Remarks by Dr. Joanne Smith, Vice President for Student Affairs

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Celebration
LBJ Student Center
January 21, 2020

Good evening! I am honored to make some remarks about the great work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose work inspired me at a very young age.

I became fully aware of the great late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was 12 years old, 53 years ago, when the announcement came across the television early morning that he had been killed. I knew the name and when I ran upstairs to my parents’ room and told them, my mother cried. It hit me hard to see my mother cry and once she calmed down, she explained the significance of his work.

During the days that followed, there was major disruption around the country. At my church a memorial service was held in Dr. King’s memory.

Because I had done some reading about Dr. King and discussed how I felt with my minister, he asked me to participate in the service. It was there that I learned so much more about his dreams for the country particularly Black Americans and about the non-violent methods of his work. His quote, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him” impacted me greatly and it was this quote that guided me to always keep his words and legacy in my heart and how I work with others.

I vowed to myself that I would be the best student I could be to fulfill his famous quote, “ I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” See, I grew up in the north, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but visited my grandparents with the rest of my family each summer in the segregated south, Vidalia, Georgia.

I experienced discrimination firsthand because of the color of my skin—having to use separate “for colored only” facilities, sleeping in subpar motels, and only being allowed to go to the movies by climbing up the fire escape stairs to the balcony level of the theater. I knew it was not right, we were not treated equal and I wanted to protest.

I was reminded by my friends who lived in Georgia that I could always go back to Pittsburgh to somewhat escape the segregation practices and they had to endure the treatment to survive. I understood, I felt sad, and again vowed to help unify us all regardless of our race to the best of my ability.

Dr. King was committed to peace, non-violent social change, and equality for all.

As I have progressed in my life, I came to realize that education is truly the great unifier—no one could take your knowledge away from you and there is a certain kind of peace and unity that comes when you are learning and interacting with each other as scholars.

We can all honor his legacy by applying his principles to our own lives. As students, you can honor him by committing to make positive change in your life and positive change in the lives of others while here at Texas State.

Dr. King said, “make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

My career has been dedicated to bringing all people together to realize Dr. King’s dream. This is the 36th Annual Dr. King Celebration program at Texas State. I have had the pleasure of attending each year during the 28 years I have worked here.

As I retire at the end of this school year, my dream for Texas State is that all of you will continue honoring the legacy and dream of Dr. King and that you will work together to always bring love, unity and positive change to this campus community. We owe it to the work and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank you for allowing me to make these personal remarks. Best wishes to all of you and to the future of Texas State.