Pro Bene Meritis 2013
The Pro Bene Meritis Award is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. First granted in 1984, it is given each spring to alumni, faculty and friends of the college who are committed to the liberal arts, have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits or have participated in service related to the college.
Ben Barnes was elected to the Texas House of Representatives at age 22. He went on to serve as house speaker and the youngest lieutenant governor in Texas history, achieving unparalleled state support for Texas public higher education. After leaving office, Barnes tried his hand at land development and was instrumental in creating the Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas. Now in his third career, he is a gifted fundraiser and governmental affairs advisor in Washington, D.C. The Houston Chronicle named him one of the “Ten Most Powerful Texans in Washington.”
Hometown: Gorman, Texas
Best UT experience: Taking a class on the History of World War II and making what would become a lifetime friendship with Dr. Otis Singletary. He was a distinguished World War II vet and just an incredible teacher and storyteller. He was a great mentor to me.
Best advice: I would say to anyone who is young and surrounded by peers who are older, the first thing to do is become a good listener and to seek the advice of your peers and older associates. And most important of all, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know. Would you mind telling me what this is about?” People will help you. People have a very kind spot in their hearts for young people who are trying to accomplish things. When I look back on my Speaker’s tenure—age 26 to 30—one of the first things I did in dealing with my fellow House members was to ask their advice and counsel on a lot of the issues.
Setting the bar high: There is not any challenge that’s really too great if you set your mind to it. It’s all right to set your goals so high that you won’t ever achieve them, but don’t fail with low goals. Shoot for the moon. Try to be the best at what you’re going to do and don’t be afraid of failure. Be willing to pick yourself up and start all over again because there are so many opportunities in life including service to your state and your country.
Dream job: Teaching. I enjoy going back to The University of Texas and other university campuses and exchanging ideas and thoughts with young people. One of the best sources of new knowledge and new understanding of today’s problems are young people, and particularly bright young students at The University of Texas.