Dr. Kruszewski's "SOTU" Speech
Thank you so much, thank you. June and I are very grateful to be here, thank you. I started 47 years ago when I came from Chicago and I was blessed because I had a complete free hand to do whatever I wanted to help build this institution. And they said, “you have an orientation on Latin America and other international perspectives” to do this, to teach this—all these courses. I was always unlimited for 47 years coming and I am very grateful to the administration. What I found at UTEP at that time when I arrived was that it was just changing from Texas Western College at that time later to the University of El Paso. But it was a small college at that time of 8,000 people—a college on a hill—with mostly Anglo male students in a city which was 80 percent Mexican American. And I found El Paso somewhat a semi colonial area, I was shocked, actually. Rim Road was not even paved in the middle of campus! And I decided to stay here because both June and I had fallen in love with the city. She started studying Spanish, wrote her thesis in Spanish and I started working on behalf of the Mexican-American and Chicano departments trying to introduce Mexican Americans and Chicanos to the university. Today, this is now a totally changed university. Right now the university is 80 percent Mexican American and is a role model for all the major universities on how to treat minorities because you have created a true university for the 21st Century, especially in the last 25 years under the leadership of President Diana Natalicio. Her and the Regents have truly established a first tier university in which minorities will be treated differently. Why was I attracted to this? Why did this strange couple, June and Tony, come to El Paso? In part it was because of my upbringing. I was brought up in a family taught to always look to understand oppressed people just as ourselves in World War II. I was shaped by World War II when I participated in the Warsaw uprising and imagine the fighting—200,000 people lost their lives the fighting against the Nazis and I survived, though five times I was close to death. Then I could not go back to Poland because I was fighting for independent democratic reform for Poland at that time. So I had to choose where I would go and I rejoined the Polish Army under British Command and then I got to England. And after working with the organization for the British Army I decided on selection where to go. And the U.S. waiting time was five years. For Boston it was impossible while for New Zealand it was more fair. So there I flew and, later on, the U.S. Congress decided on accepting us as veterans of World War II as a component of the U.S. Army with letters of agreement for entry to the United States. So I landed in the U.S. with about twenty-four dollars in my pocket and luckily I ended up in Chicago which was good because there was an 80,000 Polish member community that was very active there in Chicago. And I was then very happy to be accepted to one of the best universities in the world, the University of Chicago. Based on my values, the values of my family, the causes of freedom and independence and other privileges of society I worked extremely hard when I was called on by the University of Chicago and had that opportunity. I took courses in business and at that time I took a course on how society affects business—it was the very first course I took that was very influential. And I also took accounting and was working towards an MBA but in reality I was always leaning towards being a professor in Political Science. You might not know that but I was intrigued by the treatment of immigrants because the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were among very few countries where immigrants are integrated into society. So from that whenever I travel I say I am a citizen of the world, an American who obviously left Poland and still holds these values that are important to have for society. And those few countries--Anglo-Saxon countries--played a role in allowing immigrants to become professors of Political Science. Because the road to professor of Political Science is in part to determine and critique how things can be made better, to make the country better, for justice and equality against discrimination, which I found unfortunately when I first came to the border. So from the very first day I was complete with my heart committed to those ideals. And thanks God I found in El Paso this small college on a hill where there were a very dedicated group of colleagues who were commissioned with the same values I was sharing. So those people supported not only minorities in the state and in this city of ours but also tried to advance and create help for minorities in the university—leading years later to thousands of Mexican-American students taking positions of success in the United States. So I found in El Paso immediately seasoned friends and colleagues, Oscar Martinez, Ellwyn Stoddard, Dick Bath—unfortunately he died a few years ago—and we were able to organized ABS—the Association of Borderland Scholars—and then many other projects and events at that time. The staff of the Congress of the 16th District called me Kruszewski "the El Paso Alinsky" (laughs)... a sort of leader or trouble-maker from Chicago. And so working for minorities was a tremendous challenge for me and possibility for advancing. And why did I join? You probably don’t realize but I did because I saw this college on the hill being transformed into a complete institution with an enormous vision for a half century in trying to obviously upgrade and work on overcoming the injustices of the past and fight always for justice and freedom. And we see it completely differently right now. As I said, they gave me a complete free hand so I was able to establish an institute when at that time I applied for a grant to help Mexican Americans and to be able to study in Spanish and English—and I was with my friend Jacob Ornstein, a Polish-Jewish American and we introduced a program under NEH and introduced a course for the first time in ten departments in both Spanish and English. And this was the only university in the United States or Canada, anywhere bilingual, the first university that the NEH designated us as a role model institution to provide this kind of instruction in a university. And so there we were trying to do as much as possible, obviously, during a half century of christening a right path here in El Paso. And as I mentioned, June was also here teaching, of all languages, teaching in Spanish for 15 years—the best Spanish programs in El Paso. So we were totally committed to this proposition. Now we have this 21st Century vision where as a role model we have come to provide for the inclusion of minorities at the highest educational standards and I would like to thank UTEP for giving me a chance to participate in transforming this university and its programs, and fighting for tolerance and equal opportunity for future generations and offering for people more opportunities for U.S. minorities. So what can be done now with this kind of activity, which completely sucked me in for 47 years to this university? For the past five years I knew I just want to continue—and the only continuation I could see was to pay back to UTEP. So we managed to establish three endowed professorships and fifteen scholarships through the help of friends of ours who, unfortunately, deceased recently and designated me as executor last year. And so fifteen Komarnicki scholarships are being brought now to help the minorities, Mexican Americans, from El Paso and others who study at UTEP. (applause) Thank you. So, initially, when I came here I was shocked from the first day when a student asked me in a lecture, “Dr. Kruszewski, can I dream about a Master’s degree” and I said shoot for the skies and stars and go forward. He said “yes, but my advisers in high school told me to take a break and don’t dream about college.” What a change from then until now. Now we bring little children from all over the lower valley, all over El Paso to show them they can come here and study at UTEP. So really this university is doing a great deal creating a role model for other universities across the country to really change. Most of my colleagues from other universities say “how do you do this?” How do students here rise from local high schools and do such service in the city? And how much has happened to undo the damage that had happened for a century in this part of the country. So I am happy that we will stay in El Paso as members of this community and will try to help as much as possible. Those scholarships and professorships add up to one million dollars so this is my way of thanking UTEP for how they have treated me as a full-fledged American, completely integrated, and that’s why UTEP really stands out as some kind of a model university for many other parts of the country for individuals seeking quality educational institutions. (applause) Well, that is about all I have to say. I thank you very much, friends, for coming here. I proudly estimate about 15,000 students I have had according to my count and I’ve found them as far as Tokyo and the Polish Embassy in who knows where, but I always find a student of mine somewhere. If you can believe I even met a professor in Tokyo University who is my student. (laughs) And I try to acknowledge all of them. So this is the story, very interesting, of how Tony Kruszewski and June—a strange couple—came into this university from Chicago, came here to UTEP. We have come to love El Paso all these years. Let’s continue doing as much as possible, especially for minorities in El Paso. Thank you very much! (standing ovation and applause)
See also UTEP's Headline Newscast covering Dr. Kruszewski's retirement ceremony HERE.