Motley talks of his life experience at UMass Boston student assembly

Following are excerpts from UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley’s remarks at a student government assembly on campus last week.

Students are the center ‘of everything we do’

“I want to thank you, thank you for the opportunity to come in front of you. I always enjoy the opportunity that I have to have conversations with you about what’s going on here at the university, but more importantly, I want you to know how grateful I am, how proud I am of you as leaders, how jealous I am of you, because I remember being you. And when you get older, it’s almost like it was yesterday for you, it wasn’t like it was a few days ago, and when I see you, it just makes my heart feel so great to know that this university is in great hands. That our students – you know, because you’re the center of everything that we do – are in such great hands because each and every one of you are contributing in such a magnificent way.

“I don’t get many chances to come over and sort of view the work from this space, but then I stand here and I see those elevator towers going up, and I remember that it was students who brought this dream to this university. It was students who said we should have an option for students who might want to come here from around the world, or from Dorchester or from across the street, but they may want to have a university environment that is one that they sort of had as their mental model. You know, an option for living, an option for facilities that are not high schoolish, but some that are world-class, because our faculty deserve that; our students that go here, our staff, we all deserve that. And something that will take advantage of this waterfront.

Not long ago, ‘we were lopsided as a campus’

“Well, the more I stand up in this room, the more I look out, I see that we’re on the verge of that. But I also know that you all, as students, have your entire careers ahead. Where are my seniors at [hands are raised]? At least we opened buildings during your time, but for the rest of you, it’s been – some of those that came before you, all they knew was dirt and a dream.

“And now they come back and they see the reality of the Integrated Science building, and they see the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, and they see the roadway beginning to make sense, and they see that we have the University Hall and the University Hall Two on its way, and they see the garage, and they see the residence halls, and they know that Bayside has the potential to do incredible things for this university.

Because, when I came here it was a university that felt landlocked. We felt like we had no room to move.

We felt like we couldn’t even move on this side of the peninsula and do something. Because there was this unspoken word, we kept the John F. Kennedy Library, as long that was out this side, away from everything else that we did. We were lopsided as a campus.

‘I still have in me the spirit I grew up with – to serve’

“Everyone was concerned that when we reached a new level of excellence, we would forget who we were. You know that thing that your people and your family will tell you sometimes? I know mine did. They said, “Hey, man, just because you have a degree, don’t forget where you came from.” So when I go back to Pittsburgh they all remind me that I’m a little kid who grew up in Pittsburgh, in a steel community, who happened to have the honor of going on to college. And now I still have in me the spirit that I grew up with, that is to serve. And so, it doesn’t matter what they call you; you know, what titles people give you and all those kinds of things, but what matters is that you bring the right kind of values forward and that constellation of skills you get from experiencing the things you’re going to experience in life, and that you learn to love what you had the opportunity to do.

“And so, you are a gift for working toward now, for the sacrifices you’ve made as students. It’s going to pay off for this future. … Now you even see the dirt’s going away. They told me it would disappear, but now you’re beginning to see it disappear. And one day you’re going to walk on this campus with me, and you’re going to be so proud of every effort that you’ve made. Even those of you who are new in your careers here, some of you are just starting out, freshmen and sophomores and all that. You’ll walk this place and you’ll see it, and we’ll be able to smile together.

‘Incredible campus and dynamic’

“I’m honored to have had the opportunity to serve you. I thank you for your leadership, and I’m glad that you’ve created a succession plan for an unbelieveable transition of leadership within this setting. But, more importantly, I’m glad you have the involvement you have today. I tell this story all the time: When I showed up as the vice chancellor for student affairs, we had to beg you to come to the meeting. That blew me away when I showed up here. Now I walk into a room and here you all are, or I see you around campus, or I watch you and the way you’ve done this. You’ve created an incredible dynamic. You know, we all need to improve. Nothing is perfect. But you’ve set us on the pathway to that level of excellence that we all know we need here at the university.

“Finally, as chancellor, my mentors told me when I took this job, or when I was honored to serve in this capacity, they said, “You’re never going to be able to do everything that you want to do. So focus on something that matters to you. What are the things that matter?” John Ryan was focused, as I said, he was the first chancellor, know what he was focused on? Getting one student to come. And when she showed up, he was happy.

“We started out on a construction site. So my responsibility was infrastructure, not only the physical infrastructure of this campus but the academic infrastructure of this campus. And to build the reputation of this campus. There was a time when the University of Massachusetts, Boston, would beg to be mentioned in the same sentence as “the” in any newspaper. Over the last month, you see that there’s a lot of interest in this institution [chuckles] because we’re on the rise. But that didn’t happen without a lot of hard work by a lot of people over the years, and so I’m grateful to you for your patience. I appreciate your support. You know, I hear about it. Most of the time I don’t read about it, because sometimes that just gets in the way of the work that you’re trying to do. But I hear about it, and I’m so grateful to you. As students, I’ve always thought that your support was what mattered to me the most. Your opinions matter to me the most.

‘It’s scary for some, but here we come’

You know, some of my peers’ opinions … well, I don’t want to call anyone haters or whatever, but this institution is on the move. It’s scary for some people that we woke up. And here we come. And guess what I’m proudest about. It can’t be turned back. It’s here. It’s in the ground. It’s no longer the idea of some folks from Dorchester who had an idea of an institution over fifty years ago.

“Oh, they were hoping that they could do something, well let’s put them on a dump! They’ll never make it.” Now people are talking about the waterfront views and the oceanfront campus …as though there was never an infrastructure problem here. And guess what. I’m proud of that.

“So I said last week – some of you were there – that I have no regrets. All I have is unbelievable memories and I have great anticipation for the future of this institution. And with your leadership and with your growth and your support, I can sit at, serve, watch, contribute to, and know that, you know, we’re making a difference and continue to make a difference together. …

“Thank you all. Thank you for letting me have this moment, to be with you and also to feel the love from you today. It matters to me. And every now and then, when I am on sabbatical over the next year, if you see this tall guy with an afro wig on, hiding in the corner walking around campus, please don’t call campus police. It’s probably just little old me, needing to see you.”