More than 500 family members, friends and UC Irvine students, alumni and colleagues gathered Wednesday, Aug. 18, to honor retiring Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Manuel Gomez. Vicki Ruiz, humanities dean, kicked things off by announcing that the program would be one of eating, drinking and laughing. By evening’s end, a few tears had fallen too.
Speakers described Gomez as a leader who, in his 38 years of service to the campus, inspired countless students to meet their goals; laid a strong and lasting foundation for academic, character and leadership excellence at UCI; and supported student diversity programs. That legacy was recognized with an anonymous $100,000 donation to the XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship that Gomez established.
He responded to the tributes with characteristic humility: “One’s legacy is not the same as one’s identity. You come here to honor the role that I have the privilege and honor of holding; you honor the staff. When you honor my accomplishments, you honor the accomplishments of my colleagues. How I wish my own words could carry more power and meaning. But they fail me today. At this very moment, the simple, sincere phrase ‘thank you’ has to carry the immense load of my gratitude to all of you.”
Here is a sampling of the tributes to Gomez:
Chancellor Michael Drake: “The institution as we know it might have the same buildings. It might even have many of the same people. But the institution as we know it would not have the same heart without Manuel Gomez. He truly represents the heart and the soul of this institution. A wise mentor once advised me that when it comes to people, there is a huge difference between an A and an A+. Manuel Gomez is an A+.”
Michael Gottfredson, executive vice chancellor and provost: “Imagine UCI without the Center for Educational Partnerships. Imagine UCI without an admissions group that does a spectacular job. Imagine UCI without the residence hall programs that are the envy of the nation. I can’t imagine UCI without Manuel Gomez. He’s played too big a role, had too big an influence. And it’s a lasting influence that has built an institution we’re all proud to be affiliated with because he’s been affiliated with it.”
Vicki Ruiz, dean, UCI School of Humanities: “Instead of leaving a carbon footprint, he’s leaving a huge huarache footprint. As the poet Pat Mora says, ‘We do not travel alone. Our people are deep within us.’”
Dennis Galligani of the Center for Educational Partnerships: “Manuel Gomez is two people – a wonderful poet who writes, talks and thinks poetically, and an extraordinary administrator.”
Jesse Cheng, UC student regent: “My first year as an Anteater, my sole passion was to get that man to know my name. My second year, he turned to me and said, ‘How are you doing, Jesse?’ and my world changed. I will leave here as I came in – with the sole purpose of making Dr. Gomez proud.”
Sitara Nayudu, president, Associated Students of UCI: “For 38 years, he has been doing amazing things for students, helping them fulfill their dreams. I’ve only had this job for two months, but in that time, no one could have left a more positive and profound impact. He is warm, approachable and encouraging. The sincerity is really there.”
Janina Montero, vice chancellor of student affairs, UCLA: “We are losing our undisputed leader – the one we can count on to push us and prod us for the right answers, especially when they are uncomfortable. He has a generous spirit, heart and mind. He is the best a human can be.”