In a tribute to former students who have gone on to do great things, The University of Texas at Tyler Alumni Association recognized five graduates during this year's Alumni and Friends Awards Gala.
This year's distinguished alumni honorees were Dr. Kenneth Hall, Jimmy Peņa, S. Glynn Roberts and Bryan Hughes. Deborah Tinsley received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award.
Derrith Bondurant, UT Tyler's director of alumni relations, said these alumni are not only successful, but “we believe that they're on a path to do things even greater.”
Distinguished Alumni Awards are presented to alumni who have set themselves apart themselves in their professional achievements, contributions to society and support of the university.
The Distinguished Alumni Service Award recognizes the contributions individuals make to others. It recognizes someone who has demonstrated a high-level of commitment and serves as a supreme example, inspiring people to help others, according to a university news release.
Dr. Sherri and Mark Whatley received the “Big Time Award” for going above and beyond to make a difference for the association. The couple held a party at their home for Tyler alumni and some faculty and staff.
“It really connected us, engaged us and we were able to celebrate together,” said Ms. Bondurant.
Deborah Tinsley, a registered nurse, is owner of Exceptional Home Care in Tyler. A 1993 graduate, she earned a bachelor's degree in nursing.
Her business opened in 2002 with one pediatric home care patient. Now, more than 500 employees serve medically fragile children in 78 Texas counties.
Friends and colleagues described her as a risk-taker and a dedicated and caring woman.
Dr. Kenneth Hall is Baylor University's vice president for university development and strategic initiatives.
A 1974 UT Tyler graduate, he earned a bachelor's degree in history as a member of the school's first graduating class. At the time the school was Tyler State College.
Hall served as president and CEO of Buckner International from 1994-2010 and as president emeritus from 2010 until his retirement in 2012, according to the news release.
He was president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 2003 and has served as pastor of many churches. He is a principal of Long View Equity Partners LLC.
Friends and colleagues described him as a problem solver, a man who likes challenges and who takes relationships very seriously.
State Rep. Bryan Hughes is a 1992 graduate of UT Tyler. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics with cum laude distinction.
He represents District 5 in the Texas House of Representatives where he serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Business and Economic Development, and Regulatory Agencies, according to biographical information. He also serves on the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.
He is the first person in his family to receive a bachelor's degree and is a solo practice lawyer and small businessman.
Hughes was described as an intelligent and personable man who doesn't take himself too seriously. His desire is to serve the state and others, former state Rep. Leo Berman said in the video presentation.
Jimmy Peņa is founder of PrayFit, a faith-based fitness/training brand, according to a UT Tyler news release.
He earned a master's degree in kinesiology from UT Tyler in 1998. Peņa, who is a New York Times bestselling author, has been the exercise physiologist to Tyler Perry, Mario Lopez and LL Cool J, according to biographical information.
Peņa's friends and former professors described his as an energetic man who was serious about his faith. He believed in the power of a person's desire to push them to achieve great things.
He initially wanted to be a baseball player, but after an injury sidelined him from the sport, he realized his love for fitness, Ms. Bondurant said.
S. Glynn Roberts is president of Northstar Offshore Group, an oil and gas production company headquartered in Houston. Roberts grew up in Tyler and earned a bachelor's degree in marketing from UT Tyler in 1977.
He went on to earn an MBA from the University of Houston and completed an Owner President Management Program at Harvard Business School, according to the biographical information. He has been a part of the oil and gas business for more than 30 years.
“Literally, he is living his dream,” Ms. Bondurant said.
His friends and colleagues described him as a smart man and lifetime learner who is honest and generous. He's able to build consensus and has a magnetic personality, they said.
He encouraged people to make the most of their extracurricular opportunities, so to speak. Just as college students gain from their involvement in student organizations, so to do professionals gain from their time outside of the office.
Studies have shown that people's happiness and well being is most tied to their meaningful connections with people.
“The only thing that really matters in life are your relationship with other people,” he said.
He also encourages people to not make the world any worse. He said talent, creativity and hard work can be used for good and for bad.
“I'm not asking you to cure cancer,” he said. “I'm just asking you not spread it.”
He said there's value in taking time off whether that's a high school student before college, a college student before working, or a professional taking a vacation.
“If Bill Gates could do it while CEO of Microsoft, you can too,” he said.
Finally, he said he tells students he has no idea what the future will bring, but they will survive.
“We graduated, as many of you will or have, perfectly equipped to deal with nothing and yet we left well equipped to deal with everything,” he said. “And that is the gift of higher education.”