October 26, 2012
President Tony Frank

Video of speech

Let me add my welcome, and my thanks to all of you for being here to help us celebrate the 25th anniversary class of inductees into the CSU Sports Hall of Fame.

I have three events this evening, one of which — I hope — requires formal attire or else I’m wearing this tux for no good reason. So on nights like this, Cara Neth drafts remarks for some of the events and you all know that Cara does a wonderful job. This speech that she wrote is about CSU’s approach to athletic excellence. But if anyone in this room doesn’t understand our commitment to running a clean, high-quality athletic program, one committed to athletes as students first and foremost, and a program in balance with the role and mission of a great American Land Grant University that traces its heritage back 150 years to the desk and pen of Abraham Lincoln, I doubt I’ll convince you with one more set of words.

So I’m not going to use this speech. But I was struck by a quote in it. It’s from Colin Powell: “Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” Of course, Powell meant it in the context of organizations and, having met him and read some of his writings, this isn’t surprising coming from a man who led the world’s most powerful military. And I agree with him in an organizational sense — and in the sense that a commitment to success by an individual is a prerequisite to excellence.

But individual excellence is, I think, more than an attitude, and I want to make that case by telling you a story this evening about two photographs that hang in my office.

The first is small. A framed snapshot. The faded, brownish tint gives away that it’s circa 1970s. It shows an isolated baseball diamond against a flat-as-a-pancake, Midwestern backdrop. There’s a gangly looking young man sitting directly on first base — alone with his glove on a deserted field. He’s hugging his knees to his chest. It’s clear that the game is over. Everyone is gone. The young man on the base can’t go, however. He’s having one of those learning moments we all have had in life where you’ve done your best, given your all, tried everything in your power — and it wasn’t enough. One of those, “I know I’ve got to go and I get the bigger context but right now I just can’t move” moments. He’s so lost inside his head I doubt he realizes the field is empty and he certainly had no idea the coach’s daughter was snapping the photograph.

It hangs next to a large, autographed, professionally framed iconic image of Ernie Banks — Mr. Cub. It was the day Ernie found out he had been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and a photographer captured him leaping for joy against the backdrop of the main gates to Wrigley Field on the corner of Addison & Clark. Banks’ joy at the recognition mirrors his joy in the game — his famous “Let’s play 2” attitude.

To me, these photographs tell the story of the difference between competition and excellence. And not the excellence of an organization — but the excellence of an individual (no one could accuse Ernie Banks of being surrounded by an organization of excellence — although ’69….well, that’s a story for another night).

Human beings compete. It’s a part of who we are, where we’ve come from — it’s in our DNA. Over the millennia we’ve modified our competitive instincts, found socially appropriate ways to channel them, and learned from them. That’s the first photograph — the snapshot. We compete against each other, against external forces, and we compete against ourselves — but we all compete.

But we do not all excel.

In fact, individual excellence — the second photograph — is rare — a gem — whether it’s an artistic work, an aria, a poem, a scientific discovery, or an athletic performance. We all instinctively recognize it when we see it — and we celebrate it — because we know exactly how difficult it is to produce.

Tonight, we gather to celebrate the jewel of individual excellence.

And so to tonight’s awardees and inductees, know that when you cross this stage, our applause is saying to you, “Well done. Thanks for letting us be there to see it.”

For in seeing your accomplishments, our spirits soar — they get up off of the base on the deserted baseball field and they jump for joy like Mr. Cub.

As the President of Colorado State University, I know I speak for everyone here when I say to you: You have our congratulations — but more importantly, you have our thanks.