I love the University of Texas.
From 2004 to 2008, I had the unique privilege to call myself a student at the greatest university on the planet.
I’ll never forget the moment at freshman orientation when I first looked up at the tower and thought, “I’m here. I made it.” It was an awe-inspiring moment for me. I still get chills thinking about it. I was a student at THE University of Texas. I was a Texas Longhorn.
I can’t lie and say I was always the best student.
I slept through my fair share of lectures and study halls. I somehow struggled through a geology class commonly seen as an easy way to fill a science requirement. Eventually I found my footing, a major that spoke to me, and walked away with a degree from the finest university on the planet.
I’ll never forget the number of times I packed Gregory Gymnasium to scream Point Texas. The number of times I woke up early to ensure my roommate and I were “ready” for the 11 a.m. kickoffs. I’ll never forget the opportunities to see artists, musicians, history exhibits, concerts and so much more, just because I was lucky enough to walk the Forty Acres. I had the privilege to learn from some of the greatest minds I will ever have the opportunity to experience.
I got to have conversations with Scott Van Pelt and Olympic gold medalists, just because I was blessed enough to be selected for Melanie Hauser’s Sports Journalism program. I was living a literal dream each and every day when I woke up in Austin and walked to class.
All of that doesn’t change the moments of isolation that would creep in from the margins while making that walk.
I’ll never forget the moment my freshman year when another black student and I were walking across the South Mall and they said under their breath, “You know, all of the statues face the south.” I’ll never forget when I learned that Robert E. Lee Moore, whose name was on a building that I took classes in, downright refused to teach students who looked like me. I’ll never forget the heartbreak that I felt when I found out that “The Eyes of Texas,” a song I dreamed of teaching my children to sing, was first sung by men mocking the color of my skin.
I still love the University of Texas.
I moved to Oklahoma following graduation for an opportunity with a big TV station in the hopes of pursuing my TV dreams. The good Lord had other plans, but I still own an obscene amount of burnt orange clothing and wear it as often as I can. People give me grief as I visit restaurants on gameday wearing a hat bearing my home state and a burnt orange polo. My wife, an Oklahoma native, just purchased yet another burnt orange shirt for herself. She snuck burnt orange into our son’s nursery and my mother-in-law sewed a big T on his bedding. My three-year-old has a “BEBO” he sleeps with every night and screams “Go WONGHORNS!” any time football is on the TV.
I love the University of Texas, but nobody can hurt you like the ones you love.
The feelings I had looking at statues of Confederates and buildings named for racists did not feel like they were shared. Because these things were not openly discussed, I convinced myself that I was alone in feeling that way. I convinced myself that because I was the only one who felt these things that I must be misinformed.
I felt alone on a campus of thousands.
When I saw the tweets, read the letter from the players, and read through the list of requests they were making, something inside of me broke. To know that I was not alone in my confused feelings of loving something so deeply, but feeling so profoundly unseen. To know that I was not alone in identifying so deeply with the heart of something, but feel dismissed by the unspoken history of it.
I felt seen and validated by the University of Texas in a way I did not even know was missing.
These young men and women, the most visible brand ambassadors of the university I love so deeply, not only felt the same way, but were using their voice to help those like me be seen.
Even I, with my feelings about the past of the song, bristled at the final request.
How can we change the Eyes of Texas? I mean. It’s the Eyes of freaking Texas. Darrell Royal, Tommy Nobis, Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams, Vince Young, Colt McCoy, all of these men stood on those sidelines and sang that song. But as I sat and thought, one question kept creeping back in:
What’s the purpose of a school song?
Your school song should be a source of pride, signaling a moment where students, faculty, players, alumni and anyone else within earshot can come together in a moment of unity and express their love for the university. It’s a moment where you can stand tall, regardless of what the scoreboard says, and express pride in an institution you love so dearly.
So if the school song doesn’t serve its purpose then what’s the point? If all of those within earshot do not feel represented by the song, then it has lost its meaning.
Traditions that lose their purpose become shackles that keep us from our full potential. I’ve heard it said that the dying words of any organization are, “We’ve always done it this way.” I refuse to let a tradition that I love continue demeaning a segment of its students.
Collectively, we have an opportunity to not only make a large section of the student population feel seen and loved in a way that they’ve never experienced before, but set the stage for future generations of Longhorns to walk on a campus that they feel represents every aspect of themselves.
The University of Texas is a shining beacon.
There’s a reason why you can stand on the South Mall and look straight at the State Capitol building.
We are the standard-bearers for the future of the state, the country, and the world. Nobel Laureates, best-selling authors, Academy Award winners, Supreme Court Justices, leaders of industry, leaders in academia, and more Hall of Fame athletes than we can count have all walked these same Forty Acres.
They have all taken the charge of, or have been the inspiration for, “What starts here changes the world.” They saw the world not for what it was, but what it could be. I choose to do the same for the university that I so dearly love.
A university that fully opens its arms and its doors to the best and the brightest and lets them reach their potential and beyond. A university that shines bright for all to see, like the Tower lit burnt orange after yet another win.
We define the University of Texas. We define the future.
I pray we can define a future that is inclusive to anyone worthy of walking those same hallowed grounds.
Thanks and Hook ‘Em.
Gerald Goodridge, Texas ‘08