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When confronted with challenging times like ours, it is easy to lose heart, appreciation, gratefulness and admiration—in a word, thanksgiving—for the people and places we call home. Our University has been fortunate to have many distinguished leaders. One of those luminaries is President J. A. Hill, who began a 30-year legacy of leadership in September 1918 after President R. B. Cousins resigned. While numerous factors led to Hill’s successful tenure as president, I believe that one of his most salient strengths was his career as a historian. Understanding history allows us to understand our past, situate our present and to chart a course forward to benefit students, institution and region alike. While many of Hill’s ideas seem antiquated, his intentionality in moving the institution forward, and indeed his success, is something for which we should all be thankful.

In a speech on November 24, 1932 to the Texas State Teachers Association in Fort Worth, Texas, Hill situated the times with prescience only available to a skillful historian. Please remember with me the times and the state of our nation. In the vice grip on the thirties, one jaw of which was World War I, and the second jaw of which was World War II, and the pressures of these wars squeezed this seemingly endless Great Depression into our national consciousness. Challenges unlike any previously endured. Beyond the cultural context of the day, relentless want and need was a testing, tempering epoch in our nation’s history. In that speech, he said, “That we are living in an era of criticism – that all institutions, especially public ones, are under fire and must justify themselves anew – it is a commonplace observation.” Who said “history repeats itself?” I am thankful that President Hill could situate the University in its present and future. Who knew then what we, nearly a century later, now know—Bob Dylan was wrong when he chirruped, “For the times, they are a changin’.” What we see, we have seen before. Little has changed save the nuances of circumstance.

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