Outstanding Alumni Breakfast

By Britt Nunn

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Six outstanding alumni share more than just an education from Texas Tech University. On Oct. 16 they shared laughter and even tears, as they were honored for their contributions to the field of mass communications at the College of Media & Communication awards breakfast.

The serving line for the Mass Communications Outstanding Alumni Breakfast opened at 7:45 on Saturday morning, and by 8 a.m. the banquet hall of the Merket Alumni Center was full of Texas Tech faculty, students, advisory committee and alumni chatting light-heartedly with one another over bacon and eggs.

Attendees proudly boasted bold red-and-black clothing in anticipation for the football game later that afternoon, and the air was charged with that familiar game-day excitement.

The soft buzz of conversation, sporadically punctuated by sharps notes of laughter, wafted through the room, but settled promptly when the emcee, Jim Douglass, began the introductions.

Douglass advised guests to get comfortable in their seats and keep their eyes on a screen that was set up at the front of the room because a short video would be played for each outstanding alumni honoree. After the clip, the honoree would be asked to come forward to be presented with a plaque by Jerry Hudson, Ph.D., the founding dean of the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech.

“And then we invite the honoree to come to the podium to offer some brief remarks – and brief was the optimal word in that sentence,” Douglass quipped, and the audience chuckled in response. “We know that you’d like to thank everyone on the planet, but please don’t mention them by name.”

Linda Francis Lee

Linda Francis Lee, who received a bachelor’s degree in advertising from Texas Tech in 1981, was the first outstanding alumni honored at the ceremony.

Lee is a Texas native but now lives in New York City. She has written 19 novels, and her work has been published in 16 countries. Lee’s next novel, set to be released in 2011, is about the redemption of a man. She currently is co-developing a TV series with producer Jonathan Price, and two of her novels are in development for film.

The audience watched as the video began to play and pictures from Lee’s life flashed across the screen.

“We don’t know a lot about Linda’s childhood, but we do know that Linda always wanted to try something new and different,” the video said. “Linda was active in high school in a glamorous way. You might say she was recognized for her beauty by a couple of non-mainstream organizations.

“For example, her high school wrestling team selected Linda as their wrestling queen. Then in college, as a 17-year-old freshman, she was elected Watermelon Bust Queen. Family members would have fun with that one for many years and joked that this recognition was the highlight of her college career.”

The video warned the audience to “beware.”

“Linda may take something you say or do and include it in one of her books,” it said and continued with several examples.

When the video was over, Lee received her award and took the podium.

“I want more than a brief response to defend myself,” Lee joked, “but I’ll be brief. Even though I write long novels, I’ll be short here.”

Before thanking her family and friends for their help and encouragement, Lee explained it was while she was studying mass communications at Texas Tech that she discovered what she wanted in life. Texas Tech was also where she first began her long and successful writing career.

Kelly Overley, Ph.D.

The second outstanding alumni honored at the breakfast was Kelly Overley, Ph.D., from Lubbock.

Overley earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Texas Tech in 1992, and was honored at the ceremony for her position as the Texas Tech vice chancellor of institutional advancement and chief operating officer of the Texas Tech Foundation. Overley is responsible for all fundraising initiatives at Texas Tech, which has an endowment of $750 million.

Again, the video began to play, showing the audience humorous pictures of Overley’s childhood.

“Family members and friends say Kelly has always been competitive,” the video said. “Kelly decided she wanted to be the first woman on the moon, and she talked about it a lot. Her mom asked, ‘what if another woman got their first?’ Without hesitation, and with confidence, she said, ‘I don’t plan to take another woman with me.’”

Overley received her award and took the podium.

“I feel like I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life,” Overley said, “but the very best decision I ever made was coming to Texas Tech and being a student in the college of mass comm.”

Overly continued by thanking her parents and grandmother for teaching her to be a strong, independent woman, and she thanked her friends for their support. She also thanked Chancellor Kent Hance for giving her the position at Texas Tech.

“When you gave me this job you said it would change my life, and it has,” Overley said. “I’m having the time of my life, and you have made my dreams come true.”

Telea Johnson Stafford

The third outstanding alumni recognized was Telea Johnson Stafford, who received her bachelor’s degree in advertising from Texas Tech in 1994.

Stafford was honored for her experience of more than 15 successful years in brand marketing, consumer licensing and media. She is currently employed by Phenixx Marketing, LLC, as the director of brand marketing and business development.

The video said Stafford was born a natural entrepreneur, even as a young girl.

“Once family members thought she was out playing with the neighborhood children when the doorbell rang. A neighbor said, ‘did you know that Talea is going door-to-door trying to sell her clothing?’ She told her dad she just wanted to make some extra money.”

The video said a friend of Stafford commented that Talea is committed, and if she says she is going to do something, she does it. Stafford’s husband, who was unable to make it to the event, congratulated Stafford on her achievement through a short video clip.

After receiving her award and taking the podium, Stafford gave an earnest thanks to her family, friends and to Texas Tech.

Rick Walker

Rick Walker, from Seattle, Wash., earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Texas Tech in 1990.

Walker is the director of strategic alliance for Microsoft within its telecommunications and media-focus team, where he is responsible for Microsoft’s go-to-market sales and business development efforts with key partners in the U.S. and internationally.

The video described Walker as being a very active individual, particularly in his younger years. It said he liked cars, camping and just being in the great outdoors. The video also told about a time when Walker was working in Russia and his life was in danger, but he remained calm and helped his employees first.

“Rick’s friends have the highest respect for him,” the video said. “They have very vivid memories of talking with Rick about work, life and family. They admire his friendship and positive attitude.”

After the video, Walker told the audience he had been contemplating his acceptance speech for weeks by taking the time to consider what his time at Texas Tech had taught him. He said his time at Texas Tech had not only taught him certain skills but had also empowered him, and his personal life is a testament to that.

“In my personal life, we’ve had some challenges. I’d first like to introduce my wife, Stacy. We’ve been married 15 years. Two years ago Stacy was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer,” Walker paused, tearing up. “In September of last year, she was given about 10 months to live – 13 months later she’s here with me today, and I am so proud of her.

“I think about heroes and people that I admire – there’s no better hero and no one that means more to me than my wife.”

Walker continued by saying one of the most important things he gained from his time at Texas Tech was his ability to write, which has allowed him to write about his experiences online, to keep people updated on his wife’s condition as well as to receive and offer encouragement.

“When I think of an acquired skill, I can’t think of a better example to see how they’ve empowered me, and how they’ve enlightened others,” he said.

Holly Williams

Holly Williams, from Brooklyn, New York, earned a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from Texas Tech in 1984 and a master’s degree in mass communications in 1985, also from Texas Tech.

Williams was honored for her position as a successful sales and marketing professional, in which she has gained experience from years of involvement in direct selling, sales and marketing management, new product development and high-level corporate consulting.

According to the video, Williams’ friends describe her as a “force of nature.”

One friend said Williams fits well in the state of Texas because “she has an over-sized personality. She enters a room like a tornado and makes friends with everyone immediately.”

“Even after 20-plus years in New York, she still has that Texas accent, and her Texas-sized enthusiasm for life,” the video stated.

The video said Williams has many colleagues who went to Ivy League schools and sometimes give her a hard time for not getting her education in the Ivy League. However, in response, Williams only laughs and replies that she ended up in the same place they did, spent a lot less money getting her education, and undoubtedly had a better time.

After the clip, Williams accepted her award and gave a sincere thanks to her family, friends and to Texas Tech.

“And yes, I did have a good time,” Williams said. “And I just want to say, if you are a C student, there is hope – thank God.”

Clay Wright

Clay Wright, from Albuquerque, N.M., earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas Tech in 1981.

Wright is currently the executive producer and owner of Desert Productions Inc., a company that offers diverse projects covering news, broadcast, film and corporate accounts. Wright has held several prestigious positions within the news industry, and while working as a reporter for NBC, he covered several important stories, including Hurricane Katrina, Enron, the shuttle disaster, and the U.S.-Iraq War. He has earned two Emmy Awards and received numerous other awards for his work.

The video said Wright was – and still is – very close to his father, and said his friends describe him as an outdoors person. He was the editor of his fifth grade newspaper and later his high school newspaper, and also worked for the newspaper at Texas Tech.

“Clay might have been the only student who enjoyed taking Dr. Harmon Morgan’s News Editing class at Texas Tech,” the video stated, and a ripple of laughter broke out among the audience. “He was impressed by Dr. Morgan’s knowledge and attention to detail when editing his assignments.”

After receiving his award and taking the podium, Wright admitted that he didn’t know he was going to have to say anything.

“So, I’m going to do what I did all through college – wing it,” he said.

He said the Texas Tech red-and-black colors run deep in the blood of his family. In fact, he said he is the 10th Texas Tech graduate in his family.

“I am honored and humbled to be a part of this group and these people,” Wright said. “Thank you so much, and you are very much appreciated.”