A Glimpse of Graduation

Robert Chalwell

Doctorate of Philosophy, Political Science

President Daniel, fellow graduates, invited family, friends and honored guests: Good afternoon all!

My name is Robert Chalwell Jr. I am a doctoral candidate in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. It is my humble privilege to stand before you as the speaker for this, our 2013 graduation ceremony at The University of Texas at Dallas. I am particularly humbled to share the stage with Dr. Sheila Amin Gutiérrez de Piñeres, who beyond being a professor, scholar and administrator extraordinaire, is also the person who first welcomed me to UT Dallas in 2009. Before leaving to be the dean of libraries, and ultimately the dean of undergraduate education, Dr. Piñeres, in her capacity as then head of the Public Policy and Political Economy PhD program, sat with me and charted the academic course, via some twists and turns that led me to this day. Thank you Dr. P.

Profile Photo of Robert Chalwell

To you, my fellow graduates, I start first with a request. Ready? Take a deep breath. Hold it. Hold it. and now let it out ... slowly ... measured. Good. You now have an indication of two things about me: 1. I am a classically trained singer and 2. I'm very bossy. But seriously, there is so much going on today, there must be some nerves. Your family and friends are here, there is anxiety about what's next ... and worries that since you've completed this degree, you'llnow have to get a real job and pay rent.

For those of you who have lived in the dorms or in University Village, you will now have to pay for Internet and cable. (Gasp!) What? I know, I know: Just breathe. I visited a friend who lives in University Village the other day, and I thought to myself, “So this is how the other half lives.” I lived in Waterview Park for two years. Phase 1, and then Phase 3. need I say more? I gained a lot though. After two years in Waterview, I now can make the best Chicken Tikka Masala this side of the Arabian Sea. I literally have Indian aunties calling me for my recipe.

Some of you have seen the many letters after my name. Clearly, I must be a very learned person. I have one piece of advice that I want you to remember more than anything else I will say today: Please avoid accomplishing in five expensive degrees what you could have done in three expensive degrees.

In all honesty, that advice is only partly in jest. Some people will look at anyone who has three master's degrees and a PhD, and always assume that he or she has never worked a day in my ... uh, I mean, his or her adult life. At least in my case, that is the furthest thing from the truth. While a full-time undergrad student, I worked as a short order cook, stage crew for a concert hall, a waiter and then a bartender at Pizzeria Uno, a cocktail waiter and bartender at a piano bar, a waiter, bartender and then manager of a Sports Bar. I even worked as a waiter in Moroccan restaurant. I can sum that experience up with one word: belly-dancers.

I actually had a window between 2000 and 2007 where I wasn't a student at all. During that window of time, I returned to my ancestral home in the British Virgin Islands and amongst other things, I served as the first director of youth affairs and sports for the government. It was that career move that ultimately led to my pursuing a PhD in Political Science here at UT Dallas.

Even though i can draw, what feels to me, like a straight line, from striving to be the next Luciano Pavarotti, to teaching economics and politics, and waxing philosophical about the political economy of absolutely any and everything under the sun- I can see where many wouldn't see the connection. I'll explain, briefly. It's our shared experiences.

The link between a polonaise and politics, English and economics, classical guitar and graphic art - the link that is the nexus of all our endeavors, is the human condition. Over a half a century ago, Hannah Arendt, in her novel The Human Condition, like most theorists, sought to establish a paradigm by which we could better understand ourselves, individually, and society as whole. She depicted a progression or an evolution of sorts, from the dominance of vita activa — the active life, in the ancient world — to the vita contemplative — the contemplative life, in more modern times.

Arendt chronicles a shift of focus from the world, where immortality could be attained through great words and lasting deeds, to a focus on abstract concepts of the mind. She asserts the rise of “Cartesian doubt”: the notion that a person's senses could be presenting him with a false world, an illusion, possibly created by some malevolent god (dieu trompeur). The response to this dilemma is best expressed in the phrase cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I exist); meaning that the only thing a person can be certain of is not the world around him but his own cognitive process.

I disagree somewhat. We have not have given up on the attainment of immortality through great words and lasting deeds, in favor of concepts of the mind. I see it more as having expanded the cognitive continuum. What we do, as economists, political scientest and policy specialists etc., is utilize concepts of the mind to analyze and explain deeds (or behaviors). As musicians, we encapsulate them in a delicate balance of sound and silence. And as artists, we seek to represent the world, as we observe and experience it, visually, in hues and shadow, and dramatically through movement and the spoken word.

Although we are not taught to seek each other out and find fraternity in our shared purpose, we serve as a bridge between what is, and what can be, limited only by the expanse of limitless thought. Even amidst our sometimes intellectual awkwardness and our deliberate esoteric otherness, we toil to understand our world community, and through our understanding, to better it.

President Daniel, I commend you and your cabinet for the commitment you have made in having UT Dallas pursue Tier One status. The enhancements to infrastructure and ongoing faculty recruitment adds to the high regard with which UT Dallas is already held. the aggressive recruitment of top-notch students, the building of dorms, and the aesthetic upgrades to the campus, have made our surroundings much more conducive to establishing a sense of community. The games of pool in the Comet Cave waned after I took my Comprehensive Exam and i haven't been to the annual Cometville Carnival in August since my first year. But those of you who may be continuing, or parents who will be sending younger children here, along with the campus events I've already mentioned and so many others, make sure not to miss Sangam, the Central Asian cultural show put on by the ISS in the fall.

“My heart is full as I remember the journey; the winding road that led me to Richardson, Texas, to new friends, and to new opportunities for personal and professional growth; the same road that will now take me to the many adventures still to come.”

It was here on this campus that I, a poli-sci major, was afforded the opportunity to develop deep and lasting friendships with engineers and MBA candidates. And while a research assistant with the Institute for urban Policy Research here at UT Dallas, that I, amongst other things, had the opportunity to do a local economic development survey for South Dallas; contribute to the Children's Medical Center: Beyond ABCs children's health report for North Texas, and create a data collection instrument to assess the effectiveness of life-skills programs for women inmates at Lew Sterrett Justice Center. I am grateful for these many opportunities that challenged me, and ultimately helped me to grow as a researcher, consultant, social scientist and as a person.

Now, I leave UT Dallas, with a snazzy hood and cap, and diploma that says Robert Clemente Chalwell Jr. PhD on it. Without reservation, I say to you, my fellow graduates, arriving at this point is not what makes my heart so full that it feels about to burst. My heart is full as I remember the journey; the winding road that led me to Richardson, Texas, to new friends, and to new opportunities for personal and professional growth; the same road that will now take me to the many adventures still to come. Enjoy the accomplishment commemorate on this day, we deserve it. We have all worked hard. But when those anxieties about tomorrow, and next week, and next year start to flare up, remember what that bossy Robert said. “Take a deep breath,” remember how much you've learned, and how much you've grown, and then, with courage, take the next step on the never-ending and wondrous journey that is our shared human experience.

Thank you!

Robert C. Chalwell Jr. graduated with a PhD in political science. He has worked as a research associate with the Institute for Urban Policy Research at UT Dallas, and is a member of the UT Dallas Chapters of the Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society and the Delta Epsilon Iota Academic Honor Society. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degree in music performance, a master’s in global affairs, and a master’s in public policy, which he also earned at UT Dallas. After graduation, he plans to serve as a policy consultant for governments, inter-governmental organizations, businesses and non-profit organizations.