, not because we had to, but because we wanted to.  By the third day, we had mastered the art of judging and could even predict scores with reasonable accuracy.

Then came the last round. Only two serious contenders were left.  Our team walked on stage with the confidence and humility of winners. I was so nervous that I think I almost forgot to breathe!  My husband squeezed my hand and I knew he was nervous, too.  When the performance ended, I knew that our students had won.  Indeed they had, but what none of us knew was that they had also won the hearts of the audience.  In a moment, people were on their feet, applauding and chanting “USA, USA!”

Our students won in every single category that they competed in.  I was proud and felt blessed to see the quality and caliber of our students and professors.  They had proven that they could enter a competition as rookies and come out as having won it all.

Last month, another chorale team accomplished a similar feat, again under Professor Weber’s direction.  This time it was in Marktoberdorf, Germany. They sang the music written by David Ashley White, director of our Moores School of Music.

I wished I could have been there, but I simply could not get away because the Texas Legislature was still in session.  Needless to say, I was glued to Twitter as the judges announced that the group scoring the highest marks and winning first place was…  the University of Houston!

Our students had once again won the hearts of the audience and people once again stood up, chanting, “USA, USA!”  A different country, a different group of students, but the same outcome!

Congratulations students!  Congratulations Betsy and David!  You are all real Cougar champions!

Dare to rescue a dog!

I really wanted a dog. Life was getting too busy to find time to take a walk, feel the air, or simply just be outside. We had a dog before and I was ready for one now. When I broached the subject with my husband, Suresh, his first reaction was, “When do you have any time for anything? What will the dog do when you are not home, which you never are?” But in the end, Suresh conceded (which always is the case).

My next request, however, provoked a lively debate in the family. I wanted to get a rescue dog. My older daughter, like a true scientist, argued that a dog is a long-term commitment and one should try to control as many variables in the equation as possible. “Even in arranging your marriage, your parents looked at the family and their values.” She had a point!photo 1

My younger daughter, on the other hand, argued in favor of rescuing. She had rescued a lab herself and argued that the satisfaction of doing so and the bonding which results from struggling together is priceless.

Finally, I decided to give it a try and contacted a friend who had worked with a rescue shelter. Soon, I started to receive links with photos and descriptions from various shelters. It was the next day at noon that I received a photo which immediately caught my attention. There was something in those eyes. And the dog’s name was Sasha (the female mascot for the University of Houston). “A good omen!” I thought.

I skipped my lunch and immediately went to see the dog. Five minutes later, I called Suresh to say that I am bringing our dog home and if he would like to exercise his veto power, he better come to the shelter right away, which he did. Next came a trip to the pet store and 30 minutes later, we were the proud parents of a beautiful 1.5 year old German Shepherd.

Within minutes of getting home, Sasha disappeared and it took us 2 hours of frantic search to find her in the basement. She was scared and curled behind the water heater. That same evening, she crawled out from under the main gate and after calling her name all over the neighborhood, we found her behind a fence, trembling.

During the months that followed, our neighbors could count on having free entertainment every evening, as we tried to take Sasha on a walk. I was reading every Internet site I could find for instructions and tips on how to train a dog, and yet, it was hard to say who was walking whom. We sought the help of a trainer, but Sasha was unpredictable with dogs and people alike. She trusted no one and could not digest even the mildest food recommended by her doctor. She was scared to be left outside in the yard. The only thing she wanted was to be next to me. She would follow me everywhere.

This is not what I had bargained for!

Fast forward to a year later. Now Sasha responds to commands in three languages–English, Hindi and Spanish. She follows all basic commands and performs a unique trick which goes like this. I would ask, “Sasha, will you go to …[fill in the name of a rival university]… or be a dead dog?” She would make a low growling sound as if dying and then would quickly roll over as if dead. She is full of love, but unyielding in her duty to guard the property. With all the events in the house, she knows precisely who is supposed to be allowed in what part of the house at what time of the day. She walks obediently and fetchesSasha2 her ball beautifully. Neighbors have seen the transformation and often ask us for advise on training.

She loves to put on a UH scarf and come to the office with me on Red Fridays. She lets students pet her, but never accepts a treat someone she does not know.

I feel myself again. I have time that I could not find before. I am outdoors every day. So, here is my challenge for you: Dare to rescue a dog and if you do, dare to admit that it is the dog who is rescuing you and not the other way around.

All it takes is a second…

Last week, I was involved in a car accident while on my way to meet a Texas Senator in Austin. I was in the front passenger seat with my friend driving and only half a mile from the Austin airport when a car hit us from the side at a cross-section. Our car spun 180 degrees and then turned on its–my side–with my head just inches from the pavement. The impact dragged the car a few feet before stopping it completely. We were trapped in the car until few people broke opened the back door. We walked away from the car unhurt!accident

I strongly believe that I am able to write this blog today because we were wearing seatbelts. I walked away from the wreck, which included shattered and broken windows all around us, without a scratch because there were side airbags in the car. Both of the drivers were amazing under stress…no emotional outbursts, no blame game, no cussing and no fussing. Everyone did what they needed to do and helped one another. The Austin police was awesome in their promptness and care toward us. Standing on the curb, I noticed that people driving by stared in awe for moment, but kept moving. No one slowed down to block the traffic or to create any kind of obstruction.

We did not use the ambulance, although it arrived within minutes. Forty minutes later when the cars were towed away, we hailed a taxi and proceeded to the Capitol. We stopped to get water on the way and arrived for my one-on-one meeting with apologies for our 15 minutes of tardiness. By looking at me or listening to my presentation, no one could guess that anything was out of the ordinary. I made my strong case for receiving state funds to support enrollment growth across the University of Houston System, and it was only after the meeting that I showed the senator the photo of the accident. Life moved on. None of the drivers in our case were distracted but all it took was a second for something to go wrong. So, please when driving…

Don’t use the phone…it can wait!

Don’t text…it can wait!

Don’t read…it can wait!

Wear your seat belt…every single time!

Count your blessings…always!

I was very lucky, but please be very careful on the road!

What makes graduation special…

Imagine a place with 40,000 people and every single one of them absolutely happy. Now imagine the sound of applause that keeps on lasting, only to be interrupted by occasional screams of joy. You can feel the air which is filled with thousands of hopes and dreams!

It is graduation day at the University of Houston, or at any college campus for that matter. No other experience in life can ever match the consistency and predictability of this day.

I had the honor of shaking hands with every one of 4,438 graduates who walked across the graduation stage! Among them a 19-year old completing his bachelor’s degree in Biology and a 68-year old receiving his master’s degree in Construction Management. Also among them a student whose physical challenges did not allow him to even move his hands or feet, and another student whose near fatal injury had left him with only a 5% chance of survival.

The day was filled with many special memories. Among them, the moment when actor Dennis Quaid held up his President’s Medallion high and told the graduates, “This university gave me the best gift…it helped me discover my passion.” And the moment when Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil, tightened his grip on his Medallion and said, “My education here was so good that I have sent my daughter here as well.” And then there was the moment when Welcome Wilson, Sr. (a 1949 graduate) stood up to receive his honorary degree from his son who now serves as a member of the University of Houston System Board of Regents.

And then to top it all, Emma, a 107-year old lady, graced the occasion. Born in 1906, Emma always wanted to attend college but segregation robbed her off her dream. Nonetheless, she did what she could at the time and became the first African American woman streetcar driver in San Fransisco to support her family. Later in life, Emma moved back to Houston. She drove her own car and went fishing on her own boat until the age of 100.

She encouraged her great grand daughter, Kimberly, to attend college. Kimberly was admitted to Columbia but life got in the way. Kimberly left Houston for the West Coast, where she met a man and married him. But one day, their townhouse caught fire and they lost everything. With three children in tow, the couple moved back to Houston where, once again, she started to be nudged by her great grandmother, who wanted her to go to college.

Finally, Kimberly enrolled in a community college and then transferred to the University of Houston. Four years later, at age 44, Kimberly was ready to graduate and her great grand mother came to see her walk. How special on a Mother’s Day weekend!

All of us have had people like Emma in our own lives, people who refused to give in even when we did. All of us remember some place special, like Dennis Quaid did, where we discovered our passion.

What better day than today to remember them and tell them how truly special their role has been in our lives. Congratulations, graduates!

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Winning is not important in sports

Winning is not important in college sports. It is VERY important. And it is important not just on the field, but also in LIFE.

Take the story of a freshmen who was recruited to the University of Houston in 1997 as a running back. In his first semester, he received many awards and became an instant star.  And that same semester, his GPA was 0.44.  No, that is not a typo.  But by the next semester, after coming under the wings of an angel, he completed 17 hours with the GPA of 3.22!  He graduated in 5 years, went on to play professional football, and is now a very successful businessman.

Who is that special person? Who is that angel? She would never tell you about this story or any other story, although there are too many to be told.  She is Maria Peden and she joined the Cougar family in 1996.  Since then, she has transformed the lives of student athletes every day and every way.

I first met Maria when I toured the Athletics department upon my arrival in Houston.  She was engrossed in her work, eyes fixed on the computer screen, files opened on her desk, and three students sitting silently in front of her. The look of anxious anticipation was evident on their faces. They were waiting for Maria to solve their problem.

When Maria saw me, she stood up politely to shake my hand.  I could tell that I had broken her concentration and that she would rather be back with her students than exchanging pleasantries with me.  She introduced each of the students to me. At that time, I did not know Maria, but this brief encounter was enough to make a lasting impression on me. I made a mental note to learn more about her.

Next, I met Maria in my office when she came to get my signature on a report. After this second encounter, I knew that we had a gem among us. Maria knew every single student athlete by name, what courses they were taking, where they were struggling, and what each one of them needed to succeed!  Since then, I have heard her praised by more people than I could keep track of.

Last week, a student athlete told me how Maria had gone over and beyond the call of duty to see her through. “She met with me on Sundays,” the student told me. “Weekend?”  I asked.  “Oh yes, Ms. Peden is in her office every Saturday and even Sunday,” She replied.

Later that afternoon, I met with Dr. Richard Scamell, our Faculty Athletics Representative, and I casually asked him about Maria.  And then I could not stop him. He had the same excitement in his voice as was evident in the student’s voice.  Two hours later, several pages of typed notes about Maria signed by Richard arrived at my desk. Clearly, Richard did not want to take a chance.  Below is an excerpt from Richard’s note:

“The pastor at my church once gave a benediction that I have never forgotten. He said, “Go and share the gospel with others, and, if necessary, use words.” Maria is the type of person for whom words are seldom necessary as her actions make a difference to young people in many ways.”

Maria, I am glad that you are a part of the Cougar family!  It is because of your and your team’s dedication that the graduation rate of our student athletes is higher than that of the university as a whole. Furthermore, they are completing more than 13 credit hours a semester, higher than the university, and nearly one-quarter of them are on the Dean’s List, again beating the university average. Like our so many of our former student athletes whom I see having won the game of life, these student athletes will also be winners.

Yes, winning is VERY important!