Gone to Texas

Most Longhorns have sat through the “Gone to Texas” session at orientation that challenges stereotypes and emphasizes unity among different groups. 

However, racial discrimination is still alive and well on college campuses and off. From three Muslim students being killed near a North Carolina university to a mosque being set on fire in Houston and a synagogue being attacked in France, minorities are still struggling for human rights. 

It may seem to others that such crimes stem from hatred, but I would argue that the root of those incidents is ignorance. “History repeats itself,” the phrase every middle schooler has heard at least once, is surprisingly applicable when comparing the problems of the past with those of the present. 

One of the victims of the North Carolina shooting, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, had said, “Growing up in America has been such a blessing. It doesn’t matter where you come from. There are so many different people from so many different places and of different backgrounds and religions, but here we’re all one. We’re one culture.” 

Those words were recorded last May in a conversation with her former teacher Musarrat Jabeen for StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit project that records the stories of everyday Americans.

It is a shame that the country that Abu-Salha grew up in has shown itself to be more volatile than she believed. 

One of the founding principles of this country was freedom of religion, so immigrants should be able to settle here with equal rights and opportunity. 

Although some of us stand out more than others, such as Muslim women who wear the hijab (head covering), we all still unite as a nation sharing the same values and goals. 

On a campus like UT, we all crave more diversity, which enriches students’ experience inside the classrom and out. The perspective we get from people who have different family backgrounds is unique and challenges us to think. We should be able to celebrate our integration rather than spread untruthful stories, which so often lead to horrific acts of violence.

The killing of innocents is a horrible tragedy, but instead of focusing our concern on the act of murder itself, we should ponder upon the root of the crime. 

Whenever a calamity strikes, rather than pausing and letting the shock course through our veins, we hurriedly form hashtags and movements and vigils to honor innocent victims and condemn violence. Ignorance has fostered darkness, and the fact of the matter is that no minority should be afraid to practice their theology. 

At the end of the Gone to Texas presentation I attended as a freshman, all the various minority groups held hands in unity. Despite the short 90-minute presentation we were all obliged to sit through, let us remember the value it holds. 

Saifullah is a neuroscience sophomore from Richardson.

With the assistance of former Texas quarterback and current development officer for program alumni relations Vince Young and Texas mascot HookEm, President William Powers Jr. accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge at Gone to Texas on Tuesday night. Gone to Texas is a yearly ceremony welcoming new students to the university’s campus.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The official University welcome event “Gone to Texas” brought together more than 8,000 students and members from the University community for a celebration on the Main Mall in front of the Tower on Tuesday evening. President William Powers Jr. opened the ceremony by welcoming students to the University the night before classes began for the fall semester. 

“What an impressive sight to look out over the Main Mall and see this assembly of new Texas Longhorns,” Powers said.

Powers said students will face challenges in their time at the University. Powers said he was confident the new students would rise to meet those challenges, before announcing his participation in one himself: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. 

“A few days ago I was given a challenge when I was nominated for the ice bucket challenge,” Powers said. “Part of the challenge is passing on this wonderful opportunity and tonight I pass along [the Ice Bucket Challenge] to one of the newest members of the UT administrative team and one of the greatest Longhorns ever, Vince Young.”

The Gone to Texas program, a tradition of over 20 years, introduced new students to the traditions and core values at the University with various performances introduced by speakers from a wide variety of University schools and organizations, including Student Government President Kori Rady and Vice President Taylor Strickland.

“There’s been a lot of coordinating between the different groups so we’ve been working really hard,” Strickland said.  “Personally, I had two rehearsals and I know there have been at least five run-throughs, so it’s been a lot of work, but it’s really nice that we think it went well.”

The ceremony also featured submissions from incoming freshmen who created videos about what a “Longhorn State of Mind” means to them. Gage Paine, vice president of student affairs, announced business freshman Steven Nguyen the winner before the Longhorn Band closed the event with “The Eyes of Texas” and “Texas Fight.” 

Engineering freshman Katie Moore said hearing the band play “The Eyes of Texas” was her favorite part of the event. 

“It’s really cool looking forward to seeing this again in four years,” Moore said. “We’re going to have worked very hard to get through the next four years.”

Pharmacy school students cheer during Gone to Texas Tuesday. Each college held separate gatherings before all congregating at the Tower.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Dancers perform at Gone To Texas on Tuesday night. This year’s ceremony also included informational speeches about the university and other performances by UT organizations.   

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Thousands of incoming UT students flooded South Mall to participate in Gone To Texas on the eve of the start of a new school year.

Gone To Texas, an event put on by the University since 1997, invites new students to participate in a welcoming ceremony capped off by lighting the Tower orange. Many of the University’s individual colleges put on their own events before the larger ceremony in front of the Tower.

Rod Caspers, director of University Events, said the expected turnout was between 7,000 to 8,000 participants. To accommodate the large crowd, UT spent about $200,000 in organizing and executing the event this year. 

“[Gone to Texas] is a welcome to all new students, a welcome to a community of scholars,” Caspers said. “Our goal is to provide a wonderful welcome to all new students as they begin this new venture in their lives.” 

Traditionally, the UT president leads the event, but President William Powers Jr. was not available this year. Instead, Greg Fenves, incoming provost and former dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, presided over the event.

This year’s audience watched a dance performance, the famous Longhorn Band and multiple videos about the University’s history and reputation.

In his remarks, Fenves emphasized the Freshman Research Initiative, a program intended to help freshmen involved in academic research.

Addie Block, a Middle Eastern studies freshman, said Gone to Texas reaffirmed her choice to attend UT.

“I feel like I have a home here,” Block said.

Freshman Hannah Hinton said it was exciting to see all the freshmen together in front of the Tower.

“I’m now very excited for classes to start and to get involved on campus,” Hinton said. 

Pharmacy school students cheer during Gone to Texas Tuesday. Each college held separate gatherings before all congregating at the Tower.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

I expected attending Gone to Texas in the middle of my college career would feel different from attending it as a freshman. After all, the past two years of college have changed my view of this massive and wonderful place. Watching the UT System Board of Regents and the UT-Austin administration fight out their ideological differences by way of newspaper editorials, ominously named committees and rumors of President William Powers’ termination has made me both more cynical about and more attuned to the political motivations that affect our university. I predicted that this year’s Gone to Texas would hint at the importance of graduating in four years, at the crucial role of research at the University, and that it would walk a fine line between mouthing off at the regents and telling them what they want to hear. It was wonderfully refreshing, then, that last night’s festivities steered clear of obvious references to the battles being fought on the 40 Acres and focused instead on the University’s many victories.

The ceremony began at 8:30 p.m. when a commercial featuring Powers lit up the tower, leading the students to look up as his distinctive voice fell over the audience. In the video, Powers vowed to make this the “best public university in the nation,” a phrase I find admirably absent of bravado — he didn’t say we are the best — and yet full of enthusiasm for the University.

At the video’s end, a performance by the Innervisions Gospel Choir begins. Soon, the choir launches into a gorgeous breakdown of the “Eyes of Texas,” and the audience began to hoot, holler and applaud. As the song ended, Thor Lund and Wills Brown, the student body president and vice president, filed on stage for a scripted speech. Their most charming moments occurred when they forgot to read off their papers and broke into unplanned moments of Brown pointing into the audience and waving around his horns. Of course, at least one of them, Brown, made mention in his speech of the Texas Constitution of 1876’s mandate that UT be “a university of the first class.” Though people on both sides of UT’s ideological battles often use this quotation in their arguments, Brown’s use of it appeared to carry no between-the-lines implication of what “first-class university” should mean.

Throughout the night, however, the programming offered some hints at what a “first-class university” should be. The event included over 20 minutes’ worth of programming devoted to praising research and the opportunities it gives students. Alexa Van Brummen, a senior involved in research, shared the story of how she found her way into a competitive research lab as a mere freshman. She then encouraged students to follow a similar path. Another video showcased how research by mechanical engineering professor Rick Neptune has made better-fitting prostheses available to amputees. While the regents’ disagreements with UT administrators over the role of research in higher education were never directly referenced, the amount of time spent on the subject serves as a reminder that the conflict continues.

Finally, Powers took the stage. Every time I hear Powers’ voice, I can’t help but feel like I am standing in a smokehouse in Luling, Texas, and he is about to emerge from the back with a giant slab of brisket, although the mass of freshmen sitting in front of me last night almost certainly didn’t make the same connection. They too seemed intimidated by the gravelly-voiced Powers, who has a calm confidence about him that I must subconsciously associate with Texas barbecue. “All too soon I’ll see you at graduation,” he said to the freshmen, reminding them of the “bookend” nature of Gone to Texas and their graduation: one you attend as an incoming freshman, the other as an exiting senior. A video of previous commencement speakers followed, and the nod toward the end goal of “going to Texas” — making it to graduation — had sufficient gravitas to quiet the now antsy crowd. As the video ended, a spotlight landed on the academic seal. “You are now and forever identified with Texas,” Powers said. A cheer went up, and I felt my cynicism flare — what exactly does “identifying with Texas” mean when so many people are fighting over the University’s purpose?

But alas, Gone to Texas rightfully left no place for a grim upperclassman like me. Before I can turn to a friend and make a move, the band swept in and the celebration started.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: Issues lurk amid celebration

The Longhorn Band performs at Gone to Texas Tuesday, Aug. 28. The annual event welcomed the class of 2016, which could potentially be the largest incoming freshman class UT has ever seen according to University officials.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

The number “16” burned brightly on the UT Tower at the 15th annual “Gone to Texas” welcome celebration.

Traditionally held the day before the first day of school, the celebration featured speakers, special performances and an address from UT President William Powers Jr. To accommodate the large class of incoming students, university officials set up about 1,200 additional seats. The event also featured the UT Honor Code, which encourages values like learning and responsibility, despite Powers’ summer announcement that it would be changing within the next few months.

Student body president Thor Lund opened the night with a few encouraging words for the new students.

“We are a truly amazing place, and tonight is the beginning of a year and a lifetime full of wonderful opportunities,” Lund said. “If you haven’t already noticed, Texas has a unique and valid spirit, and at the University of Texas, anything is possible.”

Every year, Gone to Texas welcomes all students new to UT, whether freshman, transfer or graduate students. Junior transfer student Bryce Gibson said it was a good way to start off the year for him.

“I’ve always wanted to come to Texas,” Gibson said. “It kind of gets you in the spirit of Texas.”

In addition to hearing from Powers, students were also encouraged to take advantage of all the opportunities at UT. Biology and anthropology senior Alexa Van Brummen spoke about her experience reaching out to a professor and getting involved in research her first year.

Brummen works on spinal injury reseach and encouraged new students to get involved early in their time at UT.

“I know what all of you are thinking: ‘Meh, I’ll do that later.’ But why not sooner rather than later?” she said. “UT gives you all of the resources to pursue any interest you might have.”

Students display the “Hook ‘Em” Horns Tuesday night during this year’s annual Gone to Texas event.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

The tower glowed orange and the Longhorn Band, Student Government representatives, the Innervisions Gospel Choir and other student groups convened on the main mall to welcome the class of 2015 to campus on Tuesday night.

After a performance of the “Eyes of Texas” from the Innervisions Gospel Choir, student government president Natalie Butler and vice president Ashley Baker opened the event with a speech about what it means to be a Longhorn. Butler said being a student at UT means living up to the vision that the state legislature had when they created the University.

“Our student body is diverse, dynamic and above all, world changing,” she said. “We were brought here to be the best, and now, we have to think beyond ourselves. I’ve realized what I want to do, and I challenge all of you to do the same.”

Since 1997, Gone to Texas has welcomed anyone who is new to the University each year, including freshmen, transfer students, graduate students and law students, said Susan Clagett, an associate vice president in the Office of Relationship Management and University Events. Clagett helped plan the event.

“The program seeks not only to welcome but to help new students get acclimated and become as comfortable here as quickly as possible so that they can do as well as possible,” she said. “The event gives them the chance to get closer to their local community where they’ll be doing academic work.”

Clagett said she was speaking to a graduate student about her experience at UT on the day of Gone to Texas and the student pinpointed one of the biggest messages that the event should send.

“She was talking about how special it is to come here,” she said. “There’s a pride about UT Austin that really is tangible here. Part of what the evening is about is the sense of pride and how special it is to start here and change the world. The brand is real, and we want new students to know what’s behind it.”

Incoming undergraduate studies freshman Jonathan Ibrahim went to Gone to Texas after getting dinner at the Gone to Undergraduate Studies program. He said he is getting ready for a great year by learning more about his school through Gone to Texas.

“I’m excited because UT means a great college experience,” he said. “This school has the whole package.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Gone to Texas welcomes freshmen, grad students.