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PJC awards distinguished alumni at Homecoming 2015 luncheon

Published or Revised November 30, 2015

Distinguished Alumni

The Paris Junior College Distinguished Alumni awards were presented to Dr. Gary VanDeaver and Dr. Steven Tallant on Nov. 14, 2015 as part of PJC’s Homecoming Weekend.

Dr. VanDeaver is state representative for House District I, and Dr. Tallant is president of Texas A&M University - Kingsville.

During her introduction of Dr. VanDeaver, PJC President Dr. Pam Anglin explained that his signature is on the original Stanley Tate Davis endowment agreement from when he was superintendent at Rivercrest High School. That is now among the largest scholarship granting endowments in the Paris Junior College Memorial Foundation, with enough money to virtually fund tuition and fees for every young person graduating from a Red River County high school. She went on to praise him for championing Texas public schools and institutions of higher education in his first term in the State House.

After accepting his award, Dr. VanDeaver commented that it was a humbling experience the result of the unwavering support he received from family members.

“A few months ago I had the privilege of visiting with Dr. Anglin and several students from Paris Junior College while they were in Austin,” said VanDeaver. “It was so refreshing to hear those students share their stories with me. Each of them had different backgrounds and unique dreams for the future, but there was a common thread. That thread was that PJC had provided them an opportunity to a full and rewarding life, to achieve their goals and live the American dream.”

VanDeaver said he shared with them the story of an 18-year-old kid who graduated from Clarksville High School on a Friday and on Sunday afternoon left for a university several hours away. Three months later he was sitting in a classroom at PJC. Like many students in a small town, he said he was sheltered and needed time to adjust.

“This place was precisely what I needed at that time in my life and just like those students at the capital that day,” said VanDeaver. “Paris Junior College had thrown me a lifeline. It is a lifeline without which I am convinced I would not have had the opportunities I’ve had in my life. Think about it, the opportunity to acquire the skills to pursue your dreams, to enjoy a successful life and to be a contributing member of society and do it all with little or no student debt.

“I can honestly say that I’ve used pretty much everything I learned here at Paris Junior College,” VanDeaver said, citing writing skills from Mrs. Mathis, chemical and science properties from Mr. Hancock, and even learning to artificially inseminate a cow from Mr. McCraw. “My memories of this place are very fond, my indebtedness is great, but please know that my gratitude for this honor is beyond measure. And so from the bottom of my heart, thank you, may God bless and may God continue to bless, Paris Junior College.”

The next award winner was Dr. Steven Tallant, introduced by PJC Board of Regents President Curtis Fendley, who praised Dr. Tallant for the growth at the Texas A&M University - Kingsville since he became TAMUK’s president.

“Since taking his position at Texas A&M Kingsville, the university has flourished, showing exceptional growth both in student contact hours and extra sources of revenue,” Fendley said. “The Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp has said ‘Steve is one that leads by example.’”

“This award means more to me than any award that I’ve ever received in my life, and I’ve received a few,” said Tallant. “I graduated from Paris High School in 1967 and came to PJC and graduated in 1969. Everything that I’ve ever accomplished is a result of Paris, Texas and Paris Junior College. I tell people I left Paris, Texas 46 years ago, but Paris, Texas and Paris Junior College have never left me. I am so thankful every day that I grew up in this community that gave me values and a work ethic and a sense of community and it’s followed me my whole life.”

Tallant described being a first generation college student who knew he needed college but didn’t know much about it.

“Coach Mike Reinhardt gave me a scholarship to come to Paris Junior College as a basketball manager,” said Tallant. “I’m going to clean the floor, wash jocks and get an education. I couldn’t believe someone was going to pay me to go to college. I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I get this advisor, who made a huge impact on my life, and he looks at my transcript and says, ‘you shouldn’t be a lawyer, you need to be a chemist. You made straight A’s at Paris High School, you’re really good in science.’ So he talks me into majoring in chemistry. That young guy was Bobby Ray Walters; he gave me great advising. Everything I ever took at Paris Junior College counted. I went into the Navy, went to the University of Florida, the University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin. The academic rigor and what I got here was as good as any one of those universities. You are getting a great education for your money here.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing now without this university. It gave me access, opportunity, I didn’t have to pay much for my education, and I got a wonderful education. As a president of a university today, I always remember what access and opportunity was about and what these faculty members did for me and they changed my life and they cared greatly.”

“Thank you, Dr. VanDeaver, Dr. Tallant for allowing us to recognize you and how proud we are to be able to say that you are Paris Junior College alumni,” Dr. Anglin said at the close of the ceremony.

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