By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
Among the many reasons alumni love President Tony Frank are his amazing words. Those words, in wonderful speeches delivered from memory and in famously lengthy emails, have led us through difficult times and reminded us how much there is to celebrate.
His vision and humanity were evident in his first message to campus upon becoming interim president in 2008. “As a lifelong Cubs fan, I know all too well that success is never guaranteed. But character, collaboration, and a commitment to academic excellence will take us a long way.”
Not only did he find a way to insert Abraham Lincoln into many of his speeches and emails, but he also never let us forget our land-grant mission of service. “There is work undone that need not be left undone, and it is not the CSU way to turn away…. It is our way to roll up our sleeves. To lean in. To achieve. To excel.”
Tony created and protected community at CSU, and he made us proud to be part of it. “You—each of you individually and all of you collectively—are … the memory, the conscience, the character of this institution.” He reminded us to “reach across whatever divides us and accept our responsibility to uphold one another, to be alongside those who have been personally harmed or targeted by acts of hate and bias, and to acknowledge the harm such acts cause to all of us as members of this community. What affects one of us, affects all of us.”
When he responded to yet another incident of violence or racism across the country, he inspired our resolve to do better. “[W]hile the First Amendment gives us certain rights to choose our own words, education gives us the obligation to choose them thoughtfully. Ultimately, we all bear the consequences for the language we choose and the way we choose to wield it.”
His words communicated deep caring for students, as illustrated in his annual fatherly spring-break emails: “Don’t be a knucklehead. Get some rest, relax, and enjoy yourselves—but exercise moderation and make choices you can be proud of once this week is over. Use some common sense … those embarrassing pictures that seem like such great Facebook fodder today could come back to haunt you next time you go in for a job interview.”
His commencement speeches inspired graduates. “So, enjoy this moment—your moment. You’ve earned it…. But then get in the game. Make a difference. Make big differences—and make small ones—and know that the countless opportunities to make small differences may be the biggest difference any of us can make with our lives.”
Never one to seek the spotlight, Tony was always quick to credit Cara Neth (B.S., ’87), who was editor and collaborator for his speeches and writing. She, however, makes clear that “he is his own lead writer.” These are Tony’s words, and we will carry them forever in our hearts as well as in the institutional psyche.
Tony, we celebrate everything our university has become under your leadership.