A Glimpse of Graduation

Taneska Lewis

Bachelor of Science, Business Administration

Good afternoon, fellow graduates, distinguished faculty and staff, family and friends. Thank you for joining the fall 2010 School of Management graduates to celebrate our many accomplishments and the inception of a new chapter in our lives.

For all of us, we could not have made it to this momentous day without the love, support and sacrifices from those of you in the audience. Profile Photo of Taneska LewisI would be remiss not to take a moment to thank my beautiful mother and father, my sisters, my niece, my boyfriend and best friend for their steadfast love and constant encouragement.

It is with sincere honor, humility and gratitude that I speak before you today. I wrote this speech toward the end of my stay as a Bill Archer Fellow at a historical row house on 223 Constitution Ave. in Washington, D.C.  While spending my last semester in D.C., I interned at a human rights agency called the International Justice Mission (IJM), and it was there that I became exposed to the violent forms of oppression and injustice that take place across the world, such as sex trafficking, and forced and bonded labor.  For me this is a bittersweet moment, as I am filled with joy to be here, but haunted to know of the vast amount of suffering that is occurring as I speak.

At IJM, I heard the heart-wrenching stories of many of the agency’s clients who had been rescued from bleak, almost unimaginable circumstances.  I would like to share one of those stories with you.  It’s the story of a 14-year-old girl named Manna from India.  Feeling helpless and searching for a better life, Manna ran away from home because she was being beaten by her brother.  As she walked through the busy streets of her community a woman approached her and offered help.  After winning Manna’s trust, the woman offered her a modest job selling fabric and a place to sleep, in which she accepted both. But when Manna woke up the next morning, the woman that she had befriended was gone. However it was not long before another woman explained to her that she instead would be forced to sell her body in a brothel.  She lived this nightmare for the next two years of her young and innocent life.  I tell you this murky story on such a celebratory day not to rain on your parade, but as a stark reminder not to take this moment, and more importantly not to take your freedom for granted.

Unlike the 27 million slaves that UNICEF estimates are being exploited for cheap sex and labor, we have the ability to make our own choices and the power to control our own lives.  Upon graduation from high school, we had the choice to further our education.  We had the choice to attend this unique flagship university and the freedom to choose to major in business administration, finance, accounting, marketing or management information systems.  Even this morning, we had the freedom to choose the outfits that we are now wearing underneath our graduation regalia.  So please, as you cross this stage in a few moments, do not devalue the significance of this accomplishment and the symbolism of freedom that your diploma holds.

Because we have so much freedom, we are often overwhelmed with the unlimited opportunities and decisions that we must make, which brings me to my next point.  Freedom is likely the cause behind the two big questions that some of us may have figured out, but many of us are still wrestling with today.  The questions:  What is next? How will I be successful? Although I do not hold any concrete answers to these questions, I do offer some words of encouragement in addressing them. We are well-equipped with a degree and unique strengths and talents that will aid in our success. In fact, we have the opportunity to define success in our lives, and for all of us that will be different.  For some of us, success may be starting a non-profit in Ethiopia to feed the poor, pursuing a career in microfinance to help spur economic development in lower-income communities, or utilizing what we have learned in the classrooms of UT Dallas to serve as teachers and help rebuild our crumbling public education system.  Whatever the case, as a generation we hold the keys to the future, so let us be sure to steer with compassion and prudence.

I am looking at the best and the brightest, a group of intelligent, driven and compassionate individuals that I am confident will make history in their own right. Many of you are already doing so.

For me, knowing that we control the future implies a sense of obligation.  There is a sense of obligation to make wise decisions as a society and to have a positive impact on the world. There is a sense of obligation to help improve the lives of little girls like Manna and give hope to the millions of others who are exploited and oppressed. Lastly, there is a sense of obligation to give back to our communities and UT Dallas for the prestigious opportunities they have afforded us.  Because of these opportunities and experiences, we are well poised to take on the world in our new lives. I am looking at the best and the brightest, a group of intelligent, driven and compassionate individuals who I am confident will make history in their own right. Many of you are already doing so. So on this day and at this very moment, I call on you my fellow graduates, to go out and do great things throughout the world. Remember those to whom you bring hope, and remember your family and friends who have made sacrifices for you.  Let these be reminders that there are compelling forces in your fight for success, even when you face challenging times.  Now let me leave you with these words from Luke 12:48 in the Bible that were once also used by President John F. Kennedy: “From everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.”

Congratulations class of 2010! Thank you.

Taneska Lewis graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in business administration from the School of Management. She was competitively selected as one of 32 students from within the University of Texas System for the Bill Archer Fellowship, which is a Washington, D.C., internship and academic program.  Lewis was a Gates Millennium Scholar and received a School of Management Corporate Scholarship.  Outside of classes, she was involved with the School of Management Honors Program and was a UT Dallas Student Ambassador.