Convocation Ritual Invokes Past, Present and Future
Graduated Scholar Transfers Mace to Kindred Spirit at Freshman Convocation
Aug. 24, 2009
When Austin Swafford passed the ceremonial mace to Apeksha Saxena at the freshman convocation on Saturday, they were joined by much more than their common interest in molecular biology. The entire past, present and future of the University of Texas at Dallas passed between them in a brief, symbolic gesture.
Austin Swafford (above) passed the mace to Apeksha Saxena (below).
The ritual represented the past because the mace's wood came from an aged Texas tree that had “lived through all six flags that have flown over this land,” Swafford said in delivering the ceremonial mace speech.
The present was symbolized by the ever-so-brief moment during which Swafford’s and Saxena’s hands both grasped the mace, creating a bridge from the past to the future.
“This mace is a part of me, my classmates, and all the thousands of graduates who have walked these grounds,” Swafford said. “And tonight it becomes a part of you, Apeksha, and your classmates who now are the University of Texas at Dallas. The success of this University will always reflect on you, and your success will reflect on it.”
Both Swafford, who graduated in May with a degree in molecular biology and Saxena, an incoming freshman from Monroe Township, N.J., have participated in National Institutes of Health labs, he as a PhD candidate and she as a high school sophomore.
Both are McDermott scholars. Like the mace itself, they both symbolize the continuum of academic excellence for which UT Dallas has come to be known.
After the mace had been passed, Swafford evoked the future by explaining how the mace’s metal frame had been “forged from experiments we created that were conducted in outer space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor, which has also included one of us as a member of its crew.”
He was referring to a wafer of metal that had been taken from an instrument built by UT Dallas scientists for a space shuttle mission in 1995. UT Dallas and its William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences are expected to continue playing a significant role in NASA missions, as they have since the University's inception in 1969.
Swafford was also alluding to James F. Reilly II, a former NASA astronaut who earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in geosciences from UT Dallas. Reilly flew a space mission aboard the Endeavor in 1998. He also flew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on two missions in 2001 and 2007.
Dr. J. Michael Coleman, dean of undergraduate education, whose office oversaw the proceedings, said the mace’s symbolism is important to a young university like UT Dallas as it establishes its traditions.
“The mace is one representation of the university,” said Coleman, “just as is the Spirit Rock, Temoc, rubbing Cecil Green’s head for luck, or ‘The Whoosh’. They all serve as reminders of the specialness of this place and time in student’s lives.”