A Glimpse of Graduation

Kerri West

Bachelor of Arts, American Studies

I've always done most of my introspection while riding in cars or trains or planes. There is something about being in a state of transition and existing in a sort of exhilarating limbo between one place and another that always makes me think in a larger sense about where I'm going and where I've been. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that I found my inspiration for this speech while sitting in seat C of row 12 on an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to New York.

During this particular flight, nothing but transition was on my mind. Not only was I changing countries, continents, languages, and time zones, and ending an amazing embassy internship with the U.S. State Department, I was flying toward an important interview, graduation, and in my mind, a looming deadline to make a decision about what I wanted to do with the next few years of my life.

This decision, and the mingled anxiety and excitement that comes with it, has been something that most of us have concerned ourselves with lately, and, at least for me, it was only as I was thinking about the "next step" and what I would do after graduation that I came to truly appreciate the significance of my time at UT Dallas. The impact that these past four years have had on me, and I’m sure on each of us as undergraduates, has been truly transformative.

I came to UT Dallas unsure of exactly who I was or where I fit in the world, and today, I stand near the end of my time here with a solid sense of identity, a wide but directed personal perspective and confidence in my plans to pursue a career in international law and advocacy.

Being at UTD has enabled me to do a lot of great things that I wouldn't have even imagined when I came here as a freshman. I’ve worked with the Landmine Ban Treaty in Geneva, Switzerland, interned with the legal office of the American Red Cross National Headquarters in DC, and I’ve had so many enriching experiences, whether through classes, student organizations, or studying abroad, that to name them all would not only strain my memory, but bore you. I came to UT Dallas unsure of exactly who I was or where I fit in the world, and today, I stand near the end of my time here with a solid sense of identity, a wide but directed personal perspective, and confidence in my plans to pursue a career in international law and advocacy.

And, most importantly, my experience is not unique. Each and every one of us graduating here today has been able to do really cool things as a student at UT Dallas. Each and every one of us has experienced a range of personal triumphs and even setbacks during our time here—all of which have helped to shape us, to mold us, and to develop us into more complex and capable versions of ourselves. This is the power of our university—the power to help us explore what it is that we want to ultimately be and the power to help us develop the tools that we need to become it. And now, as each of us approaches whatever it is that lies before us in the "next step," whether it is a job, graduate school, or something else, we may do so with the knowledge that, as graduates of UT Dallas, we are prepared to engage in the world not only effectively, but exceptionally.

Each and every one of us has experienced a range of personal triumphs and even setbacks during our time here—all of which have helped to shape us, to mold us, and to develop us into more complex and capable versions of ourselves. This is the power of our university—the power to help us explore what it is that we want to ultimately be and the power to help us develop the tools that we need to become it.

Looking out across all of the graduates today, I realize that I’ve never before seen us look so uniform. And while these lovely caps and gowns may mask our individual personalities and our broad diversity of styles and perspectives, this uniform that we wear today is useful to remind us of something significant. Today, and every day from now on, we will all be united by one common accomplishment. We are graduates of UT Dallas, and this accomplishment holds a great deal of meaning and merit. Individually, we are each, smart, interesting, capable, and unique. Collectively, as the UT Dallas Class of spring 2008, we are truly impressive, and there is very little that we cannot do. Among us there will be doctors who will save lives, teachers who will shape lives, and people like myself — coming from many other disciplines in between — who will work to change lives.

It is difficult to fully describe what exactly our graduation here today represents. So, to do this, I decided to borrow the words of someone else — a quote from Jack Kerouac that, once again, holds special meaning for me, because I first read it while I was on a flight to Geneva last year:

"What is the feeling when you’'re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it’'s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’'s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."

There are no better words to describe how I, and I’m sure most of us, feel about becoming graduates today. As we end our time as undergraduates at UT Dallas, we are saying good-bye to one wonderful part of our lives and moving into an exciting, but less familiar new one. We are moving away from a time and place in which we have built many relationships and roles for ourselves, but we are making this move with the satisfaction that we have completed what it was that we came to this university to do and that we have experienced the past several years to their fullest.

So, here’s to looking back on all of the wonderful experiences that we have had on this campus, smiling at all that we’ve come through, and leaning forward to the next exciting adventure. Here’s to each and every one of us and to making the years ahead of us even more fulfilling than the past four. And finally, here’s to landing and to takeoff, to ending and to beginning, and, today, to continuing an ever- evolving legacy that comes with being a graduate of UT Dallas.

Congratulations.

Kerri West graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in American Studies.

She was a member of the Dean’s List each semester, a McDermott Scholar, a member of the Collegium V Honors Program, the Golden Key Honor Society, the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Society and was a recipient of the UT Dallas Undergraduate Research Award.

In addition, she was elected as a Student Government Senator, served as vice president of University Democrats, was a participant with the Legal Mediation Team and was a campus coordinator for Americans for Informed Democracy.

While at UT Dallas, she worked for the Collin County District Attorney’s Office and the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington DC. She spent a semester in Geneva, Switzerland working for the International Center for Humanitarian Demining and worked for the U.S. State Department’s U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

She plans to attend law school at the University of California at Berkeley.