2019 Distinguished Alumni Reflect on Their Time at UT Austin

The Alcalde
Jan 2 · 6 min read

On Nov. 8, 2019, alumni, family, and friends gathered at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center to perform the Texas Exes’ most sacred ritual: honoring the Distinguished Alumnus Awards recipients. Every year, up to six Longhorns are bestowed the highest honor for alumni of the university. This year was no different, showcasing the immense talent UT Austin produces, from a woman who prioritizes inclusion and diversity as an executive at a major movie studio and a Precursor — among the first African-American undergraduates at UT — who became an Army colonel, to leaders in the fields of science, business, law, and academia. There was a seventh honoree this year, as the Texas Exes occasionally awards the Distinguished Service Award to a non-alumnus who has served UT to the highest degree. Regardless of their fields of work, one thing ties these honorees together: a love for and a dedication to the university.

Photographs by Matt Wright-Steel

Col. (Ret.) Leon L. Holland

Colonel, USA, Retired
BS ’61, Life Member

“When I departed this campus on Jan. 28, 1961, as a 22-year-old, I could not have conceived of this moment. I had a degree, an Army commission, a teaching certificate, and no intention of ever returning. We did not have equal access. Our negative view of UT experiences left many of us with lifelong unpleasant memories and emotional scars, and each of us dealt with those scars differently. Over the last decades, however, monumental and pivotal changes were taking place at UT. Courageous initiatives were being implemented that impacted policies and practices. These bold actions, demonstrating character, moral courage, and vision, was what ignited my pride and commitment to UT for supporting diversity, inclusion, and outreach programs.”

Christy Haubegger

Executive Vice President and Chief Enterprise Inclusion Officer, Warner Media
BA ’89, Life Member

“It was here that I got a very marketable degree in philosophy. My family was always waiting for me to open a philosophy store. But it was through philosophy that I learned that I wanted to live a life of impact, and of meaning, and purpose. At the end of our days, I suspect that we’re all going to measure our life, not in wealth, not in titles and awards — even those as prestigious as this one. I think we’re going to measure our life in impact. I always think about the census projections, and I think, wow, someday our grandchildren are going to ask us, ‘What was it like back when you were a minority?’ And I hope I can say, ‘I helped tell our stories.’”

Michael W. Young

Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and Vice President for Academic Affairs, The Rockefeller University
BA ’71, PhD ’75, Life Member

“Most of the discoveries that provide the foundation for the world’s scientific and technical advances in chemistry and medicine, in physics and math, depend on teams of students working with faculty outside the classroom. A great example is this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to one of our own, John Goodenough, for discoveries leading to lithium-ion batteries. UT, through [professor] Burke Judd, introduced me to this universe of possibilities — the fact that students who had an interest in advanced studies can look to UT for something more.”

Maria Alma Solis

Research Scientist
BS ’78, MA ’82, Life Member

“[Letty Fernandez] suggested that I talk about how UT changed my life. As part of my master’s research at UT Austin, I collected moths at Rancho del Cielo biological station. I came back and spent many days in the library, trying to identify my moths using paintings, but it wasn’t going very well. I mentioned this to my professor, Larry Gilbert, who said, ‘You have to go to the Smithsonian in Washington.’ I applied for small grants from the department of biological sciences, and was awarded enough to pay for my very first flight, to Washington, D.C. Many years later, after I was hired there, I was told, ‘The fact that you showed up in person that first time, rather than sending a letter, made all the difference in the world.’”

Eduardo Roberto Rodriguez

Partner, Atlas, Hall & Rodriguez
JD ’68, Life Member

“Our graduating class in 1968 had eight Hispanics out of a class of 435 students … and only seven women. Dean Keeton listened, and promised to do something about it. A couple of years later, professor David Robertson began coming to colleges in South Texas, trying to recruit students to the law school. Today the numbers are reflective of the changes that have occurred in our university, and law school. The entering class of 2023 has 288 students — 40 Hispanics and 136 female. Improvements indeed, but we must continue to strive to recruit more minorities to the law school. UT Law School taught me how to practice law, and the importance of using our ability to help our communities. I have tried to live up to their expectations.”

Sanford L. “Sandy” Gottesman

President, Gottesman Company
BBA ’73, Life Member

“When I walked onto the Forty Acres in the fall of 1969, I joined a freshman class that was 100 times larger than my high school class. Inside the classroom, the depth and breadth of courses was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Outside the classroom, all hell was breaking loose. The Vietnam War was raging and hardly a day went by when there wasn’t a protest on the West Mall. At the same time, on the football field, the Longhorns were on their way to a national championship. The four years that followed forever changed the trajectory of my life personally and professionally.”


William H. Cunningham

James L. Bayless Chair for Free Enterprise, UT’s McCombs School of Business
Life Member

“I am deeply honored to receive the Distinguished Service Award. I’ve been at UT almost 50 years, and I love the university. [College of Business Administration, now McCombs School] Dean George Kozmetsky was my first real boss. I would meet with George as early as 4:30 a.m. I could never beat him to the office. By 7 a.m. he was reorganizing the World Bank, creating a new national energy policy, or meeting with a Nobel Prize winner. I learned many things from George, most important the power of delegation. I became a world-class delegator. I love each of you, and I love the university.”

The Alcalde

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All things University of Texas—sports, feature stories, alumni news, and more—from the magazine of the Texas Exes. Find more at alcalde.texasexes.org.

The Alcalde


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