September 24, 2018 | Jim Townsend
University of Houston-Clear Lake President Ira K. Blake celebrated her formal investiture Sept. 20 as the university’s fifth president. As the first woman and African-American president at the university, she said she is living proof of the American Dream.
“I am the daughter of cotton sharecroppers with elementary school educations, who believed that, despite their own lived hardships, this nation could provide opportunity for better outcomes for their children,” she told students, faculty, staff, UH System regents and other honored guests – including her mother and eponym, Ira Kincade.
She said her parents valued “the promise of education, and encouraged all of us children to go as far as our potential and interests would take us – believing simply that education is the key to a better future.”
And while her parents instilled the values of “hard work, persistence, respect, honesty, sharing, humility and a love for trying to do things better,” she recognized that “more was needed – and is needed – for an American Dreamer’s capacity to transcend stereotypic expectations associated with such characteristics as race, ethnicity, class, gender, or language. More is also needed to clarify a dreamer’s oft-times ambiguous ambition. That ‘more’ is support and opportunity contributed by others,” she said.
“I have gained so much knowledge, my skills have been enhanced, and my world perspective about others has been improved because of those who willingly served and continue to serve as mentors and role models. They come from diverse experiences and varied backgrounds, crisscrossing all human descriptors.”
For the trust and encouragement from all those who invested in her, she is impelled to do the same for others, she said. She shared advice she often heard from her late husband, Vaughn Richard Downey Blake, Sr., “who reminded me that I had a responsibility to help change the lives of regular, everyday people in order to make the world a better place for everyone. In essence, I also had a responsibility – to – the American Dream.”
Former provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, President Blake joined UH-Clear Lake in August 2017 – just two weeks before a Houston weather event. “Despite Hurricane Harvey’s attempt to scare me away, I remain humbled and honored to lead this extraordinary public institution of higher education.”
A university investiture traditionally takes place within the first year of a new president’s appointment. It formally marks the transference of authority and symbols of the office to the new president. The investiture capped a week of UHCL events surrounding the ceremony. The cities of Houston and Pearland declared Sept. 20 “Ira K. Blake Day,” commemorated in mayoral proclamations. U.S. Rep. Pete Olson and State Reps. Greg Bonnen and Dennis Paul sent their congratulatory greetings. Olson’s greeting included a congressional resolution. Kemah Mayor Carl Joiner was among the guests.
Pearland Mayor Tom Reid spoke in behalf of invited government representatives, and cited his city’s partnership with the university in opening UHCL Pearland Campus and its past president. But, as Reid said referencing President Blake after the past president’s retirement, “we were so, so fortunate to gain a rock star. She is something very special.”
“I knew she would fly high and fast as your new president,” said Bloomsburg University President Emeritus David L. Soltz. “She has studied and learned so much about the university and community, and the many challenges and opportunities that face UH-Clear Lake and all of public higher education.”
UH System Chancellor Renu Khator congratulated President Blake on the accomplishments of her first year, “made possible because of her leadership, but most definitely because of your support. Yours. Yes. Faculty, students, staff, alumni and community partners. It takes a village.”
Other speakers included Richard Walker, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment services for the UH System; Christal Albrecht, president of Alvin Community College; Durga Agrawal, regent from the UH System Board of Regents; and Kamlesh Lulla, director of University Collaboration and Partnership Office at NASA Johnson Space Center.
Speaking on behalf of UHCL were Faculty Senate President and Professor of Sociology Michael McMullen; University Staff Association President Marlene Richards; Student Government Association President Izuh K. Ikpeama and SGA Vice President Tyler Baggerley; and UHCL Distinguished Alumnus Micheal Reeves, ’77.
Thomas M. Stauffer, UHCL’s second president, offered a glimpse at UHCL’s past and its future promise. The Rev. Robert Barras, pastor of St. Bernadette Catholic Church, delivered invocations in Spanish and English.
To find out about more about President Blake, visit www.uhcl.edu/president.