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Maria Muhammad-Brown

Bachelor of Science, Psychology

Good afternoon, Class of 2017. It is such an honor and pleasure to be here speaking to you all today. I want to start by offering my gratitude. Thank you, President Benson, for leading an esteemed, promising university. Thank you, Dean Bartlett, Dean Kratz and Dean Balsamo, for committing time to our student community. Thank you to all the academic advisors for guiding us through our time here at UT Dallas. Thank you to all the professors impacting our lives each and every day — in the most meaningful ways. And most of all thank you to all the students who contributed to UT Dallas — by sharing your minds and ideas with our community.

Attending The University of Texas at Dallas has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I hope it’s one of yours, too. Why do I say this, you ask? The University of Texas at Dallas is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for universities less than 50 years old. Yes, you heard me right. No. 1! How amazing is it that we can say we received a degree from such a new and budding university.

UT Dallas is also one of the most diverse campuses in the United States. I have visited other universities and did not realize how lucky I am to attend a diverse school until I was the only person of color in a room. Not only are we attending the number one school among all young universities, but we get to have this experience in an environment filled with diverse communities, cultures and leading thinkers. We attended UT Dallas to gain an education, but little did we know we would gain so much more. Throughout our years here, we were taught about being a part of a community, what it means to be successful and what it means to give back. UT Dallas hands us our diplomas today, and tomorrow our hands will be making a difference.

So what does it truly mean to make a difference? The phrase “make a difference” sounds as though you are changing something right? You’re going to take an idea or a way of doing something that’s always been the same, and directly change it into becoming something different. What does that mean for us as recent graduates ready to take on the world? Let me break it down for y’all.

We are all here. We were all given one life. One voice. What’s your passion? Figure it out and think deeply about how to use that to your advantage and how to be of service to others. Use your voice to fight for what you believe in. Millions of people wish they were in the position we are all in — graduating college with the world up for grabs. We are fortunate, and with that fortune, we need to be intentional about giving back. We need to be a voice for those who have been silenced, marginalized or those who aren’t confident enough to speak up. Let’s use our voices to inspire, to motivate, to give.

We are all here because we want to contribute to society and to this world. We want to be economically stable, build families or protect the families we already have. But let’s not forget our debt. And I don’t mean the debt of student loans but our debt to this earth and world — our debt to humanity. We all have a purpose, and whatever your purpose is, I just have one request. Make sure your purpose is filled with compassion, empathy and love. Your purpose in life involves understanding others, being an ally for others, and educating yourself and those surrounding you of what’s happening in the world. I urge you to realize that you are a part of something bigger than yourselves. You are significant and you are enough. You have the chance to make other humans feel significant, and to make them feel and believe they are worthy of greatness. People will always remember how you made them feel, so why would you want to make them feel anything less than glorious?

“We all have a purpose, and whatever your purpose is, I just have one request. Make sure your purpose is filled with compassion, empathy and love. Your purpose in life involves understanding others, being an ally for others, and educating yourself and those surrounding you of what’s happening in the world. I urge you to realize that you are a part of something bigger than yourselves.”

Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” I stand here in front of you today, to cast my stone. You are all an ocean, and I’m hoping to create as many ripples as possible.

At the end of a job interview, I was asked, “What’s the one thing you want us to remember about you?” I asked myself this question while writing this speech and decided it would be this:

I was able to open your mind to being more understanding and increasing your knowledge to better this world, to being compassionate and voicing your passions for the sake of yourself and others. I want to make you all feel inspired to create a better quality of life for yourselves, and those around you.

As I come to a close, I hope that you not just have a nice day or a nice weekend, but have a day that’s rewarding, a day that’s productive. Have a thoughtful weekend, have a weekend spent inspiring others. Even something as small as smiling at someone can be enough to inspire a person.

Last but not least, I want to give a personal thank-you to all the family and friends in the room here supporting your recent graduate. And to my mom, thank you for raising me to find my voice and to inspire others to find theirs. Have a meaningful rest of your day. And may today be the seed planted to cultivate and grow for the rest of your life. Thank you.

Maria Muhammad-Brown graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. A Terry Scholar, she served as a freshman enrichment advisor, peer advisor and teaching assistant for psychology classes. She spent a semester interning with Focus on Teens, dedicated to helping homeless teens excel through high school, and studied abroad in Australia, where she worked with a nonprofit helping refugees. She is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at The University of Texas at Arlington.

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