Rice celebrates centennial in nation’s capital

Rice University took over the U.S. Capitol July 11 as more than 250 alumni joined President David Leebron and members of the Texas congressional delegation in a daylong series of events to celebrate Rice’s centennial. Washington, D.C., is one of 10 cities that are part of the centennial “world tour” commemorating the historic global voyage embarked on by Rice’s first president, Edgar Odell Lovett, prior to the university’s founding in 1912.

Rep. Kevin Brady, Rep. Ted Poe, Rice University President David Leebron and Rep. Pete Olson '85

The day began with approximately 50 Rice alumni and staff gathering at the Capitol to observe Texas congressmembers acknowledging the university’s contributions to the country with speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“Today, Rice University is the home of 5,000 students,” Rep. Ted Poe said. “Its achievements make Houston proud – artificial heart research, structural chemical analysis and space science, just to name a few. And the Rice Owls baseball team gives Houston a baseball team we can be proud of. I want to congratulate the Rice president, his wonderful educators and his students for an amazing 100 years of excellence in education.” A transcript of Poe’s remarks is available here. (Editor’s note: Rice has more than 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students.)

Rep. Pete Olson, an ’85 Rice alum, called Rice a place with “an uncommon feeling – a feeling of family and home” that has grown to be one of the most respected universities in all the world. He also elaborated on the university’s proud history in space science.

“As all Texans know, in September of 1962 President John F. Kennedy stood in our stadium and committed a nation to the greatest exploration in human history – a moon landing,” he said. “Space in the U.S. was born at Rice.” A transcript of Olson’s remarks is available here.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee commended the university for its successful efforts to diversify the campus community and educate the next generation of scientists, thinkers and humanitarians. “Congratulations, Rice University, for your 100th year and service to the nation and reflection of the diversity of this great country.” A transcript of Jackson Lee’s remarks is available here.

Rep. John Culberson concluded the Texas delegation’s remarks by praising Rice’s research efforts, specifically in nanotechnology.

“Nanotechnology is an absolute game-changer, revolutionizing everything that we will touch and see in the 21st century,” Culberson said. “And Rice is the birthplace of nanotechnology research. It holds incredible potential for everything from curing cancer to improving the storage and transmission of electricity and moving electricity in ways we cannot even imagine today.” A transcript of Culberson’s remarks is available here.

Other elected officials placing statements for the record included Reps. Gene Green, Mike Conaway, Kenny Marchant, Bill Flores, Sam Johnson, Pete Sessions, Charlie GonzalezRandy Neugebauer, Joe Barton and Kevin Brady. Brady applauded the university’s “proven track record of producing strong, dependable community and national leaders.”

Following the tributes, alumni were given Capitol tours, joined by several Rice students serving as congressional interns for the summer. Staff members for Olson and Culberson worked closely with Rice Government Relations Director Cory Kennedy to arrange the event.

The congressional honors come on top of Rice Day on March 3, 2011, at the Texas Capitol, when the Texas House and Senate each passed resolutions honoring Rice and its centennial.

“To have both the U.S. Congress and the Texas Legislature honor Rice this way speaks volumes about the university’s reputation and contributions to our state and country,” Kennedy said. “And to have so many of our alumni participate in both occasions makes them something to remember and cherish as part of this singular moment in Rice history.”

Later in the evening, approximately 250 Rice students, alumni, staff, parents, friends and elected officials attended a celebration at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

At a reception prior to the main event, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison presented Leebron with a copy of a resolution recognizing Rice’s centennial. Hutchison worked with Sen. John Cornyn to win Senate passage of the resolution.

Hutchison lauded the university’s pioneering efforts to “lighten the load” of the military by using nanotechnology in the design of military uniforms and body armor to make it 40 pounds lighter for soldiers in the field. She also credited Rice with helping her form the The Association of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST), a coalition of the top researchers in the state.

And while Hutchison was quick to praise the university’s research endeavors, she admitted that it was watching the Rice baseball team win the 2003 College World Series that made her “fall in love with Rice.” “I was hooked. I watched every game in the series,” she laughed.

Rep. John Kline, a ’69 Rice alum who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, remembered celebrating Rice’s 50th anniversary as a student. He noted Rice’s remarkable progress over the past 50 years and its excellent reputation around the country. “When I go around and talk about Rice University outside of Texas, they know I went to a great school,” he said.

Reps. Quico Canseco and Olson were also in attendance at the reception. In his remarks, Olson exhorted fellow alumni to come to campus Oct. 10-14 for the Centennial Celebration.

“The thing that I love about Rice that’s so dear to my heart is when I come back on campus, I feel like I’m with family – I feel like I’m home,” Olson said. “So let’s celebrate Rice University like we are right now – those of you here in Washington, buy a plane ticket, come to Houston this fall, and get on campus and get that feeling of family, that feeling of community and come back home!”

Rice Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson emceed the main event, which included a reception and presentations from current students and alumni, including Jones College senior Chris Keller, Olson and John Boles ’65, the William P. Hobby Professor of History.

“Edgar Odell Lovett believed that the educated person’s goal is not just to maximize income or assets, but to serve mankind,” Boles said. “When we think about Rice today, we have to an enormous degree fulfilled the vision of Edgar Odell Lovett. We have essentially become the university Lovett imagined in 1912.”

Perhaps no better example of Lovett’s vision was the students and alumni gathered at the evening’s event. They shared stories about how Rice touched their lives and emphasized how important being part of the Centennial Celebration is to them.

“It really is amazing to be here, and to see the range of ages and success of everyone from the undergrads to alumni,” said Danny Cohen, a Lovett College senior who is spending the summer interning at the Brookings Institute in D.C. “Everyone is together celebrating the same four years of life, which is a very special thing. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to commemorate the centennial with everyone here and the chance to reflect on our shared experiences and opportunities.”

Brandy Hays ’00, an Association of Rice Alumni board member, called the Centennial Celebration “a significant event” and said, “It’s an excellent opportunity for motivation among alumni to be re-ignited, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

For former Rice Board of Trustees member Edward Kelley ’54, the evening provided a wonderful trip down memory lane, as he shared stories of his “lifelong love affair” with Rice.

“I grew up approximately two miles from the university and spent my boyhood riding bicycles all over campus,” he said. “When the time came to go to college, I never considered going anywhere else – and it was very much the right choice. I spent four wonderful years there.”

Charley Landgraf ’75 introduced Leebron, who closed the evening’s event by reflecting on the university’s progress from a small institute on the outskirts of Houston to an internationally respected urban research institution known also for its broad-based academic offerings and excellent undergraduate education. He highlighted the university’s commitment to offering education grounded in real-world experiences and leadership opportunities for students.

“Leadership and giving students opportunities is no longer about waiting for leadership to emerge — it’s about our responsibility as a university to provide it,” Leebron said. “Expanding these opportunities for our students is part of the evolving and changing Rice that is true to its history and culture.”

The centennial world tour began in Austin, Texas, and has continued in Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, New York City and Istanbul. Still to come are events in Chicago and Taipei, Taiwan.

For more information on Rice’s centennial, visit centennial.rice.edu.

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About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.