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Comments at Speaker's Award

by

Brit Kirwan

February 15, 2007

Mr. Speaker and members of the House of Delegates...thank you so very much for the high honor you bestow upon me today.  Indeed, given the deep respect I have for this body and for you, Mr. Speaker, I consider this to be one of the greatest honors ever accorded me.

Before I go any further, I must recognize three very special people in my life. First, is my wife of 47 years, Patty.  Patty and I have known each other since the 7th grade, 57 years ago, where I set behind her and pulled her pigtails.

She has been a source of phenomenal support and nurture for me throughout our life together.  She is the foundation upon which our family is built. She has also kept me grounded in life.  When I told her about this incredible honor, she said without a moment's hesitation, "why you!"

With Patty is our daughter, Ann Elizabeth, still the apple of my eye, and the mother of the two cutest daughters on the face of the earth. One of them, Daly, my four-year old princess, is here today.  Unfortunately, our son Bill and his two boys could not be with us today.

In the balcony today are a number of close friends and colleagues. Time does not permit me to recognize them but I want them to know how much I appreciate their presence today and how much their friendship means to me.

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this occasion to express my profound appreciation to the General Assembly, and most especially this body.  I've been in higher education for almost a half a century.  I know a lot about universities across the country and the relationship they have with their legislatures. I know of no system of higher education that enjoys greater support from its legislature than we do in Maryland.  It is this body that led the way, creating the 1988 charter for higher education and calling for a system of post secondary education that would be second to none.  Over the years, in good times and bad, you have kept the promise of that vision alive. 

We in higher education have been blessed with Committees and Subcommittees, led by people like Nancy Kopp and Pete Rawlings, and in more recent years Jim Procter and Norm Conway, and now John Bohanan, who genuinely understand the importance of higher education and have provided us with an open, welcoming environment to discuss our needs and challenges.  To be sure, you have held our feet to the fire when our performance did not meet your expectations.  But, through it all, your genuine concern and support has been abundantly evident and that has made all the difference.

A few years ago, in an especially dark hour for higher education, it is this body that appointed a Task Force, so ably lead by Speaker Pro Temp Adrienne Jones, to address the consequences of a series of severe budget cuts to higher education and the resulting double digit tuition increases.  Thanks to this effort, and the information it brought forth, our fortunes changed.  We in higher education will never forget the importance and impact of this initiative.

And, finally, Mr. Speaker, I know my colleagues agree with me that you are one of higher education's greatest champions and most powerful advocates.  The eloquence of your vision for higher education in Maryland, and the passion of your commitment is an inspiration to us all.

In closing, let me make an observation about our state as we move toward the second decade of the 21st century.  We, collectively, have a very special and rare opportunity.  Our world has moved into a new era...a new economy.  We live in an age where brain power, not muscle power, is the stuff of success for individuals, for regions and for states.  In such an age, Maryland is poised for greatness.  We are blessed to have perhaps the nation's most highly educated workforce.  Thanks to the presence of a dazzling array of high performing government labs and world class research universities, we rank number one in R&D per capita - a powerful statistic in an age dependent upon creativity and innovation.  We have a great system of higher education - two-year, four-year, public and private colleges and universities working together in a remarkable spirit of collaboration. We have a robust and growing technology based economy.  As a state, if we make the right decisions and the right investments, we can make Maryland the nation's leader in the knowledge era.  To do so, we have to insure that every child in this state, every child from the mountains of Western Maryland, to the inner city of Baltimore, to the towns and villages of the Eastern Shore has access to a great education... from pre-K to the PhD, or however far their ability and interests will take them. 

You have set us on that path with the Thornton funding plan.  This day, I pledge to you that we in the University System of Maryland will build upon that investment through new and creative partnerships with the K-12 sector, we will work with you to achieve our shared goals of affordable access to high quality higher education for all, and together we will create what I believe is our state's true destiny...a standard of living and a quality of life that is the envy of the rest of the nation.  

Thank you again for this high honor, best wishes for a successful 2007 session, and Godspeed to each and every one of you.