Office of the President

Creating the Future is about Creating Hope

Commencement address Spring 2009

Greetings, and to family and friends with us today, welcome to UT Dallas.

We gather today to celebrate the hard work and sacrifices these diplomas symbolize. Congratulations to all on the achievements marked by this day.

I feel particularly appreciative of this class. Many of you entered your programs just after I arrived at UT Dallas, when we were both freshmen at UTD. This is my fourth spring graduation ceremony and the first full-term class of my presidency. Thank you for sticking it out these four years, class of 2009!

For many of you, this ceremony will feel like an ending. You are surely preparing for what comes next. For some, it’s graduate school. For some, it’s a job, or the process of beginning to look for a job. For some parents, perhaps the writing of that last check to pay for college.

As with most transitions, graduation is accompanied by dozens of small details. Dealing with all that urgent trivia can obscure the big reasons for the choices that have brought us to this important day.

And what are those choices? Parents and families: You have chosen to support these students, first in preparing them to succeed academically and later during college, in ways financial, emotional and otherwise, to help ensure their progress. Parents and families, give yourselves a pat on the back for a job well done!

And students: You chose diligence early in your academic lives to assure your qualification for the very competitive environment of this University. When the time came, you chose this special environment, characterized by its rigor and energy, where we expect more of students, and where they regularly exceed our expectations. You chose to get out of bed and got to class (most of the time, anyway), to study hard, and to shape your future so positively. Congratulations, and well done!

Among the many reasons you had for making these choices, there is one we all share: We set out to create a new kind of future—certainly for ourselves, and more broadly, for the world we serve.

That phrase, “Create the future” is one that was crafted to describe the spirit and ambitions of UT Dallas.

When we started using it a few years ago, the future probably felt more assured in some ways. We may even have thought we could predict a bright future.

Our current circumstances—ongoing economic uncertainly, global political unrest, and threats to public health that have affected even the way we are conducting this ceremony—certainly have dealt a blow to the values and precepts that were yesterday’s bedrock. In the words of a very distinguished scientist and thinker, J.B.S. Haldane: “The thing that has not been, is the thing that shall be. No beliefs, no values, no institutions are safe.”

That quote is from Haldane’s book, Science and the Future. It feels so right for our times, though, actually, it was published in 1924. Despite its somewhat somber tone, I believe there are underlying messages in that statement that offer hope to anyone who is looking to create a better future.

The first of those messages is, innovate.
Innovation is a luxury in good times, but a requirement in challenging times such as our nation and world face today. What has worked isn’t working. Be bold about looking for and trying what’s new. Invent the new means if necessary.

Here is one of my favorite examples of this: In 1930, as the Great Depression was under way, a company called Geophysical Services Incorporated was launched. Thirty-six thousand patents later, you and I know it as Texas Instruments, a company whose founders just happened to have taken some time out along the way to found this University. Without their vision and bold follow-through in the face of deep adversity, none of us would be here today.

Second, seek opportunity.
You need to zig when others zag. When everyone else is going right, try going left. Find unmet needs and fulfill them. Create new products and explore new ideas. New products and ideas create hope.

During one of the worst recessions of the 20th century, two companies we all know were started: Microsoft in 1975, and FedEx in 1973. These two are interesting, because, at their core, they are very similar. They both specialize in delivery of goods and information, though by very different means. There’s more than one route to success if you’re willing to go off the beaten path.

Third, and perhaps the most important message I have for you, take action.

Don’t wait for someday to investigate your great idea or do the thing you’ve always wanted to try.

Don’t allow your aspirations to be infected and weakened by fear of the unknown.

Remember where you are from: At UT Dallas, we embrace the unknown, study it, and turn what we find into something that serves people and society.

Nanotechnology wasn’t even a word in the dictionary when this University joined the UT System 40 years ago. Today, one of our undergraduate researchers will receive his diploma and head off to work on National Institutes of Health-funded research using nanotech to fight cancer.

One of our graduate students has started a company that is developing implantable pain relief technology.

Our faculty members are building teams of student-researchers to address questions about how to merge evolving semantic Web technology with geospatial information systems—that is, get computers to do more of our thinking for us by helping them understand what words mean.

At UT Dallas, we don’t wait for the future. We create it.

As graduates of this University, you have proven your readiness to embark on your own envisioned future. I urge you to move forward with energy and enthusiasm. Like entering college, graduating is an emotional and personal milestone as well as an intellectual one. Just by being admitted to UT Dallas, you showed that you had achieved a considerable level of academic distinction. But no one’s success is predetermined—we know you worked hard to get here today. We are proud of you and honored to play a transformative role in your life.

I offer deepest admiration for your achievement today and for your contributions to our university, and look forward to hearing of those achievements to come.

Thank you, and good luck!

Updated: November 22, 2011