Donna Noorbakhsh

Bachelor of Science, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology

Good morning, President Daniel, members of the faculty, family, friends, and above all, graduates. Several years ago, we walked across this campus with nervous smiles, eager minds and our noses buried in maps. Today, we stand beside one another: confident, successful and accomplished. Congratulations class of 2014, we did it.

Graduation is a time of reflection.

Profile Photo of Donna Noorbakhsh

When I first began my freshman year at UT Dallas, I was anxious, excited, and ambitious. I wanted to meet everyone, take every class, and join every single student organization. I was an overly enthusiastic and idealistic freshman. We all were. Do you remember what it felt like to be a freshman? The excitement of being in a new place with new people, that feeling that you can be anyone, do anything and accomplish any endeavor you pursue? Do you remember that feeling? Don’t let it go. Be ambitious. Ask questions. Dare to learn more – whether you are going to graduate school, medical school or being thrown in to the “real world” with corporations and businesses. You are about to embark on a new and unknown journey. Is this terrifying? Yes. Are you ready? Yes. UTD graduates are not followers; they are leaders. We defy norms, surpass expectations and carve the path to success. Reflect upon your ambitions when you were 18 years old and the knowledge you carry now. There is no doubt in my mind. My friends, you are ready.

Graduation is also a time for celebration.

“I would be remiss if I did not thank the outstanding faculty for challenging us and forcing us to struggle. I am thankful for my struggle, for without it I would not have stumbled upon my strength.”

I’ll never forget my first round of finals four years ago. Before the exams, my friends and I told one another, “Dude, after this exam we are going to go so hard! We are going to rage! We are going to celebrate!” After 72 hours of chugging Red Bull, vigorously scribbling chemistry equations on the white board and drilling flash cards, we finally took our exams. And immediately after our exams … we fell asleep! I admit I was a nerd. I still am. But I am not ashamed to admit this, because we at UTD emphasize one thing above all: Be yourself. UTD encourages diversity and celebrates quirks. Because, although we all have a different story, the chapters are more similar than you may think. Who can forget gaining the freshman 15 (I wish I could), or spending endless hours studying and sleeping at the library? (I swear one of the episodes of Walking Dead was filmed at the library during finals week.) The biggest college party I went to was the celebration of Diwali at the Student Union, for which my friends dressed me in traditional Indian clothing and taught me how dance to Bollywood music. Together we have pulled all-nighters, stalked students for the prime parking spots on campus, done rain dances and prayed for inclement weather to cancel that 8 a.m. exam you did not study for. Together, we wrote our own chapter in the history of UTD. It is true, we come from different places, but together we are a family and this is our home.

Graduation is a time to be thankful.

When I was a senior in high school, I applied for the Terry Scholarship. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this scholarship, it is a scholarship foundation that was established in 1986 by a man named Howard Terry. Unfortunately, Mr. Terry passed away in 2012 at the ripe age of 95 years old. But the beauty of this scholarship is that Mr. Terry conducted interviews himself and played an active role in selecting scholars until the day he passed. Mr. Terry offered a full ride to students that he saw potential in, and this generous and remarkable man saw potential in me. We all have the potential to accomplish greatness, but sometimes we need someone to remind us of what we are capable. I look around this room today and see hundreds of family members and friends that believed in you. They wiped your tears when you made your first failing grade, tutored you when you were struggling, and mailed you care packages when you had a stressful week. Every time you said, “I can’t do this,” they fought back with the full force of, “Yes, you can.” I would be remiss if I did not thank the outstanding faculty for challenging us and forcing us to struggle. I am thankful for my struggle, for without it I would not have stumbled upon my strength. Thank you, for your unwavering support, thank you for your dedication to furthering education, and thank you for being here today.

As I look back on the past four years, I am astounded by how much our university has grown. When we first began our freshman year, we had two residence halls; now we have five. Four years ago, we had one dining hall; now we have two dining hall facilities, an Einstein Bagel Bros, Jason’s Deli, and convenience store for residents on campus. We have doubled the number of activity centers, added more tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, and expanded our Student Union. We have built two parking garages for commuters. We have celebrated the addition of the new Arts and Technology Building. No matter how much we complain about the construction on our campus, those construction cranes are a symbol of the rapid growth and success that our university exemplifies. If UTD has made such great strides in four short years, imagine where our university will stand 10 years from now?

The growth I see in UTD is reflected in all of us today. I don’t know where life will take us. But I do know that there is greatness in each and every one of us. When I came to UTD, I had no idea what to expect. But I entered this school with a heart full of passion, excitement, and ideas. I wanted to leave my mark on this outstanding university. I didn’t want to leave a footprint in the sand; I wanted mine to be engraved in the concrete. Make that your goal. Walk with a purpose. Lead those around you. Inspire them to believe in the impossible. As Audrey Hepburn once pointed out, the word impossible itself says, “I’m possible.” Reflect on your past, indulge in the present, and inspire change in the future. Remember, the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Donna Noorbakhsh, a Terry Scholar, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and audiology. She founded the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association at UT Dallas and is a repeat dean’s list honoree.