For the 56th year, the Texas Exes alumni association recognized the work of UT alumni through its 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Awards.
The 2014 recipients included former football player Earl Campbell, former regent H. Scott Caven Jr., businessman John Massey, astronaut Karen Nyberg, actor Matthew McConaughey and Dealey Decherd Herndon, former executive director of the State Preservation Board of Texas. Jody Conradt, former UT women’s basketball coach, was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award.
In his acceptance speech, McConaughey said before attending the University, he decided to become a lawyer and thought about applying to Southern Methodist University. McConaughey, who won the Oscar for Best Actor in March, said his brother told him that because their oil business was going bankrupt, it would be cheaper to go to UT.
“For that, I am happy the oil business went to pot because this was the four best years of my life,” McConaughey said. “When I tell people about this university, I tell them they will have access to a great education but also learn how to compete and engage. While I was here, I made a lot of my closest friends here and at Delta Tau Delta.”
Remembered for his punishing style of play and becoming UT’s first Heisman winner, Campbell, who received the Heisman Trophy in 1977, said it was hard to initially understand the impact the University had on him.
“It wasn’t until I got to the NFL when I realized what UT gave me,” Campbell said. “I noticed this with teammates with the [Houston] Oilers as they talked to me more about Coach [Darrell K] Royal and the University and things that I went through.”
Caven served on the Board of Regents from 2003-09, including as chairman from 2007-09. In his speech, Caven talked about the significance of the hires he was able to make with the board, such as William Powers Jr. as president, Francisco Cigarroa as chancellor and Bruce Zimmerman as head of UT Investment Management Company.
“Having served on the Board of Regents and UTIMCO, it gave me opportunities to make a difference,” Caven said. “One of our most important duties was choosing our leaders.”
Nyberg, who completed her doctorate in 1998, has participated in two missions and logged more than 75 million miles in space as a NASA astronaut.
“When I came to UT, I started as a graduate student,” Nyberg said. “It is because of the people I met and the opportunities I was given that I was able to accomplish my dreams.”
This year’s recipients joined a long list of well-known alumni, including Walter Cronkite, Lady Bird Johnson, Ben Crenshaw, Michael Dell and Adm. William McRaven, the next UT System chancellor.