Remarks to the 1870 Dinner, February 11, 2017
“Forge the Path”
Think back with me to January 2009.
I’ve been president for right at two months. We’re trying to decide if we’re going to come out of the silent phase of our first campaign in the history of the university because the economy has collapsed. My VP for Advancement, Joyce Berry, is hearing a call to return to her home – the Warner College of Natural Resources – as Dean. I look at my calendar and see a lunch meeting with a newly retired, but young alum who has some ideas about engaging Denver alumni. I think, “Well, we’ll need that if this campaign is going to work!”
And as I listened to Brett Anderson at this lunch, his love for CSU, his passion, came through very clearly. And as he spoke I kept thinking, “This guy has advised Fortune 500 companies on building data driven world-class organizations. Hmmm … .”
So, this turned into a back-fired lunch for Brett as I managed to coax him out of that newly minted retirement to become our VP. And we know how that story ended: he’s built what I think is the best advancement team in the country, leading us to a four-fold increase in annual fundraising, and a nearly doubling of our donors.
But these are challenging roles; and for the last couple of years, Brett has been increasingly attracted by the idea of stepping back a bit into that retirement I’d talked him out of.
Now that the campaign is on very solid ground, he and I have agreed that he’ll step down from the VP role on June 30.
Ladies & Gentlemen … I hope you’ll join me in raising your glasses for a toast:
- To a gentleman who loves his alma mater, who has improved it beyond measure, who has changed thousands of lives, in whose debt we all are, to my friend … Brett Anderson.
Now, Brett won’t be totally gone. He’s still showing the weakness in judgment from that first lunch, in that he’s allowed me to talk him into staying on as a Special Assistant to the President, where he can help us look for ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness – just as he did for all those companies during his career at Accenture. I know what you’re all thinking – find efficiency improvements at a university??? … Well, we’ll see what he can do.
Changing an executive always comes with risk. But changing a VP for Advancement during a $1B campaign is the stuff badly chewed fingernails are made of.
So think back again with me.
- It’s 1966 and little Brett Anderson is having his 1st birthday here in Colorado.
- A couple in Thunder Bay, Ontario, is going about their lives having not met yet and not yet knowing that they’ll meet in two years, fall in love, get married and in 1973 they’d have a baby girl.
- When that girl turned 14 – Brett was walking across the stage in Moby accepting his diploma.
- Nine years later, as Brett was moving up the ladder at Accenture (heading US West Coast Operations), that little girl was graduating in Art History from her parents’ alma mater – the University of Toronto. She didn’t leave there after graduation – taking her first job as a development officer in the arts.
- In 2003, after a couple of different development roles, she came to CSU, eventually serving as the Director of Development for the College of Liberal Arts, where she was working when Brett retired from Accenture in 2008, only a few months away from a very bad – for him – lunch with the new president of his alma mater.
- In 2012, that Art History major from Canada became Brett’s Associate VP here at CSU, and she now has 5 years of experience in that role and has been a member of Brett’s leadership team ever since.
So, here was my thinking about this young woman: Impeccably qualified, held nearly every development position, knows our operation intimately, knows our donors, has my trust, has Brett’s recommendation … hmmmm …
- Ladies & Gentlemen, I am so proud to announce that Kim Tobin has agreed to serve as our next VP for Advancement.
I hope you’ll again raise a glass with me in another toast: to an amazingly qualified woman capable of filling the huge shoes she inherits and someone I know will take CSU to new heights and change even more lives, our next VP – Kim Tobin.
(Brett Anderson remarks)
Let’s begin again by thanking Brett Anderson.
And again, welcoming Kim Tobin.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t thank everyone who helped plan this event and make this such a wonderful evening.
Those of you who have been to this dinner in recent years know we’ve made a bit of a tradition of poking fun at the Super Bowl Half Time show. Now, the truth is that Matt Helmer would love to put on such a show – and we’ve joked about this in past years while making fun of “wardrobe malfunctions,” “left shark,” and other bits of pop culture. It’s come to be a bit of a half-time tradition for me to trade texts with Matt about what is and isn’t appropriate for this event.
- Some ideas need to be politely declined with “I’m not sure this will work.” While others are just plain wrong.
- And sometimes – in the moment – I agree to something that just seems like the wrong answer as the speech approaches.
- One of my favorite books is “Straight Man” by Richard Russo, and in it, he has this line, “The ship of dignity, having sailed long ago … .”
OK, so let’s salvage this by reverting to the 1870 speech checklist:
- Amazing stats on campaign status? Check.
- Big splashy news? Check.
- Review University highlights? Not enough time.
- Well … maybe just a few …
- Our 9th consecutive year of record enrollment as Colorado’s University of Choice
- Our students come to us from across our state, nation, and almost 100 countries around the world and right at ¼ of our nearly 35,000 students are 1st generation.
- 44% graduate debt free and 80% have employment in their fields within 6 months of graduation.
- Their degree cuts their risk of unemployment in half, gives them the largest wage-gap advantage in history, and improves their satisfaction with life, according to the Pew-Gallup survey. Not a bad investment.
- $350M in research funding – in areas that matter to people: food, water, energy, the environment, and health.
- An engaged faculty, staff and students – across our state, the nation, and the world – from 4H to National Western to Todos Santos to Cans Around the Oval to Alternative Spring Break; Rams live in action.
- A literally breath-taking transformation of the south side of our campus – with new buildings to come in our core around the Warner College as well as Agricultural Sciences; and new facilities on the South Campus around the Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute and a new Equine Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
- More academic awards than we can list, new additions to the arts, and athletic teams that excel on the court, field, and in the classroom – graduating at higher rates than our traditional student population. And when they don’t, we don’t find loopholes or make excuses, we hold ourselves accountable. Thanks to Joe Parker and to Blanche Hughes for their leadership here.
- Our 9th consecutive year of record enrollment as Colorado’s University of Choice
- Well … maybe just a few …
The theme for tonight’s speech is “Forge the Path.” And I want to focus my comments on the word “forge.”
- The word “forge” can be used as a noun or a verb.
- As a verb, its defined as “to shape an object”
- As a noun, it means a place where objects are shaped.
- It comes from Latin roots meaning “workplace.”
- Now I want to paint an analogy for you.
- Think of the place – the forge – as the university.
- Within the forge there are two essential ingredients:
- The object to be shaped – our students.
- And the smith – our faculty.
- We’re blessed with excellence in both – and it’s hard to go wrong as a university with an exceptional faculty and exceptional students.
- Then there are, beyond the smith’s tools, 2 other key elements:
- The 1st is the anvil: a block with a hard surface on which another object is struck. The block is as massive as it is practical because the higher the inertia of the anvil, the more efficiently it transfers the energy of the striking tool into the work piece.
- Let’s spend a moment on a key word here: “Inertia.” In our analogy, inertia is a problem or problems that our generation has left to the next – unsolved and refractory to our best attempts.
And then there is the last important tool within the forge: the furnace. Stocked with fuel, aerated by the bellows, the furnace creates heat. In the heat of the furnace, an object becomes pliable enough that it will change its shape in response to the hammering against the anvil; rather than shattering and dying, it is reshaped and reborn. Let’s think of the furnace as the environment in which each generation matures.
It has been said that each person – each generation – is forged in the fire of their trials. We often speak of the Greatest Generation and the immense heat through which their character was forged, creating an object that has shaped our world ever since. And our students will be forged by the fires – the furnace – of our day: a divided society that shouts rather than listens, that focuses on differences rather than commonalities, hunger, poverty, disease, war, ignorance. These fires have forged generations since the earliest moments of recorded human history. Some generations have responded to the fire better; others worse. But every generation is tested – tempered – in these flames, and hardened in the quenching water of the self-reflection that comes with age.
Time will tell how this generation stands up to the forge, but I’m optimistic. This generation has a big heart and they are not afraid to roll up their sleeves when they see work to be done. And I think every generation’s very best students create their own forge – bring their own inner furnace and they throw themselves against the anvil with their own force that shapes them into something that can – that has, that will – change the world.
- Case in point: This past week we honored John Mosely with our Founders Day Medal. National Merit Scholar. Star athlete. Student body Vice President. One of 7 black students on our campus. Came to CSU to join my profession of veterinary medicine – and was overtly told that path was closed to blacks. He fought to be able to fight for us as a Tuskegee Airman and became a reshaped object of change.
- Now certainly the times in which he lived provided a furnace hot enough to forge men of immense character. But I believe John Mosley would have been a great man without the fire of WWII – because of the fire that burned in him.
- What fire burned in the forge of a Walter Scott? A John Malone? A Michael Smith? An Ed Warner? A Pat Stryker?
- And it’s not just the fire: What has been the impact of smiths named Albertson, Eddy, Cermak, Gill, and hundreds more?
- The workplace of this great university – its smiths, furnaces, and anvils, have helped to shape and mold names like Horrell, Pineda-Soraca, Hughes, Ontiveros, Ritter, Gardner, Repp, Edwards – and so many, many others – too numerous to count.
But it might have been different. These same people, burning with an inner fire, might have come here only to find a furnace run cold, weaker smiths without the brilliance of mind and experience to sharpen their own, and a broken anvil bent and sagging under the weight of unspent energy and wasted potential.
But it wasn’t different. You helped build the furnaces, you’ve been the bellows that breathed air into them, you’ve made sure we had the best raw material and the best smiths to work against the anvils, to induce change.
- And that, really, is the theme of the forge analogy– in a word – “change.”
- And that brings us to the memento on your tables – it’s a related analogy: a river stone, polished smooth and etched with tonight’s theme. As usual, we intend it as a reminder.
This stone began its life emerging from the natural forge of volcanic heat, immense pressure and geologic time jagged and sharp. But as it moved along its path it was smoothed by striking other stones and polished by small grains of sand suspended in the flowing water that continually washed it clean. And along the way, it did the same the same to other stones, smoothing and polishing them – changing them, even as it was changed.
I wish each of you could join me on the commencement platform at Moby and see the thousands of students on whom we confer degrees each year. Each is like these stones: changed from what they were, and ready to change whatever they contact.
Those students are the product of the forge you helped to build through your generosity. A forge originally built by hands of Lincoln and Morrill, of Lory and Morgan.
It is my belief that there will come a day when each of us will be accountable for our most precious gift: the time that was entrusted to us.
It is my hope that on that day you will stand tall, taking pride in the knowledge you used a portion of your time to work alongside Lincoln to build this forge that changed the world; just as it remains an immense source of pride for me to work this forge alongside each of you.
God bless you all.