Much has changed on the 40 Acres over the last 40 years—beyond adjusting the size of the “40 Acres” main campus from 388 acres to 350. When my parents were students here, Earl Campbell had just become the first Longhorn Heisman recipient. The UT System Board of Regents had just purchased the esteemed Gutenberg Bible for $2.4 million. And a historically unprecedented number of students — 48,145 — led the administration in 1981 to institute enrollment management.
For me, a current student, the scene changes a little bit. Our football team certainly wasn’t led by a Heisman trophy winner, as we ceded that honor to Aggie Johnny “Football” Manziel. At least one regent spends his time searching through President William Powers Jr.’s papers rather than for biblical rarities. And while my freshman class of 8,092 students became the school’s largest ever, the school simultaneously saw its overall enrollment at its second highest: 52,186 students in fall 2012. The diverse student body identified as just below 50 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Asian, 7 percent international and nearly 5 percent African-American.
But when I joined my mom this month for an informal reunion with college friends — she graduated from UT-Austin undergraduate in 1982, and from the Law School in 1985 — some experiences she and her friends recalled on the 40 Acres reminded me of my own. Some of our associations differed — my mother joined Spooks (the forerunner to Texas Spirits) and read the Texan, while I admire the Spirits’ energy and write for the Texan. Yet much remains the same, as we took classes from the same professor, played intramural sports and enjoyed Greek life. In each instance, we discovered the culture and opportunities at the University hold similar, with school spirit and traditions standing the test of time. We’re a part of something larger than ourselves.
But how do we remain a part when we graduate?
On campus, the Texas Exes alumni association boosts University pride. The Student Leadership Committee, according to President Rita Holguin, organizes alumni panels, etiquette dinners, networking events and football rallies.
Texas Exes’ 149 branches worldwide award students $1.9 million in scholarships each year.
“People join to support the University and demonstrate pride as part of the Longhorn family,” Student Relations Coordinator Kelsey Roberts said. “Membership in the Texas Exes says you’re proud of and you support UT.”
And yet, most alumni do not join Texas Exes. The 100,000 members stem from a graduate base of nearly 450,000. According to Roberts, most alumni not involved tell Texas Exes they merely never got around to joining. Others feel the price they paid for tuition was contribution enough to the University.
With only a year at Texas under my belt, I’m not sure how I’ll support and stay connected to the University long-term. But I won’t just be a Longhorn for four years.
Be it through Texas Exes, athletic loyalty or the simple acknowledgment later in life that the University aided our success, it’s important to give credit to our alma mater.
UT alumni have found a multitude of creative ways to do so. One recent anonymous Plan II alum began a grant for the Plan II biology class to travel to Bastrop State Park and the UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas to enrich classroom study.
Decorated World War II Veteran and business and law alum Frank Denius funds the Normandy Scholars Program, which provides participants an intensive study of World War II and subsequent visits to key battle sites in Europe. Denius meets with the students each year to recount his battle experiences.
And when The Daily Texan faced the prospect of print reduction last semester, a string of newspaper alumni emerged to support the paper. They offered financial contributions, advocacy and even expertise — to find a profitable business model for the paper, to mentor students and to recharge the paper that kick-started their careers.
Why? Because they, too, got their start on the 40 Acres.
Epstein is a Plan II and journalism sophomore from Dallas.