February 24, 2021
Dear UT Community,
Last week during the nadir of our battle against the winter storms, the Tower lights were dimmed out of solidarity with our state and to conserve power. As you know, the Tower is lighted white most evenings, but occasionally we light it orange — for example, in celebration of a victory or to commemorate a moment. Tonight, we do so for both reasons. We light the Tower orange to signify our ability to persevere, return to creating and disseminating knowledge, and to say thank you to our tremendous Longhorn community — students, staff, faculty, parents and alumni — for their tireless efforts to help one another during the crisis and to restore our university to the pursuit of its core missions.
During the past 10 days, I’ve heard countless stories from across campus that demonstrate the professionalism, dedication, grit and kindness of our community. I’m talking about people like Olmer and Jaime, who work in the university residence halls. They both spent multiple nights on site, moving between complexes, doing what they could to repair damage and address a host of issues. I’m talking about people like Andrew, who works in the Department of Business Contracts. Through his quick actions, he helped secure five emergency rental vehicles and 47 portable toilets to support students and staff members who were affected by water loss.
I’m also talking about Elena, who works at the Animal Resource Center. For the past week, she has lived on campus, making sure our animals had the care they need. And I’m talking about Stuart, who works at the Dell Medical School. He created a makeshift shelter at the UTHA Ambulatory Surgery Center, offering it to employees who could not return home due to icy conditions. Instead, those employees stayed warm and rested in the surgery center — from there, they were able to cover the shifts of those who couldn’t make it to work during the following days. Meanwhile, at the UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, nearly 900 turtles were rescued from freezing temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. Most have since been rehabilitated. I could go on and on!
In fact, I will go on a bit longer. Thousands of staff members have worked from home with intermittent power and heat. They’ve checked on students, enabled us to communicate with our university community, stayed positive and supported one another. Our faculty members have shared their expertise with our state and nation, weighing in on what caused the winter storms and their severe impact, and how we can avoid future disasters. They’ve also adjusted syllabi and course requirements so we can finish the semester on time. Some even found ways to get pizza and tacos, as well as other food and supplies, to our students, while others volunteered in dining halls. Our students have volunteered at local shelters and warming centers, and have pooled their often-scarce resources to help one another. Finally, parents and alumni have teamed up with our emergency student services units to provide off-campus residents with water and warmth.
The sum of these efforts has been a quick and effective response to the storm. We maintained our self-generated power on campus, safeguarded our research infrastructure, led the public debate, and kept thousands of students safe, warm and fed. To quote another one of our incredible staff members, Shauna, “When people shut down, we are called to power up.” Longhorn Nation powered up. So tonight, we power up the Tower and light it orange — we commemorate some of the most serious winter storms in Texas history, and we celebrate our incredible community that helped us weather those storms. Once again, we’ve showcased our resiliency, adaptability and commitment to excellence. Once again, we’ve shown what we can achieve together.
Thank you, and Hook ‘em!