A Glimpse of Graduation

Benedict Voit

Bachelor of Arts, Political Science

Fellow graduates, faculty and staff, family and friends: It is an honor to be standing before you today to share a few words about what this university has meant to us graduates. With that, let me begin with a story that many of you assuredly know.

It was a beautiful sunny day as a man walked along the beach. In the distance he saw a boy moving back and forth from the ocean. Somewhat startled, the man moved closer, and eventually noticed the boy picking up starfish and throwing them back into the surf. The man was puzzled and approaching the boy, asked him what he was doing. The boy replied "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die."

The man smiled, and, looking around at the miles of beach laden with these animals he responded: "Son, you cannot possibly save enough of these starfish to make a real difference." The boy picked up another one, and brushing the sand off, threw it into the water. "To that one starfish," he said, "I can make all the difference in the world."

This story from Loren Eiseley is as apt today as it was three decades ago. It reminds us that in our turbulent and sometimes seemingly unjust world that everyone of us has the potential to have an impact.

We as college graduates now have an even greater ability to change the world. UTD has presented us with an incredible toolkit – a phenomenal education that presents us the skills to become successful lawyers, doctors, engineers, businessmen...

But UTD has also instilled within us something perhaps even more valuable: an entrepreneurial and optimistic spirit. Our time here has shown us the potential that each individual holds to be a driver of change in our world.

The school’s unique history gives it a different perspective. Still a young institution, this university’s focus is not lost in the past, but wholeheartedly dedicated to the future. Looking at it from the right angle, UTD is not burdened by its history. Although we are working on creating our history and our traditions, we are still able to quickly change and adapt to benefit our school and our populace.

The world needs more intelligent people. It needs more creative people. It needs more caring people. UTD has given us the education, the opportunity and the experience to be these people.

In the last four years, we have seen the creation of a Model United Nations program, a movie theater on campus, a student opinion publication, a community garden, a Frisbee golf course. The intramural sports program has grown tremendously, Greek Life has expanded, offered language programs have increased. Our Destination Imagination program has grown, winning global medallions every year, our debate team is nationally ranked, and our chess team continues to improve and continues to win international competitions. These changes have not been dictated by our administrators. Quite contrarily, these improvements have resulted from the time and effort of students, all dedicated to advancing campus bit by bit.

The successes of these organizations can be largely credited to the embodiment of the school’s spirit – the notion that anyone at any level can make a difference. These organizations on campus do not judge strictly on seniority, but rather on an individual’s hard work, dedication, and determination.

As we go out into the world, we will naturally take these ideals with us. However, we must be careful to match our spirit with our intelligence. We must be prepared for the reality that the change we hope to ignite will not come overnight.

But rather than be discouraged, we should stay focused on what we can do. We must be aware that before we can change the world, we should first look to our own backyards. As we continue amidst a heated presidential race, it is easy to find ourselves so caught up in the big picture that we forget what’s happening in our own neighborhoods. Although we can recite the gaffes of the presidential candidates, we do not even know who sits on our local school board.

UTD has given us the education, the experience and the spirit to fundamentally shift our current political situation away from mantras and towards reasoned ideas, from accusations to debates. Let us take these earned gifts and focus them appropriately.

I am fortunate to have been part of the Archer Fellow program in Washington D.C. While interning for an election committee in the fall of 2006, I learned a great deal about campaigning and also a great deal about Washington. My one complaint about D.C. was the clear "Beltway Mentality" – the belief that the immediate present in Washington was always of the utmost importance. There was little, if any, appreciation or desire for other, outside views.

There are many of us political science majors here today, but there are no prerequisite classes needed to understand that our system needs improvement. As the saying goes, "the worst thing about political jokes is that some of them get elected."

UTD has given us the education, the experience, and the spirit to fundamentally shift our current political situation away from mantras and towards reasoned ideas, from accusations to debates. Let us take these earned gifts and focus them appropriately.

Let me be clear that in my idealized view, I am not striving for unity; for with unity can come complacency. Our greatest strengths come not from our similarities, but often from our differences. Rather, I strive for open dialogue – as Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes aptly referred to as a "marketplace of ideas." We should be able to frankly have conversations without being tagged cold-hearted or unpatriotic.

Oliver Wendall Holmes also noted that "One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." Our experiences at UTD have truly opened and reshaped our minds. We will surge forward in life with the belief that it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going.

With this belief, and with our opened and expanded minds, I am confident that we will take our world by storm. Our dedication and our contributions will continue to raise the name of UTD as an institution of tremendous scholarship.

The world needs more intelligent people. It needs more creative people. It needs more caring people. UTD has given us the education, the opportunity, and the experience to be these people. So on behalf of all graduates, I say thank you – a deep and heartfelt appreciation to the outstanding faculty and staff who have been our teachers, our mentors, and our friends.

They have led us this far. With this education, it is now up to us. It is up to us to build upon what we have been given. We may need to start small. But I am confident that in time, we will be the driving force that moves our community, our society, our culture, and our world forward. UTD has opened to us the doors of the future. Let us go out and begin making a difference.

Thank you.

Benedict Voit graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Political Science.

He was a McDermott Scholar, a continuous member of the Dean’s Honor List, a member of the Collegium V Honors Program and a member of the Golden Key Honor Society.

While at UT Dallas, he served as an editor of A Modest Proposal, was a Student Ambassador, a member of Destination Imagination, a representative to the Model United Nations, a Student Government Senator and spent a semester in Washington D.C. as an Archer Fellow.

He interned at Los Alamos National Laboratories, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and spent a summer at the Goethe Institute in Frankfurt, Germany.

He recently accepted a position as an analyst with First Financial and plans to enter business school for his MBA.