Commencement ceremonies on five Purdue campuses and at several Statewide Technology locations produced a lot of memorable moments for new graduates and their families. However, something very special happened the morning of Sunday, May 17.
At that ceremony -- one of four held in West Lafayette -- Brian Alford, one of the stars of the Boilermaker football team, delivered the student response for his class and reminded us all of what can be achieved when individual determination combines with education. He told a story of his own failure to live up to his obligations and of his resolve to turn his life around. Here is some of what Brian told the 6,000 people in Elliott Hall of Music that day:
"In January, 1997, I sat at home an ex-Boilermaker. I had been stripped of the opportunity to receive my degree. I had been stripped of being able to participate on the football field. As I sat at home and looked at every single 'F' . . . those failures on my report card immediately became symbols of faith. I proceeded to write down 17 goals that would guide me to be a Purdue graduate. I had faith from that point on that no matter how big the mountain or the obstacle, that I would reach this day."
Because of his academic record, Brian had been dropped from Purdue. In order to be readmitted to the University and rejoin the football team in the fall of 1997, he had to attend a junior college for a semester and then enroll in summer school at West Lafayette. In each case, he was required to earn above-average grades. He not only met those goals, but also earned All American and Big Ten honors on the field and continued his new-found excellence in the classroom in order to graduate in May.
Brian's story resonated powerfully for his classmates and their families in part because he is a famous and gifted athlete who had struggled and fought back from adversity, just as many of them had. As he pointed out: "No one's pain or struggle is bigger than another person's. It's just that . . . through athletics, mine was more publicized through the media. I know that everyone here today . . . had to conquer obstacles. You know that faith is not something that works by itself. You must put in time and effort to get where you want to go."
Many students in his graduating class had better academic records than Brian. But as he left the stage to a standing ovation, I felt that he had experienced and articulated a Purdue education as well as anyone ever has. He had learned the difference between fame and true success. He had come to realize that his athletic gifts did not count for anything in the classroom. He had found out that conquering his own weaknesses was necessary to his own self-respect.
Drafted by the New York Giants of the National Football League, he has a wonderful opportunity for future achievement, but whatever happens in his football career, he is already a winner.
On May 29, I had the privilege of being among some other winners when I attended the honors convocation at Carmel High School. I had been asked to present Purdue scholarships to the numerous senior students who have won them and will be attending the University next fall.
Among the recipients were two winners of the Beering Scholarship, which was created in 1986 to provide a fully funded Purdue education for our most outstanding students. In 1994, the Board of Trustees paid me the honor of naming the program for me.
Eric Tkaczyk and Karen Wiens became the first two graduates of the same high school to receive the award in the same year. They will be among twenty-one Beering scholars and fellows on campus next fall. The scholarships and fellowships pay all expenses from the freshman year through the doctoral degree if the student chooses to pursue graduate studies. The value is up to $175,000 for a student from Indiana and $250,000 for an individual from out of state. The program is funded entirely through private contributions from alumni and friends of Purdue.
The Purdue Board of Trustees met on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne on May 29. Among its actions was approval of a budget of $982.9 million for the University's West Lafayette campus, three regional campuses and the Statewide Technology program.
The trustees also ratified the appointment of Terry L. Powley, as Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences and of Richard Lesh as the Robert B. Kane Distinguished Professor of Education. These individuals are outstanding examples of the kind of people a great university must recruit and retain in order to maintain academic excellence. They are committed to education, and each is a national leader in the creation of new knowledge in his discipline.