A Glimpse of Graduation

Shahina Shad

Bachelor of Science, Mathematical Sciences

Iris KwongDr. Daniel, Dr. Coleman, deans, faculty and administration members, distinguished guests, and fellow students: I am honored and grateful for this opportunity. As I take the liberty of speaking on your behalf my fellow students, I will do my best to voice your thoughts on this momentous day, but please bear with me if I include personal perspectives as well.

Four years ago, when I decided to go back to school, most people who knew me could not understand why a housewife and mom with no family in town, and whose husband travels every week on business would want to return to the grind of student life. The one exception was my aunt, a practicing physician in Missouri. She was thrilled with my decision and assured me that I would never regret it. She quoted something she once read: "Get an education. It adorns you when you are rich and feeds you when you are poor."

We all agree that an education in any field opens a window to a world of knowledge and develops intellect, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. However, I believe that an education, especially one from a prestigious institute of higher education such as The University of Texas at Dallas accomplishes much more. It builds character ó it refines and polishes the soul as well as the mind. It teaches core values such as patience and perseverance.

Remember those challenging assignments, impossible projects, and nerve-wrecking exams? Boy, did we struggle, but we hung in there, and eventually succeeded. No matter how difficult the task, we learned to be patient, worked hard, and rose to the occasion. At UTD, we met students from diverse backgrounds and also learned respect for different points of view and cultures. A quality education teaches all of us that, but most importantly, it instills humility Ė for an education broadens our horizons and teaches us how much more there is to learn. Itís no coincidence that some of my best and most knowledgeable professors are also some of the humblest people I know. They understand, as we all should, that education is not an end in itself, and one doesnít always need the traditional four walls of a classroom to acquire knowledge. Hopefully, learning will be a life-long process for us, and, after graduation, the world will become our new classroom. Into this classroom, we will take valuable lessons that helped us to succeed at UTD. For me, two such lessons are to have a competitive spirit and a willingness to take chances.

So, if we have more knowledge and are better human beings today than yesterday, then the last twenty-four hours of our lives have enriched us. As we encounter cutthroat competition in our future careers, we must remember to compete with ourselves, and ourselves only, to stay motivated, sane, and ethically grounded.

By competition, I donít mean competition with classmates to earn better grades and get ahead. Grades are important, but more important is a "healthy" competition with oneself that brings out the best in each one of us. Whenever I am tempted to compete with others, words of the Olympic gold medalist Geoffrey Gaberino echo in my mind: "The real contest is always between what youíve done and what youíre capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else." So, if we have more knowledge and are better human beings today than yesterday, then the last 24 hours of our lives have enriched us. As we encounter cutthroat competition in our future careers, we must remember to compete with ourselves, and ourselves only, to stay motivated, sane, and ethically grounded.

I stumbled upon my second lesson quite unexpectedly. While browsing the local news one night, my husband and I saw a man gleefully receive a lottery check. Casually, I asked my husband, "How come I never win the lottery?" Just as casually, he glanced at me and asked, "Do you ever buy a ticket?" We all have potential, but some of us are unable to realize it to the fullest because we hesitate to "buy the ticket" or take a chance at success. We hesitate because doing so takes us outside our comfort zone, leaving us vulnerable to failure. For a moment, we forget that neither failure nor rejection is fatal because, after all, we have lived through them before and will live through them again. If we envision ourselves winning rather than failing, not only do we increase our chances of success, but also find ourselves exceeding our own expectations, as I recently did. When I received the invitation to submit a speech for this ceremony, I was ecstatic, but within seconds panic struck. "English is not my native language!" "Iím a math major for heavenís sakeówriting is not my forte!" "What if my speech is rejected or I have stage-fright?" The nauseating, self-defeating voices in my head were endless, but I knew that if I desperately wanted the honor, I would have to buy the ticket. So, despite my handicaps, I mustered courage and wrote my speech from the heart. By worrying prematurely about failure, I almost let an opportunity of a lifetime slip by and would not be standing here today.

If we envision ourselves winning rather than failing, not only do we increase our chances of success, but also find ourselves exceeding our own expectations, as I recently did.

Speaking of today, we have reached an important milestoneóachieved an important goal in our lives, but graduation must not be our last goal. Letís set another goal for ourselvesóa higher goal. Some of us may go on to graduate school to earn advanced degrees while some of us may consider employment for professional growth. No matter what path we choose, letís strive for excellence on a daily basis until it becomes second nature. Aristotle once said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." Letís work toward this goal, not only for ourselves, but also for those who have helped us reach this point. Today, letís show our deepest appreciation for our families and friends who guided us when we faltered, believed in us when we had doubts, and sacrificed throughout our academic journeys. As we commend ourselves, and our loved ones, letís also take a moment to thank the outstanding administration, staff, and professors of this university who encouraged us to strive for excellence and accepted nothing less than our very best.

My fellow graduates, I leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate. The world is all gates, all opportunities." UTD has prepared us well to enter the gates and embrace those opportunities. I wish you all the best of luck as your voyage continues on the course of success. Congratulations!

Shahina Shad graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in mathematics and a 3.94 GPA. She has previously received an Associate of Science degree from Collin County Community College and a Bachelorís degree in mathematics and statistics from the University of Karachi in her native Pakistan.

She is a Redman Scholar, a frequent member of the Deanís Honor List, a tireless volunteer both at the university and in her community, and a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Shahina will begin in the Masterís Program in Mathematics at UT Dallas in the spring 2008 semester.