In Recognition of Donors…and Faculty

Date: October 5th, 2012

Category: Machen, Speeches, Speeches 2012

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this very special celebration of donors and faculty as we conclude the Florida Tomorrow campaign.

This is quite a day! This morning, I joined 3,000 students and donors to celebrate all of the many student scholarships created in the campaign. Now, I have the privilege of honoring the donors who have been so supportive of our faculty. And, I also get to recognize the faculty members who are the reason for all the university’s greatest achievements.

I want to begin my remarks with some great news we just received last week. An anonymous donor gave $1.5 million to endow a chair in the College of Medicine … bringing the total number of endowed faculty positions created during the campaign to 104. That’s incredible! The faculty member honored by the new chair is here on stage with me. He is Thomas Beaver, chair in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery. Congratulations!

Many generous donors or their family members are here with us today. Also with us are many of the faculty whose research and scholarship is profoundly advanced by these endowments.

On each side are powerful stories. For donors, those stories may involve how they came to support a particular area of interest. For faculty, they may relate how these professors are making new discoveries and shedding new light on their fields.

I wish I could tell all of your stories. Since that is not possible, I will try to capture the academic dedication, and the generosity that enables it to flourish, through the stories of one donor and the faculty members whose work she supports … and how, together, they are changing lives to shape a more hopeful future for all of us.

I’ll start with the donor, a UF alumna named Anita Zucker, who is represented here today by her sister-in-law, Mrs. Rochelle Marcus.

Mrs. Zucker’s parents survived the Holocaust, and they taught her to treasure school and education. Perhaps that is why she majored in education at the University of Florida, graduating in 1972.

As her late husband, Jerry, also a 1972 UF graduate, built his business, Mrs. Zucker taught elementary school – beginning at two elementary schools just to the east in Putnam County, and later in South Carolina when the couple moved to Charleston.

She loved being a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher but was pained by the hardships of many of her students. More than three decades have passed, but she still remembers visiting homes with no floors, broken families, and children whose emotional rage overshadowed all their other feelings.

She’ll never forget one boy, Brent, at Lambs Elementary School in Charleston. As she tried to get him to focus on his work, Brent became infuriated and punched his hand through a classroom window. Teaching is an active profession.

Anita’s husband was a phenomenally successful businessman who died in 2008. She then took the reins as chief executive of the global companies they had built together, Hudson Bay and InterTech.

Her commitment to education is part of a larger philosophy shared by the couple. This philosophy traces its roots to 3rd century Rabbinic teachings. It is called “Tikkun Olam.” It means “Repair the World.”

Tikkun Olam. “Repair the World.” I can think of no better refrain for the works of the donors and faculty in this room today in the spirit of Florida Tomorrow.

Anita Zucker became a champion of education, and in 2011 she created the Anita Zucker Endowed Professorship in Early Childhood Studies as part of the Florida Tomorrow campaign here at her alma mater.

That brings me to the faculty part of my story.

Of all the problems that UF scientists and scholars are trying to solve, one of the most urgent problems involves helping our society do a better job of meeting the basic needs of our young children.

The statistics are daunting. A third of the nation’s kids enter school unprepared. More than half cannot read at grade level by fourth grade.

These children often have mental, physical or emotional challenges, and everyone recognizes that the best solution is to reach them before they reach school age. But we haven’t figured out how to make that happen in their world – one with few quality childcare options and too many impoverished and stressed families.

At UF, the Zucker professorship is empowering our faculty to find the answers.

The professorship supports the Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies in our College of Education. The center was founded just two years ago, but it has already won millions of dollars in federal grants to tackle every aspect of early childhood intervention … from basic research on the best tools and techniques … to hands-on assistance to teachers and caregivers.

The Center Director, Dr. Patricia Snyder, is a pioneer who has experienced noted success in many aspects of early childhood education.

Dr. Snyder collaborates with UF colleagues from education, law, medicine, and other areas on research projects involving preschool teachers, caregivers and parents. That “scholarship of engagement” is expected to directly impact the lives of 30,000 children over the next three years.

Tikkun Olam. “Repair the World.”

Within the Florida Tomorrow Campaign, there are dozens of donors with stories just as heartfelt as that of Mrs. Zucker – supporting dozens of faculty members who are just as committed to success as are the faculty in the Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies.

Their areas of inquiry range from improving surgical oncology … to exploring Jewish culture and society … to finding new ways to control agricultural pests … to creating new gene therapies … to unlocking the secrets of Asian art. Of course, these endowed professorships are created in perpetuity, which means this vital research is completely protected from the political and financial vagaries of state and federal budgets.

Donors, because of you, our faculty are changing the world … one medical breakthrough at a time … one archeological find at a time … and one child at a time.

Speaking of which … let me conclude by telling you what happened to Brent, Mrs. Zucker’s student in Charleston who put his hand through the window.

Brent went on to be a successful student, graduate from college … and today, he is a teacher himself. Mrs. Zucker ran into him recently, and he told her that SHE was the reason he chose the teaching profession. And now, they are friends … on Facebook!

The power of your donations means such stories will be multiplied by the hundreds across disciplines.

To the faculty here today, thank you for dreaming big about the difference that you can make in the world.

To the donors, thank you for investing in those dreams. Because of you, these faculty and the University of Florida are making them come true.

Tikkun Olam! “Repair the World.” Thank you!

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