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Austin College Alum Appointed to Key Obama Cabinet Post

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ronkirkAustin College alumnus Ron Kirk has been selected by president-elect Barack Obama to serve as the United State Trade Representative. This cabinet-level appointment is the first to be held by a graduate of Austin College.

“Austin College is proud of Ron’s success in Texas, and I am sure he will be equally successful as he works with world leaders,” said Oscar C. Page, president of Austin College. “Ron’s leadership at the state and local level is impressive, and these experiences have prepared him well to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative for the new administration.”

Kirk’s appointment was announced by Obama today at a press conference held in Chicago. “As mayor of Dallas, Ron helped steer one of the world’s largest economies,” said Obama. “During his tenure as mayor, Ron brought different groups together to create jobs, invest in the community, and spur economic growth.”  In accepting his nomination, Kirk insisted that “trade can help us create jobs at home and encourage development abroad.”

A native of Austin, Texas, Kirk came to Austin College in 1972, graduating in 1976 with a degree in political science and sociology. Kirk then attended law school at the University of Texas, where he earned his J.D. degree in 1979. Soon after, he began working for U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen in Washington, D.C., which was followed by political positions as Dallas assistant city attorney, Texas secretary of state, and Dallas mayor. He is currently a partner at the Dallas offices of the Houston-based law firm of Vinson & Elkins.

In an Austin College profile written at the time of his 2002 run for the United States Senate, Kirk discussed his undergraduate years, along with his early political experience working for Senator Bentsen.

“I was struck in a positive way with how much potential there was for that body to really make a difference in shaping the tone and direction of this country when you had senators who were willing to rise above partisanship and ideology to do things that were in the best interest of the people they served,” Kirk said.

In addition to joining a fraternity and becoming a cheerleader at Austin College, Kirk tried to get involved in all aspects of campus life and could often be found in the gym playing pick-up games of basketball. “When you’re an ethnic minority, there is no choice but to reach out and build friendships with people different from where we grew up,” Kirk said. He met fellow freshmen Tommy Miller and Alberto Lopez Jr. his first day on campus. Along with another freshman, Rick Clemons, they formed the Second Floor Social Club, a brotherhood that gave its four members a place to belong.

“Philosophically we believed in the same principles,” said Lopez, who is proud of the fact that the Second Floor Social Club was comprised of one African-American, one Hispanic, and two Caucasians. “We had an understanding and appreciation of who we were socially and culturally. As we matured, we all exerted our own leadership at Austin College.” While Kirk pursued politics, Lopez chose education, Miller took the business route, and Clemons became a doctor.

Miller noticed Kirk’s confidence right away. “Even as a freshman, Ron acted like he’d been around the school a long time,” Miller said. “He was one of those guys people meet and like immediately. Ron had a bunch of friends the first day of school.”
At Austin College, Kirk quickly built a reputation as someone who could bring people together. “He’s always had that ability,” said Lopez, remembering the Second Floor Social Club. “A lot of people don’t realize that he’s a very good listener. That’s part of his charm and charisma. He hears you out.” Lopez noted how this helped Kirk during his run for Senate. “People warmed up to Ron’s campaign because of his genuine concern for people. Others may see him as an underdog or an overachiever, but Ron has prepared himself to serve people. I don’t see him as an underdog-he’s a natural.”

Fellow Social Club member Miller concurred. “It’s not like he had to reinvent himself to go into politics,” Miller said. “When I see him speaking on television, he seems to be the same person I’ve always known, even when there were no cameras around.”

Miller remembers driving to Dallas with Kirk during their freshman year. On the way they made a small detour. “I need to stop off here,” he recalled Kirk saying. Miller followed Kirk into a building where a group of 500 people were gathered. Kirk gave a speech and then he and Miller left, continuing their drive to Dallas. Miller was surprised that Kirk had not mentioned he would be giving a speech. “This was not something he feared,” Miller said. “Nor was it difficult for him. He always seemed to be connected to people, and people sensed he had special talents.”

Developing a range of talents is definitely part of Kirk’s educational philosophy. “I am a huge believer in the liberal arts education,” he said. “The value of a liberal arts education is the ability to think critically, a skill that makes you adaptable to any environment.”

Kirk encourages young students to enjoy their college experience. “It can be as open and exploratory a period of time you’re ever going to have,” Kirk said. “Take advantage of it. Enjoy it. If you’re not happy, don’t be afraid to change. It’s too important a period of your life to be at a place you don’t enjoy. Try things you’ve never tried before. Meet people outside your normal sphere of influence. Stretch your mind. Stretch your culture. Invest in every aspect of your life while you have that opportunity.”

Ultimately, while serving others is important to Kirk, it is not the only barometer he uses to measure success.

“My mother, my wife, my friends have always made fun of me for this, but there’s only one question you have to ask yourself: Are you happy?” Kirk said. “You can’t be successful at anything that doesn’t give you joy. We can make it more complex, but the Bible teaches us that God gives each of us a joy, and you either use that joy to its fullest extent or you lose it. If what you do comes from the joy in your heart, then everything else falls into place.”


Written by Symphony

December 30, 2008 at 8:54 am

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