UNT star power on display at Emerald Eagle Honors

Meredith Dickenson

For one special evening, Dallas became the Emerald City as several hundred UNT alumni and supporters came out for the inaugural Emerald Eagle Honors.

The star-studded gala at the Morton H .Meyerson Symphony Center gave UNT a big stage to tell its story, with proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorships benefitting the Emerald Eagle Scholars program.

The evening was short on official speeches and long on live music, good-natured ribbing and UNT pride. Celebrities such as former Dallas Cowboy Drew Pearson, former Dallas mayor and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb paid homage to the night’s honorees: UNT alumni Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm, “Mean” Joe Greene and the late rock ’n’ roll legend Roy Orbison.

Some of the evening’s more memorable moments included the popular Dallas band Prophets and Outlaws playing a rousing version of “Proud Mary” for Suhm as she stood for a standing ovation from the crowd.

Loeb began her remarks on Orbison by singing the first lines to “Only the Lonely” — “dum dum dum dum-do-ah, yay, yay, yay” — and went on to recount the influence he had on her and others.

“Nobody in rock ’n’ roll history sang quite like Roy Orbison,” said Loeb. “Not only live, but in the studio, his voice was theatrical. His voice was at a place where opera and soul, Sinatra and rock ’n’ roll meshed.”

Another highlight came when Pearson introduced a satirical version of Greene’s famous 1980 Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial, this time starring former Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach.

“Even though you cost us two Super Bowl rings, Joe, not one of my teammates would question my being here today,” said Pearson.

Audience member Michael H. Drury (’67, ’73 M.B.A.) enjoyed meeting some of the Emerald Eagle Scholars and their families at the pre-show reception. He recently made a $1 million bequest in support of scholarships for the Emerald Eagle Scholars program.

“When I attended the university, if you could work a minimum-wage job and save money, you could afford to attend UNT,” said Drury. “With state support declining and tuition so high, that’s not possible anymore. I came from modest means and I want to see other people have the same chance that I did.”

UNT alumni Melissa Rycroft Strickland, who won Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars, and actor Peter Weller, who is best known for starring in RoboCop and this summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness, hosted the show. Weller reminisced about his UNT days.

“I wasn’t a terribly serious student at North Texas State University, as it was called then. I majored in misbehaving,” said Weller.

UNT President V. Lane Rawlins thanked them for hosting the evening and called them “wonderful examples of just how far a UNT education can take you – all the way to Hollywood in their cases.” In one of the more moving tributes from the evening, about 100 Emerald Eagle Scholars entered from the back of the Meyerson hall and walked down the aisles to the stage carrying green glow sticks to symbolize the green light to greatness afforded them because of a UNT college education. During the procession, singer-songwriter Bean performed “Aim Higher Now,” an original song composed for the show. Rawlins announced a $100,000 matching challenge for gifts made to the Emerald Eagle Scholars program. In addition, UNT Foundation Chairman Ken Newman said that the Foundation had established three funds in the honorees’ names and donors may designate to which fund they would like to direct their gifts. To make a gift, go online to unt.edu/givenow or call Lynne Richards at the UNT Foundation at 940-565-8678.

Photo: From left to right UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson, Johnny Rose, a longtime friend of Roy Orbison, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and "Mean" Joe Greene and UNT President V. Lane Rawlins share the green carpet at the inaugural Emerald Eagle Honors event.