Office of the President

Excellence is an Everyday Expectation

Commencement Address Spring 2010

Greetings to our visitors, and welcome to UT Dallas!

I thank you for joining us to celebrate one of the most important days of the year on our campus and one of the most significant for the students gathered here.

We also are very honored by the presence of the chairman of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, Colleen McHugh of Corpus Christi. Chairman McHugh has served as a regent since 2005. We are especially grateful to the Board for its support of many initiatives here at UT Dallas, particularly those you can see in the form of construction projects under way.

It’s been a wonderful, messy, busy year at UT Dallas.

We inconvenienced nearly everyone in the name of progress and campus beautification. And yet, I can count the complaints received due to construction disruptions on one hand. We have the most foresighted campus community I know anywhere. Thanks for your patience!

The rewards associated with 600,000 square feet in new facilities don’t have to be explained to people who already get it, who are some of the smartest people anywhere.

How smart are they, you might ask?

For starters, let’s talk about our freshman class of the past year. It included 41 National Merit Scholars — more than Carnegie Mellon, Clemson, Penn State, UCLA or Virginia Tech. Caltech beat us by one, but wait til next year!

And, once again, the freshman class boasted one of the highest average SAT scores in the state. The tradition of excellence that started with our first freshman class and that has been upheld by those of you who were members of prior freshman classes is not only intact, but entrenched.

For the second year in a row, the Comets men’s basketball team attained a Division III Sweet Sixteen berth.

You’re wondering: Why bring up athletics in a discussion of our students’ academic brilliance?

Because the team’s athletic achievement is only the beginning of this story. Our basketball starters had an average GPA of 3.55. The group average SAT: 1335. All majored in accounting, finance or engineering. Several double-majored.

Some are graduate students. Most received academic merit scholarships, because Division III doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, and because that’s how smart they are: They can carry a full academic load and play top-notch hoops. Five of our top six players are academic all-conference, and one, an NCAA Academic All-American. And we congratulate several who are graduating today, which I’m sure causes Coach Terry Butterfield some mixed feelings.

This group of students and their achievements are exemplary of UT Dallas, where excellence is an everyday expectation.

We’ve seen gains this year in our schools’ standings in a number of national rankings. The School of Management made the top 50 in U.S. News and World Report. Engineering’s graduate programs pushed into the national top 100 in U.S. News, coming in at 60th among public universities. Audiology and speech-pathology graduate programs in the school of Behavioral and Brain Sciences moved up in U.S. News as well, and are now among the top 5 percent nationally in their respective disciplines. We are proud of our programs’ performance, but we’re always mindful that such performance is in due in part to our very smart students’ and graduates’ performance in the marketplace.

I began this list of extraordinary achievement with news about our freshmen, and, logically, it should end with a word about our graduate students.

This weekend, UT Dallas is graduating 87 doctoral students, the most ever for one term. We will probably reach 200 PhD graduates this year. To quote our graduate dean, Austin Cunningham, this is but one of many indicators illustrating UT Dallas’ progress toward becoming a Tier One, national research university.

So, the evidence of our students’ intellectual ability is all around us. Congratulations, parents, family and friends, and thank you for supporting them. As smart as they are, they could not have come this far without you.

And UT Dallas could not come this far without the support of its community. Our off-campus neighbors in the City of Richardson deserve thanks for showing their wisdom and taking the long view on the short-term inconveniences caused by the growth of the University. They just voted to help us build a road and some bike trails around campus, because they see themselves as our partners in the success of this region.

We’re also grateful to have had a very good year in the Legislature. We had excellent support from our elected officials, who rallied to give UT Dallas and six other universities the opportunity to earn greater financial support by reaching benchmarks that will help us rise to what’s referred to colloquially as Tier One — or, more specifically, to help us become a major, nationally recognized research university.

One of the main reasons our state officials are so confident about throwing extra support our way is because of you, our very accomplished students. As you may have noticed, I’m one of your biggest fans. I have great faith in your abilities. You have all the tools you need to succeed. Brains, education and, believe it or not, even the bumpy economic times are on your side, if you take advantage of the circumstances they create.

It may not feel like the best time to be entering the marketplace, but in fact, the dislocation of conventional wisdom about how things will work in the future presents extraordinary opportunity for those who are intellectually creative and have not yet become weighed down with too much respect for how things have always been.

In other words, examine received wisdom. Think for yourselves, do your research and your homework, and plan now to keep learning every day.
And just in case you question that last part about continued learning, let me tell you about one of our alumni.

Helen Small was the subject of several news stories when she graduated a few years ago. She had just earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology—at age 87. One reporter at that time ended his story with a wisecrack about her going on for a master’s degree.

Guess what?

At age 90, Helen graduates today from our school of Behavioral and Brain Sciences with a master of psychological sciences.

She’s been conducting graduate research into life satisfaction among the elderly. By the way, she said recently that women are much more satisfied than men.

“Men” she said, “are needy.” Big surprise to the women in the audience!

Whether we are 19 or 90, we each face the same tough question, or as Helen put it: “Now I have to decide what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.”

I suggest you challenge yourself to look for opportunities others might not see. Think and work your way without distraction toward the goals you set. Keep an eye on what’s happening in the wider world, but don’t worry too much about or get discouraged by what’s wrong with it, because you are what’s right with it — your energy, your hope, your enthusiasm, your ideas, your hard work. The world is depending on you to bring all that to the task of creating the future we all will share.

Thank you, graduates of 2010 and good luck!

Updated: November 22, 2011