Office of the President

Shaped by Mentors, Teachers
and Determination

Commencement Address Spring 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, before we proceed to the conferring of degrees, I offer a few comments.

I ask all of us to reflect on the significance of the accomplishment represented by those gathered here today — parents and families, friends and loved ones, teachers and students. We have supported and encouraged one another, and we have arrived at this important day and time together.

I want to offer a special word of regard for the parents and families who are here to celebrate their students’ achievements or are following us from around the world via the Internet.

Many of you were planning before your student was even old enough to go to school — perhaps even before he or she was born — to make this day possible. This day is a reflection of your hard work and planning, your support in all ways, great and small. Congratulations to you, and many, many thanks for sharing your student with us here.

When you launched your student on his or her journey, you must have been doing something right. Each and every one of the students here today distinguished themselves early in their academic careers — otherwise, they would not have been admitted to this rigorous and highly selective university.

“A real education is not something you can buy off a shelf. It cannot be obtained with a simple point and click. It cannot be placed in a box, wrapped with paper and ribbon, and bestowed upon you. It is something you must earn.”

But academic capability alone wasn’t enough. Somewhere along the way, these soon-to-be alumni also had to learn the self-discipline to get out of bed, go to class, study, stay up late (maybe even pulling some all-nighters), budget their time, slug their way through some courses that were not their favorites, deal with deadlines, and learn to work with others who had very different backgrounds and life experiences.

Among those others were a critically important group of people — highly qualified, highly credentialed, dedicated people. Our faculty. These individuals invest their lives in the process of creating curriculums based on research and deep knowledge of their subjects, and bringing that knowledge to those who desire to learn. On behalf of Dr. Murray Leaf, speaker of the faculty, the faculty extends its sincere congratulations for both your accomplishment and, now, this new beginning.

Soon-to-be graduates, I want you to pause for a moment and consider your teachers and mentors who challenged and encouraged you, setting high standards and urging completion. By their own example, they showed the way. They not only taught, they inspired and conveyed their love of their disciplines. At times it may have been tough love — but only because they were determined to bestow a gift that can never be taken away: an educated mind.

They know, and you have learned, that a real education is not something you can buy off a shelf. It cannot be obtained with a simple point and click. It cannot be placed in a box, wrapped with paper and ribbon, and bestowed upon you. It is something you must earn.

Higher education is one of life’s most deeply personal experiences. What you choose to study, how you choose to study it, whether and how you open your mind to new ideas, and whether you choose to bring out the very best in your mind and in yourself is about as personal as it gets. In order to make it to this place on this day, you made a conscious choice to apply yourself, to do what it takes to meet this level of achievement and recognition. That decision and your successful completion of the work required say something important about you.

Although we are here to honor and mark your academic achievements, we also admire the sheer grit and determination you showed. You proved yourselves in a very demanding endeavor. And today we are here to celebrate and certify that you have earned the right to be a graduate of The University of Texas at Dallas.

Parents and families: You supported your students in ways financial, emotional and otherwise to help ensure their progress. You prepared them, instilled values and gave them the opportunity to make something of themselves. Your graduates have earned your deep respect, just as they have ours, not only for their academic accomplishments but for their character, as well. Please join me in applauding them.

Graduates, as you leave UT Dallas for your next challenge, take with you the confidence that you have achieved a world-class education from a truly exceptional university. Your degree is a key that can open many doors to you. Once you enter, the rest will be up to you, but I’m not worried – you’ve shown what you’re made of and proved what you can do.

At UT Dallas we set out not just to meet the challenges the future will bring, but also to shape that future. As you go forth, I hope you continue to value and assert your ability to influence your world for the better.

There are four important ways in which you can use your education to contribute to the greater good:

  1. Innovate. Be bold about looking for and trying what’s new. Invent new means if necessary. Expect setbacks, and don’t let failure get you down. The only people who never fail are those who never try.
  2. Seek opportunity. In every problem, there lives an opportunity, not just broadly for society but also for you, personally. Think of problems in that way. Zig when others zag. If everyone else is going right, go left. Find unmet needs and fulfill them.
  3. Take action. Don’t wait 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. Don’t look for someone else to tell you what to do. Don’t form a committee to study what you should do next. Act.
  4. Give back. If you are successful — as I predict you will be — giving back to people, causes and organizations that you believe in may be one of your greatest sources of personal satisfaction. Find the right ways for you to give back to others.

Remember where you are from: At UT Dallas, we don’t wait for the future. We create it.

As graduates of this University, you have proved your readiness to embark toward the vision you hold of your future. We are proud of you and honored to have played an important role in your life.

My very best wishes to all of today’s graduates. Thank you, and good luck!

Updated: May 14, 2014