A Glimpse of Graduation

Robert Shapiro

Master of Business Administration and Master of Science, Accounting

President Daniel, Dean Cunningham, Dean Pirkul, esteemed faculty, honored guests and fellow graduates: My name is Robert Reed Shapiro. This evening, I am honored to stand before you on behalf of my fellow graduates to express our appreciation for the academic journey that has brought us to this wonderful occasion.

My story is probably not unique, but it is surely representative of every graduate here tonight.  We have labored, we have sacrificed. Profile Photo of Robert ShapiroWe have harvested priceless knowledge and experience. We are prepared for what lies ahead. But, before we leave these hallowed halls, I believe we should reflect on what has brought us here today.

My academic journey began at UT Dallas as a freshman, and today I am on the verge of receiving my second and third degrees from this soon-to-be-Tier One University.  If you told me as an entering freshman that I’d be speaking tonight, I would never have believed you. It was never my intention to even attend college.  My mother insisted that I apply—and trust me, she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.  So with one convincing admission essay about how my high school grades did not reflect my true aptitude, I was given the chance to begin my journey from an unfocused teen into the responsible and driven individual that I am today.

I had a typical undergraduate experience: working, going to classes and not fully appreciating the opportunity I had.  When I arrived at the School of Management as a graduate student, it didn’t take me very long to realize how extraordinary the faculty, staff and students were.  I’m sure that all of you who sit before me, have a similar story of an exceptional faculty member who encouraged you to go beyond what you thought you were capable of, an organizational experience that challenged you to use your business knowledge to make a difference for others or a international student whose unique perspective enlightened or changed yours.

The School of Management is a demanding place. It forces you to make one of two choices as a new student:  commit or quit.  Those of us preparing to walk across this stage tonight made the best investment!  We committed ourselves to tackling difficult academic courses while simultaneously managing our jobs, relationships, children and even aging parents. We sacrificed relationships, sleep, free time and income.  We accepted the challenge and tonight we reap the benefits of that hard work.

In just a few months, I anticipate becoming certified as a CPA in the state of Texas.  I started out as an individual who hated math, but I was quick to realize that I needed to learn important accounting and finance concepts to prepare me to tackle complex business and legal issues in my future career.  Like each of you, I lived in the library, the graduate lounge and the math lab.  I studied with and befriended dozens of students, I spent hours with committed management faculty and I invested every resource in getting the most of my education.  On Friday nights and weekends, instead of seeing old friends I was studying at the SOM.  I was committed, and just like you, I didn’t quit.

While succeeding in the classroom is directly correlated to our future success, there are other important lessons that we take away from this academic journey.  UT Dallas and the School of Management have helped me—and I’m sure you—refine how we give back to those less fortunate. Community service was a part of my childhood. We always chose angels from the holiday tree and we supported Jerry Lewis’ charity, but it wasn’t until I became seriously active with various student organizations that I truly understood the difference we can make for those less fortunate.

As graduates, we need to commit ourselves to continuing to help others: to help those who haven’t walked these halls, gained from our curriculum or participated in great organizational experiences.

Let me share one brief story of my involvement through the School of Management student organization called SIFE – Students in Free Enterprise. SIFE gave me the opportunity to lead an initiative at the Jeffries Street Learning Center in a crime-ridden South Dallas neighborhood.  I began as a tutor, but quickly realized that we needed to do more than just tutor at-risk kids.  In spring 2010, myself and other key SIFE leaders were able to create a strategic partnership between numerous organizations that established a weekly student presence at the center providing tutors, mentors, IT support and whatever else was needed.  In an effort to create sustainability, we began planning “for-credit” internships staffed by management students.  Today we have marketing students assisting with public relations. We have accounting and finance students assisting with grant writing.  As graduates, we need to commit ourselves to continuing to help others: to help those who haven’t walked these halls, gained from our curriculum or participated in great organizational experiences.

I began my journey at UT Dallas a child. But today, I leave this transformed institution, teeming with more than 17,000 students, a beautifully renovated campus and the best faculty in the world.  I am grateful for the challenge, the hard work and the Dean’s Excellence Scholarship that helped me finance this journey.  I will—and I hope you will—pay your “gratefulness” forward. We are leaving as proud recipients of these graduate degrees. I leave my fellow graduates with these pieces of advice:  Continue to get your hands dirty, and no matter how busy or successful you become, work endlessly, continue learning and most importantly—reach back to others as UT Dallas has reached out to us.  Congratulations to each of you.

Robert Shapiro BA ’08 graduated with a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science in Accounting from the School of Management. When not studying or working at a local CPA firm, Robert served as co-president of Students in Free Enterprise, founding member of the School of Management Dean’s Council and pledge class chair of the Alpha Phi Omega international service fraternity.