Monday, August 12, 2013

Honorary Doctor of Letters

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce.

On May 20, 2013, I was surprised and pleased to receive a phone call from Dr. Dan R. Jones, President of Texas A&M University - Commerce. TAMUC is my alma mater, although there have been name changes. In 1964 I received a B.A. degree with majors in history and English from East Texas State College. One year later the college was elevated to university status, and in 1969 I was presented an M.A. degree from East Texas State University. Decades later Texas A&M University - Commerce employed one of my daughters, Dr. Shellie O'Neal, while two other daughters, Berri and Causby, completed their baccalaureate degrees at TAMUC. Berri was the athletic mascot, Lucy the Lion, and she stayed on to earn master's and doctoral degrees from TAMUC. Whatever the name, I have enjoyed long and rich connections with the institution. 

So I was delighted when President Jones invited me to deliver a commencement address for advanced degree recipients on Saturday, August 10. Then I was rendered virtually speechless when Dr. Jones informed me that the Board of Regents for the Texas A&M University System had unanimously approved his recommendation that TAMUC would award me an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Dr. Jones pointed out that in the 124-year history of the institution, only 31 individuals have been awarded honorary doctoral degrees. To be included in such a distinguished group, to be granted such a high honor by my alma mater, was - and is - profoundly moving. I would be further honored by a reception following the commencement activities. I was overwhelmed by the conversation with Dr. Jones, and by his follow-up letter.
Linda King, at left in white jacket, arranged for my
family to be seated just opposite the speaker's platform.

Linda King, the gracious and highly capable assistant to Dr. Jones, handled arrangements and answered my questions during the ensuing couple of months. Invitations were sent to my family and friends. The first person to express his intention to attend was Dr. Greg Powell, President of Panola College, which maintains an academic affiliation with me as State Historian of Texas. My sister, Judy Smith of Lampasas would attend, and my brother Mike and his lovely wife Jerilynn would come from Carrollton. My daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren number 14. It is increasingly difficult to get all four of their families together, even for holidays, so their united presence was a special treat of my special day.

On Friday, August 9, my wife Karon and I, along with her mother, Louise Ashby, drove to Commerce. After checking into our hotel, I went to the vast field house at TAMUC to attend commencement rehearsal. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter, Lynn Martinez, along with her husband and their two daughters, also came to the hotel. The Martinez family took the opportunity for a back-to-school holiday, and we greatly enjoyed the pleasure of their company. Lynn and  her oldest daughter Chloe accompanied me on a nostalgic hike around the campus.

Dr. Dan Jones presents Bill with honorary
Doctor of Letters degree.
My first official duty on Saturday was to attend the Doctoral Luncheon, held in the new Sam Rayburn Student Center. During an excellent meal, 31 doctoral students each expressed their gratitude to various professors, spouses, parents, fellow students, and, for more than half of the candidates, to God. They were an impressive collection of men and women. They would be joined in the University Field House by nearly 400 candidates for master's degrees.

Bill is hooded by Dr. Benevides.
Family and friends of the graduates turned out in large numbers, and the big field house was crowded nearly to capacity. Processional music was provided by a brass band, and I marched in behind Dr. Jones. Early in the ceremony Dr. Jones presented me with a most gracious introduction and awarded me a framed Doctor of Letters degree, honoris causa. I was hooded by Dr. Adolfo  Benevides, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs. It next was my privilege to deliver the commencement address. During my remarks I pointed out that the year I transferred to the campus, 1962, was the year that East Texas State College was authorized to award a Ph.D. in English. When I graduated in 1964 the school's first doctorate was awarded, a Ph.D. in English. I felt that I had come full circle.
Delivering the commencement address

Following the commencement exercise, a reception was held for me and my family at the new Alumni Center. Dr. Jones hosted the event, and I had the opportunity to thank him and Dr. Benevides and Linda King. There was an excellent buffet, and I enjoyed a social hour with my family and new friends. Bud Worley, a former student of mine at Panola College and a 1982 graduate of TAMUC, has just completed his first week at Panola as foundation officer and publicity director. Bud drove to Commerce so that he could make the day's event the subject of his first press release. He taught my daughters at Carthage High School, where he and my wife were schoolmates, so we had a mini-reunion. Late in the afternoon we all headed to our homes, and as I drove I reflected happily on one of the most profoundly meaningful days of my life.
Bud Worley with Bill
Bill speaking with Dr. Keith McFarland, retired
president of TAMUC. Dr. McFarland joined the history
faculty in 1969, while Bill was completing his M.A. Dr.
 Jones stands at right, and Dr. Benevides is seated at center.

Dr. Berri O'Neal, at right, introduces her father at the reception.

Closing remarks at the reception

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! Well deserved I'm sure. Was wondering if Bud Worley was an Industrial Arts teacher at one time? If so, I have known Bud for a long time.