Last night I was humbled and honored to receive Rice’s Builder’s Award, an award given annually to recognize young alumni who dedicate themselves to building the Rice community. Although I certainly don’t feel very “young” anymore, it was a wonderful event and I was privileged to participate. There were drinks and dinner and a small ceremony at which I and the other recipient, [VERY deserving] Holly Williams ’03, said a few words as we accepted our engraved bricks. Following is the text from my five-minute remarks (or rather what the remarks would have been if I had remembered them better!):
“I’ve always found that you can learn a lot more about honorees than what’s printed in the program by listening to what people say about them. So this evening I’ve been using my NINJA skills to eavesdrop on conversations and, sure enough, several common themes could be overheard time and time again. I kept hearing words like, “greatness,” “selfless,” and “really, really, really, really, ridiculously good looking.” So I have to wonder, why is everyone talking about Holly?! This is supposed to be my event too!
Seriously, though, my Rice community building efforts can absolutely not be described as selfless; if anything, they’re very SELFISH. As an entrepreneur, I’m very focused on ROI, return on investment. In the fall of 1997 I began the most significant investment I’ve ever made. I invested 4.5 years of my life, tremendous intellectual and emotional energy, and a very significant financial sum in my Rice education so I was keenly motivated to maximize my return on that investment.
By the time I finished at Rice, I had three huge, ostentatious sheepskin diplomas, a great deal more knowledge, some wonderful friends and incredible memories–I think that was a pretty good return. But it was clear that the value that Rice provides doesn’t have to end at graduation; Rice can provide tremendous ongoing value that increases ROI for all of us through enhancement of its brand, access to special events and opportunities, and development of a tight community of alumni, faculty, staff, and friends.
While some of these things are best left to Rice public relations or the alumni office, it is up to US to build that community–but the good news is that building the community is really easy. So what can you do? Of course you can donate. Even if you donate just $10/year it looks really good for Rice and it funds some very worthy programs. You can join alumni groups, such as this one, the Young Alumni Committee. I’ve found such opportunities to be both challenging and rewarding. And you can be what I call a “Rice ambassador.”
When I was living in Switzerland I set up a fondue dinner for Rice alumni in the area, hoping to meet at least one other Owl. It turns out that we had 26 alumni and families come; it seemed that half the Geneva Symphony Orchestra were Shepherd School grads! They were all incredibly interesting and it was a wonderful evening–and NONE of them had realized previously that there were other Rice Owls in the area. We all still keep in touch; a mini-community was born.
There are similar stories from travels to Nairobi, London, Amsterdam, Rome, and US cities as well. The Rice community is small but it is really, really . . . good. Members of the Rice community tend to be accomplished, interesting, fun, helpful, and we have all been part of something really unique–really special–which I believe binds us together. So I encourage you to be a Rice ambassador by reaching out to Rice people you don’t know wherever you go. You’ve already made the investment in Rice; let the Rice community pay back and increase your return. By forging connections, you’re building the community, which holds value for all of us.
This award is a real honor for me. I know many of the previous recipients and I am humbled to be counted among them. Thanks must be given to them for leading the way, to the alumni office for doing such a fine job of supporting, encouraging, and guiding those of us who wish to serve, and to my friends and loved ones–especially Katie–without whose support I just don’t know where I would be.
The story of Rice is a love story for me. From the very first moment that I set foot on campus and fell in love with the university to the loves I developed for computer science and entrepreneurship as a student to the love I have for people in the Rice community–from some of my very best friends to the love of my life, whom I first kissed at Lovett almost exactly nine years ago today. I know that you all have your own Rice love stories so I beseech each and every one of you to help us all build the Rice community by sharing the love.”
I was honored to be introduced by Rice Trustee Jeff Rose, a real friend and mentor. The event was hosted in the Veranda room of the Alden hotel and many friends and colleagues came out for the evening. It was so nice catching up with everyone as well as meeting the “new guard” of young alumni leaders who have just as much passion and probably even better ideas than we ever did.
After the reception several of us went to La Carafe and sat outside, sipping Amarone and listening to great oldies from the juke box. It was the perfect end to a really wonderful evening. I tried so hard to stay connected with Rice during my years abroad. Now that I’m back it feels so gratifying not to have been forgotten and cast aside, but rather welcomed back with open arms.
That is what I would expect, though, because it is an aspect of Rice that drew me to it immediately. When I first came to visit, the Computer Science chairman welcomed me into his office and discussed the curriculum with me. The admissions personnel welcomed me into their lives for discussions about “fit.” Students welcomed me into their dorm rooms for a taste of what student life was really about. This warm engagement from Rice captured my heart when I was a prospect, kept me going when I was an overstretched student, and endures to this day. That is why service to Rice is not a chore; it’s just as natural as giving back to family.
To Rice Be True!