President Robert Gates remarks at Sept. 18, Campus
Remembered dedication of historic Texas A&M buildings.
Howdy. Good morning.
The architect Sir Christopher Wren, visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral
in London during its construction, stopped to ask a worker what
he was doing.
“I’m cutting a stone,” the man said.
Sir Christopher then asked another worker the same question. “I’m
earning five shillings for the day,” he replied.
A third, however, answered, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren
build a great cathedral.”
Here was a person capable of looking beyond his own task, or the
immediate reward for his labor, to instead see himself as part
of a larger effort, contributing to a much grander enterprise.
So, let us each ask ourselves why we are here today. If we answer
that we are here to rededicate an historic building, or celebrate
the launch of our historical markers program, then we are as shortsighted
as the first two workers.
Instead, we must answer in the spirit of the third: we are here
to help build a great university.
We are here in recognition of the essential function of space
and structure in achieving greatness, here to affirm our commitment
to supporting this function; to providing a place conducive to
Our forebears — the architects, builders and tenants of
these 16 historic buildings — had this recognition, and
they affirmed their commitment to it by designing and placing
buildings so that they’d reflect both the institutional aspiration
for greatness and its classical inspiration. Theirs was an affirmation
set in stone, cast in reinforced concrete. For, as Wren himself
is often quoted, “Architecture aims at eternity.”
But we seldom hear the first part. Wren’s quote begins, “Architecture
has its political use; public buildings being the ornament of
a country; it establishes a nation, draws people and commerce;
makes the people love their native country, which passion is the
origin of all great actions in a commonwealth.”
Architecture establishes a nation. Is it possible for buildings
to establish Texas A&M? One might say that the Academic Building,
with its iconic dome, does. But it is not just the building,
not just the dome.
Neither is it just the space around it, nor even Sully
out front, pennies at his feet. It is all of them together: our
buildings and the spaces they help define — the ways they are
used, their histories and traditions.
These relationships have shaped Texas A&M’s history and will
shape its future through our campus master plan. They give meaning
to our spaces and structures. They encourage and facilitate connectivity
among people, places and programs. They establish and reinforce
the aesthetic bond between the heritage we inherit and the excellence
to which we aspire.
These historic buildings are not Texas A&M’s heritage. Neither
are those yet to be built our future. Our heritage is, and our
future always will depend upon, the people within them —
and, those whose names they bear.
It is my hope — and to his credit, Professor Woodcock’s
intent — that the markers we place upon them duly honor
their namesakes, and that their stories and their contributions
to Texas A&M inspire all who pause to read them.
Imagine if every student who ate at Sbisa inherited Bernard Sbisa’s
work ethic? One late meal in 46 years — breakfast at 10
a.m. the day after the mess hall burned to the ground? What if
every graduate were as willing to lay it on the line for A&M
as E.B. Cushing did? And what of the building behind me? —
Of the kind of administrator — in terms of competence, vision
and temperament — it should inspire us all to become,
following after its namesake.
Today, we rededicate the Williams Building and 15 others; honor
their significance to and their influence upon, Texas A&M
The markers we put on them are to signify the mark they have made
on us. And, we honor them best by ensuring that
every building we add to this campus will not only help define
Texas A&M’s space, but also its substance, as we build our