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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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As you know, Monday is the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the true heroes of American history.  Dr. King’s life was, in many ways, uniquely American.  But the impact of his message – and more importantly, his actions – transcends national boundaries, which is why his birthday is observed in countries around the world.

Dr. King knowingly put his life on the line, enduring harassment, threats, beatings, imprisonment, bombings – and ultimately paying the highest price – trying to bring our country closer to the ideals upon which it was founded. 

We will continue to work every day to honor Dr. King’s principles of fairness and opportunity.  Delivering education and health care to the people of Texas helps ensure that their futures are determined by talent, hard work, perseverance and grit – not income, race, gender or ethnicity.  Talent, we must remember, is universal; unfortunately, opportunity still is not. 

The gap between the country we are and the one we aspire to be endures – Dr. King’s work remains unfinished.  Higher education has both an opportunity and a responsibility to lead the way – to help our fellow Americans summon the imagination and the courage to address racism, poverty, and injustice in new ways through scholarship, research, policies, and civic engagement.  But of course, the responsibility to make our country fairer and more just ultimately rests, not with institutions, but with all of us. 

For most of us, Monday is a day off – a chance to rest, recharge, and reflect on the life of a great American.  But this year, I hope you’ll join me in observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a “day on,” because as with all moral leaders, the question is not whether we admire them – admiration is easy.  The question is whether we live by their example.

It doesn’t take the vision, courage, or eloquence of King to follow in his footsteps.  As he himself said, all of us can lead because all of us can serve, and life’s most urgent question is “what are you doing for others?”  I hope we can all keep that question in the front of our minds – not just on Monday, but every day.  And as we celebrate the spirit and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s resolve to do our individual parts to confront the racism that – more than half a century after King’s death – still leaves our national potential unfulfilled.

That, to me, is the best, most fitting tribute we can pay a great man.