Gates dedicates
historic buildings

“We are here in recognition of the
essential function of space and
structure in achieving greatness”

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 that achievement.

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 and Aggies.

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 great university.

— The End —

January 10, 2005

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