Stilwell Award winner Dr. Mark Porterie delivers passionate remarks about unity, education

Published 10:12 pm Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from the Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Mark Porterie had a little bit of a challenge when he took the stage Thursday night at Robert A “Bob” Bowers Civic Center.

The Port Arthur Independent School District superintendent was accepting the Arthur E. Stilwell Award.

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His name and speech were listed near the bottom of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce 123rd Annual Banquet agenda. He was also taking the stage two hours and 51 minutes after the event’s social hour had begun at 6 p.m., and some in the sold out crowd were starting to tire.

Porterie acknowledged that instantly, telling the crowd he would be brief.

For the first four minutes and 44 seconds he thanked those who helped him along his professional path, including family and colleagues. He graciously acknowledged past recipients of the award as titans in the community.

Porterie said Port Arthur has been good to him, providing many opportunities, adding he met “some of the most wonderful” people representing all nationalities and racial backgrounds in his own community.

“It’s a wonderful place to live; it’s Port Arthur,” he said. “We live here, we fight amongst ourselves, but we know how to get past that. We love one another and have proven that.

“In Hurricane Harvey, we didn’t know who was picking us up at our door on a boat. They all came to the rescue, and it didn’t matter what color you were, because we all needed help. That is what Port Arthur stands for.”

Porterie took the stage Thursday night after one of the evening’s previous speakers made a string of off-script comments that dampened a very excited and enthusiastic audience. More than 800 people were on hand to celebrate the chamber and the 125th birthday celebration of the City of Port Arthur.

Porterie helped shine the light back on those unifying themes by talking about subjects he knows best: students and education.

“We have 8,200 of the best students right here,” he told the crowd. “Are they all well behaved? Absolutely not. However, they are ours and they are children.

“When you see 4 year olds and elementary students talking to one another and laughing with one another, you understand they are children. When they come into this world, they don’t look at color or poverty. They don’t look at a student and feel they don’t like you because of who you are. They like everyone. They are kids. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we just looked at each other as people, just human beings?”

The Port Arthur superintendent stressed education is one of the best professions anyone can choose.

He passionately asked those in attendance to appreciate educators, specifically focusing on parents to say they must appreciate educators because children are limited without an education.

“This community will thrive if our students are educated,” he said. “It will falter if they are not.”

He closed his remarks nearly ten minutes to the dot after he began with a impassioned declaration for unity.

“I’m happy to be a Port Arthurian with the Blacks, the Whites, the Hispanics, the Asians, everyone that is here,” he said. “I love you all. We are all in it together, and we’re going to stay together. That is what makes Port Arthur great.”

Following the event, Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Pat Avery released a statement:

“Regrettably, on Thursday, January 26th, at the 123rd Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet, the invited speaker made comments during his speech that were not representative of our Chamber’s values or our community’s standards. We apologize to our board, members, guests, general public, and regret that his remarks were offensive.”