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Humanitarian Award Presented
The Huntsville Item
Returning to what he considers his second home, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand was among friends and family in Huntsville as he accepted the Sam Houston Humanitarian Award from the president of his alma mater Wednesday.
"It's about 2 a.m. (in Thailand) right now, but for some reason I am not at all tired. I think that is because I feel like I have returned to my other home and I am among family and friends today," Shinawatra said during the ceremony.
In an event attended by not only university authorities, but also former criminal justice professors, classmates, foreign dignitaries and Houston-based Thai community leaders, Sam Houston State University president James Gaertner hung a medallion around the neck of the 1979 doctoral graduate in honor of his lifetime achievements Wednesday at the Beto Criminal Justice Center.
The prime minister was only the fourth person honored with the award since 1993, when it was established in honor of Texas hero Sam Houston's 200th birthday.
Shinawatra said being among such an elite group of honorees -- former President George H.W. Bush, former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and Lech Walesa, the former leader of a Polish trade union that fought Soviet rule in the 1980s -- makes him feel deeply honored.
"That feeling was magnified when I learned that (Baker and Bush) were Texans," said the first international student admitted into the criminal justice doctoral program. "And although I am Thai-born, you can count me as another Texan. I consider Texas my second home after living so many years here."
The Sam Houston Humanitarian Award recognizes people who exhibit responsible and distinguished leadership and service; notable contributions to humanity; a record of civic and cultural involvement; pursuit of educational and scholarly quests; and empowerment of others toward equality for humankind, all qualities associated with Sam Houston.
The selection of the prime minister by SHSU's President's Cabinet was unanimous, Gaertner said.
"What is so special about this award today is this honoree is one of Sam Houston's own," he said.
And Shinawatra has not forgotten his transplanted Texas roots.
"I know how much he loves Sam Houston," said Rolando Del Carmen, an SHSU professor who taught Shinawatra in the 1970s. "He still asks about his classmates -- how they are and where they are now, and he asks about former faculty -- are they still here and are they still teaching."
While the faculty and students at SHSU made an impression on Shinawatra, he also made a lasting impression on the program.
"Dr. Beto, who had a part in admitting Thaksin and others into the (doctoral) program, said anybody who comes from the land of Thaksin is good enough for him," Del Carmen said. "So, he opened the door for international students in the (doctoral) program, and it remains that way today."
However, opening the door to the program for international students was not his first contribution to society. Shinawatra said he has been making the effort to contribute to his community since he was a boy.
"As an adult, I set my sights higher, wanting to make a difference not only in my city, but my country and the world," he said.
Since entering office as the prime minister of Thailand nearly two years ago, Shinawatra has done just that, providing educational opportunities with the establishment of Shinawatra University near Bangkok, the establishment of "people's banks" in villages throughout the county and offering help to other nations less fortunate than his own.
"You truly deserve this award for being such a visionary leader for the people of Thailand," Del Carmen said.
Shinawatra is recognized in his homeland as a successful businessman, politician and former police officer. Throughout the years, he has been honored with many awards, however he said this one holds a special place in his heart.
"I have received many awards during my life, and I would not normally care, but this one is special to me because it comes from my university -- a place that I am proud to say I was a student at," he said. "I gained a lot of knowledge from Sam Houston and started my family life here, so it is special to me."
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See also:Frank Krystyniak
Oct. 24, 2002
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