Five extraordinary Texas Law alumni were recognized at a gala ceremony on April 14 in downtown Austin. This year’s edition of the annual celebration of alumni greatness, presented by the Texas Law Alumni Association, unfolded over three festive hours, in a ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel. This year, the event also served as the kickoff for Alumni Weekend, which included reunion events at the law school on Saturday morning, a reception with the dean on Saturday afternoon, and ten parties for this year’s honored classes on Saturday night.
On hand Friday were alumni luminaries such as Demetrius McDaniel ’90—who, as president of the alumni association, served as the evening’s host—The Hon. Kay Bailey Hutchison ’67, The Hon. Rudy Metayer ’09, and The Hon. Chari L. Kelly ’03, among hundreds of others.
“This is when we celebrate the best of the best,” observed McDaniel. “People whose incredible accomplishments and service inspire us and make us proud to share the title, ‘alumni of The University of Texas School of Law.’”
The 2023 Alumni Award winners are The Hon. Marilyn Aboussie ’74, The Hon. Ronald Kirk ’79, The Hon. Barry Smitherman ’84, and Sandra Gonzalez ’09. In addition, Kris Kennedy ’95 was honored as the Mentor of the Year.
Aboussie, the longtime Chief Justice of Texas’ Third Court of Appeals, received the Association’s award for Lifetime Achievement, while Kirk, formerly the United States Trade Representative and Mayor of Dallas, was given the Outstanding Alumnus Award. Smitherman, the founder and managing partner of Smitherman + Associates, a former Texas Railroad Commissioner, and a current Texas Law adjunct professor, was recognized as the Distinguished Alumnus for Community Service. Gonzalez, who serves as the Chief Compliance Officer at HID Global, was honored as the association’s Outstanding Young Alumna.
In addition to McDaniel, the audience of nearly 300 heard from Dean Bobby Chesney, who managed to take a selfie from the podium with the entire crowd in the background, and alumni presenters Taylor Holcomb ‘10, Rob Little ‘98, and Bruce Broillet ‘74.
One of the evening’s most inspiring speeches came from current Texas Law student Arielle Allen ’24, who was on hand to present the Mentor of the Year award. “Kris has been an invaluable guiding force in my journey through law school as a first-generation student who dropped out of high school,” said Allen. “Even attending college was a huge achievement for me, so entering law school as a single mother was an entirely new challenge. Kris’s dedication to my success is a true testament to the impact mentorship can have on someone’s life.”
Allen’s speech was just the first of a number of emotional and heartfelt speeches. Smitherman and Aboussie were each moved to tears when accepting their awards, Smitherman when discussing his commitment to Brookwood in Georgetown, an innovative program that provides work and resources for adults with special needs.
“(Brookwood) is really a love story, about a mom and a dad with a special needs daughter desperately searching for a place for her to be when she graduated high school,” said Smitherman from the stage. “And when they couldn’t find it, they built it. It’s now ten years on, and I am just so blessed that Erin and John have allowed me to come along for the ride.”
Aboussie brought out tears and laughs both when, in reflecting on how male-dominated the profession was when she arrived at Texas Law in 1971, she recalled the press coverage of her legal education in her hometown of Wichita Falls.
“The headline was ‘Woman Goes to Law School,’” Aboussie dryly recalled.
The guffaws that followed Aboussie’s delivery of that memory were representative of many laughs throughout the evening, which was as joyous as it was moving.
Indeed, one theme of the night was the lifetime of emotions—and the highs and lows that go with them—from the alumni connections to the school and to one another.
“You don’t go to law school for just three years,” reflected Chesney. “You go to law school for a lifetime of connection to a place and – if it’s a place like Texas Law – a place with the mindset that when you’re joining a family, you stay in it forever.”
Below, we summarize each award, its recipient, and its presentation.
Outstanding Young Alumna
The first award of the evening, the Outstanding Young Alumna – which recognizes someone with remarkable professional accomplishments before the age of 40 – went to Sandra Gonzalez ’09. Gonzalez is the Chief Compliance Officer for HID Global, where she oversees, manages, and administers HID’s Ethics and Corporate Compliance Program on a global basis. Before joining HID, Gonzales practiced law at Greenberg Traurig in Austin, first as an associate and then as a shareholder from 2017-22. She also serves as a Texas Law mentor.
McDaniel, who has worked with Gonzalez at two different firms, had the honor of introducing her. “Sandra has all of the qualities for this distinguished award as she continues to contribute mightily in the field of law,” he said. “Sandra has always been phenomenal in terms of how she carries herself and how she interacts with others. Her long hours, the quality of her work, and the quality caliber of her personality made it a very easy choice in terms of becoming a shareholder.”
Distinguished Alumnus for Community Service
The Hon. Barry Smitherman ’84 was named the Association’s Distinguished Alumnus for Community Service. Smitherman is an attorney, consultant, investor, and board member for not-for-profit and for-profit organizations. He is the chairman, president, and co-founder of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance, and is an independent director of CenterPoint Energy, Inc. Previously he served on the Texas Railroad Commission and on the Public Utility Commission of Texas, including four years as chairman. Smitherman is the chairman of the board of Brookwood in Georgetown, a non-profit community serving adults with disabilities. He also is an adjunct professor at Texas Law, teaching Energy Law each spring.
In his introduction, Taylor Holcomb ’10 provided an overview of Smitherman’s background, which includes many facets of public and community service. He also commented on the importance of Smitherman’s work. “We need you, Barry, and others like you to continue leading in a mission-driven way to make a difference in the lives of others,” said Holcomb. “You have made a positive difference in my life, and I’m confident that you’ll continue to do so for me and for many others for years to come.”
Outstanding Alumnus Award
The Outstanding Alumnus Award was presented to the Hon. Ron Kirk ’79 by Law School Foundation Vice Chair Susan Blount ’81. Ron Kirk is senior of counsel in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Dallas and Washington, D.C. offices. Previously he was the 16th United States Trade Representative and was a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, serving as the President’s principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson on trade issues. He also was the first African American mayor of Dallas and served as the Texas Secretary of State.
“I think the title ambassador is the one that best encapsulates Ron,” said Rob Little ’98 during Kirk’s introduction. “He is an ambassador for civil rights, democratic ideals, the rule of law, civil discourse, and common sense in our public arena, finding common ground for the public good. and pushing all of us to be our best selves.”
The final award of the evening – Lifetime Achievement – was presented to the Hon. Marilyn Aboussie ’74. Aboussie served as a justice of the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, for 17 years, including five years as Chief Justice. Before that, she was a judge for the 340th District Court of Texas in Tom Green County. Her judicial career followed a successful law practice in Houston and San Angelo. Since her retirement from the Texas Court of Appeals, she has served as a Senior Judge for the State of Texas.
In presenting Aboussie with her award, Bruce Broillet ’74 shared the following: “Emerson once wrote ‘Do not go where the path may lead. Instead, lead the path and make a trail.’ And she has done that beautifully over the years. She has opened doors for women, and she became again, not just a great woman judge, but a great judge who just happens to be a woman.”
Additional information about the alumni award, including links to videos and photos, is available at:
- Award winner tribute videos
- Alumni Awards 2023 Flickr album photos
- 2022-23 Alumni Awards announcement
The awards committee of the Alumni Association Executive Committee selects the award recipients at its spring meeting, choosing from nominations submitted by the entire alumni community. Read more about the Alumni Awards.