Former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings says that in order to make the North Texas community a better society, its citizens must come together and educate young people. He delivered his message at the 2019 Scholarship Breakfast, the largest annual fundraiser for the Naveen Jindal School of Management.
An audience of about 400 attended the event, held Oct. 30 at the Westin Galleria in Dallas.
“Let me say that I am very glad to have that scholarship, because without it, I probably would not be in college,” Manzala said, “and I most definitely would not be up here.” Manzala is a member of the initial cohort of the Jindal Young Scholars, a program that receives funds from the Scholarship Breakfast and other sources. “I want to thank the Jindal School and everyone here for providing this great opportunity in my life.”
“This is an important event for us as we raise scholarships for our students,” Pirkul said. He summarized Jindal School enrollment numbers and academic rankings and then turned to one of his favorite topics — Jindal School students.
“I want to take a minute to brag … on our students,” he said. “Our students are in high demand across the nation. The very top companies come to recruit at the Jindal School, and the feedback is incredible. Our students are doing a great job once they get to work.”
Pirkul introduced moderator Ray Hemmig, a member and immediate past chair of the Jindal School’s advisory council, and Rawlings, the guest of honor.
The conversation between Hemmig and Rawlings quickly turned to one of Rawlings’ favorite topics — how being free requires people to learn how to think.
“That’s one of our basics beliefs — that we’re going to be free,” he said. “Well, if you don’t have an education, you’re not free — and I’ll tell you one reason — because you don’t even know what the options are.”
Rawlings, who was Dallas mayor from June 2011 to June 2019, noted the diversity he saw in the Westin ballroom and said he liked it.
“The more that we do of that, I think we’re going to be better off,” he said. “That’s what you’re all about here with this effort.”
The effort to which Rawlings referred was the Scholarship Breakfast. Through last year, the breakfast had raised more than $750,000 and funded more than 450 scholarships for JSOM students since its establishment in 2009.
This year, the breakfast raised enough funds to provide scholarships for more than 40 students, according to Dr. Diane McNulty, associate dean for external affairs and corporate relations.
The UT Dallas 50th Anniversary Celebration sponsor was Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas with a gift of $10,000. The platinum-level sponsors — each pledging $5,000 — were the Beck Group, Intuit, Merit Energy and State Farm.
JYSP, one of the programs that the Scholarship Breakfast helps fund, aims to increase postsecondary graduation rates for the Dallas Independent School District. DISD is a large, diverse school district in which 88 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged homes and 44 percent come from limited-English-proficiency homes.
Hemmig pointed out that Rawlings, when he became mayor, had been a vocal critic of the district and asked him why he deployed that tactic. Rawlings explained that upon his taking office, his team had done a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the city. They had determined that public education was one of the weaknesses. Only 11 percent of the district’s graduates were college-ready according to SAT and ACT scores.
“I had to speak up for the citizens and say we can and should do better,” he said, “not only for the city, but for those young men and women because I felt there were a lot of smart young men and women.”
During the nearly hourlong conversation, Rawlings detailed improvements that DISD made during his tenure as mayor. “A few years back, one out of five kids went to a failing school. Today,” he said, “2% go to a failing school.
“I’ll tell you, DISD has stepped up,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of DISD.”
The conversation segued to the Jindal Young Scholars and the role that the program and UT Dallas play in helping the North Texas region become an economic powerhouse.
He identified Amazon’s need for tens of thousands of highly qualified tech workers as the primary reason the region lost the bid for the retail giant’s second world headquarters. “They saw it on the East Coast because of the academic institutions,” he said. “[I’m] not saying they’re better institutions — there are just more of them, and they’ve been around longer.”
Rawlings described what he sees as an existential issue for the region as it relates to remaining competitive economically.
“We have got to rethink how we do higher education,” he said. “And as [Dean Pirkul] and I talked about, how do we scale this [program]?”
He said the scaling would need to be in the thousands for the region to remain competitive and would require cooperation among all its institutions of higher learning. The focus, he said needs to switch from dealing with a high child-poverty rate — nearly one in three children in the City of Dallas grows up in poverty — to making the region a “machine that’s helping us grow.”
That growth is the strategic, logical reason for having and scaling programs such as the Jindal Young Scholars. The “real” reason, though, is to help people, he said.
When Hemmig asked Rawlings what one thing he wanted the audience to remember about the conversation, Rawlings emphasized the need for hope.
“When you feel the world is falling apart around you, don’t give up hope,” he said. “We need you to be examples of that. UTD has got to be a beacon [of] hope for these kids.”
— Jimmie R. Markham