University Day
September 20, 2013


Today we mark the promise the year holds for each of us on campus, our students, and the many people who rely on us.

I appreciate and applaud the remarkable accomplishments of the faculty and staff who will be honored here today, and I thank you and your colleagues for your contributions to Oregon State University's success.

We are pleased to have Caryn McTighe Musil of the Association of American Colleges and Universities join us today.  Caryn's work in civic and democratic engagement is bringing attention and insight to an area that is crucial both educationally and socially.

I would like to talk briefly today about what will be a very momentous year for us.

And also about one of our distinguished graduates

Many of you, I am sure, read the excellent article earlier this year by Mark Floyd of News and Research Communications about Willi Unsoeld, an OSU graduate and former faculty member in the Department of Religion and Philosophy.

Fifty years ago, Willi Unsoeld was part of the first team of Americans to summit Mount Everest.  Such a climb was and remains a truly epic undertaking.  

Willi and his climbing partner made it even more epic by scaling the West Ridge of Mount Everest, a route that was generally judged to be impossible.  Willi had no interest in climbing a route that someone else – in this case Sir Edmund Hillary, 10 years before – had already pioneered.

Willi and his partner made the summit via the West Ridge, but arrived so late in the day that they could not descend in the dark and so faced spending the night on Everest just below the peak.

In fact, as they knew, it was a death sentence.  A night at the top of Mount Everest, without shelter against the strong winds and cold, and with the gear available in 1963, was not survivable. 

Miraculously, that night the wind of Everest suddenly went calm.  They made it through to daybreak and descended alive, although Willi faced a long hospital stay and lost nine toes to frostbite.

The West Ridge climb still stands as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – alpine ascents of all time.

Despite his physical disabilities Willi did not slow down.  He continued climbing mountains and stayed active in education, including being one of the founders of The Evergreen State College.  Tragically, he died in 1979 in an avalanche on Mount Rainier.

Clearly he is a graduate of whom we can be proud and, as a founder of OSU's Adventure Leadership Institute in 1947, someone our students still learn from and emulate.  Indeed, Stacy Allison attended OSU and followed Willi's example, becoming the first American woman to scale Mount Everest in 1988.

I think Willi Unsoeld has a message for us this year.

Willi devoted himself to climbing Everest and had prepared relentlessly for years.  When he was asked later what lesson he took from the experience, he invariably answered:

"When you pick a life goal, be sure you pick one that you can't achieve.  If you pick one and achieve it, you are at a terrible loss for what to do next." 

This is good advice for each of us to keep in mind this coming year, because sometime before the academic year is over the Campaign for OSU is going to reach and exceed its remarkable goal of $1 billion dollars, on its way to its formal conclusion at the end of 2014. 

Indeed, we passed a major milestone this summer when the 100,000th donor made a gift to the Campaign for OSU.  This is 100,000 people and organizations who believe passionately in what you are doing and the difference you are making.

A lot of people in the OSU family, at every level, have worked very hard and very strategically to get to this point – and to make sure the investments we receive from donors are having the greatest possible impact on the university and its mission. 

The Deans and members of the faculty have worked diligently to connect with alumni and friends.  Many students have participated very effectively in Campaign events.

As I've noted often, the response from alumni and friends is breathtaking in its generosity and consistency.

You should all feel proud and I hope you do.  We are one of only a handful of public universities without medical schools to have a billion dollar campaign.  Ours will be an institutional achievement, one that reflects on every part of the university, whether here on campus, across Oregon, or around the world.

Yet, while we celebrate we will also need to remind ourselves that exceeding the Campaign fundraising goal is not the goal.

Our primary goal remains: To transform OSU into a top-ten land grant research university by enhancing our capacity to address the three critically important strategic plan initiatives: healthy economy; healthy people; healthy planet to serve others in powerful and positive ways.

To this end, faculty and administrators are at work on Version 3.0 of the Strategic Plan, helping us solidify the progress we have made and address areas where we have fallen short. 

We need to be sure we keep looking ahead to the larger goals and purposes the Campaign supports.

I believe we will, and as I said last year at University Day, I absolutely believe – and you should too – that the best is yet to come for Oregon State University.

Thank you and have a great year.