J. Michelle Abuda

Bachelor of Science, Management Information Systems

Good morning. Thank you to President Daniel, Provost Wildenthal, Dean Blanchard and Dean Pirkul for the opportunity to speak today, and thank you to all of the faculty, staff, friends and families who have come today to celebrate. To everyone graduating today: Congratulations again.

Profile Photo of J. Michelle Abuda

Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, explores why some companies stand out from the rest. His research team observed that there was not a single change that a company could make that automatically switched it from being good to great. When talking about change, Collins tells a story about an egg. Picturing an egg, no one pays any attention until it hatches into a chicken. One day there was an egg, and next is a living, breathing creature. The hatch seems sudden from our point of view – but Collins asks that you now consider it from the chicken’s view. “The chicken within was evolving, growing, developing, changing,” Collins writes. “It was hardly the radical transformation that it looked like from the outside.”

We do not change the second we walk across the stage – we have slowly evolved since our first day at UT Dallas. Think about what you were like your first semester. Think about the first time you sat down in a classroom, or even opened one of your textbooks. From the first class to the last class of your degree, how have you changed?

How many of us changed our major while at UT Dallas? The New York Times reports more than half of students change their majors at some point. It took me a few semesters to settle on Management Information Systems. I knew a lot of people who tried to plan out every single course each semester from the first day. Those of us who tried (myself included) – how many of us kept those plans?

How many of you have moved – whether to a new apartment or house? My mom always told me that moving helps you grow. I had an amazing opportunity to be one of the first students to live in Residence Hall North, and later I had the opportunity to live in an on-campus apartment. Moving away from home taught me how to be responsible and how to deal with a diverse set of people, and I was fortunate enough to have awesome roommates. Did “moving” teach you anything?

How have your career goals changed? When I first came to the Jindal School, Professor Polze asked his honors class to write a short paper about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote about wanting to start a business to help other people with their businesses. It wasn’t until a few semesters later that I realized I wanted to become a consultant. Many of us graduating today have friends who were originally pre-med and engineering majors, who later switched to management. Many of us found our path through internship experiences. Fortunately, I was able to participate in an internship every summer since my freshman year – thanks to our wonderful Career Center. Through internships, we have been able to better judge what we want to do and we do not want to do in the future. How many of you are actually on the same career path that you set for yourself years ago?

“I give credit to UT Dallas for preparing me for today, and collectively we can thank UT Dallas for getting us ready for the rest of our lives. We are strong for many reasons.”

How have the relationships you’ve developed at UT Dallas impacted you? The diversity in the Jindal School is astonishing – we have made friends of all ethnicities, nationalities, ages and majors. We’ve gotten to see close friends getting married, having their first children, and friends adjusting to living in America. I think that all of us can appreciate the cultural knowledge we have gained from one another.

How has your personality changed, or how have you grown? If you asked “high school Michelle” whether she would be OK with speaking in front of an audience today, you would not have seen her volunteer. I give credit to UT Dallas for preparing me for today, and collectively we can thank UT Dallas for getting us ready for the rest of our lives. We are strong for many reasons. We’ve run organizations; we have held leadership positions. We have many people to thank. I would like to thank the Davidson Management Honors and Collegium V Honors programs for helping me build the professional skills that have shaped me today. Not only did I develop technical and professional skills, but my personality has grown for the better. Now, I will actually start conversations with the person sitting next to me, or occasionally talk to the person with me in the elevator.

So, have you changed at all since your first class? We represent many different paths to graduation. Some of us took the traditional path and others an unconventional path. No matter your situation, I want you to reflect on how this degree has changed your life. Consider: How are you different?

I know that it was for the better. In his chicken-and-egg story, Collins writes, “It’s a silly analogy, but then our conventional way of looking at change is no less silly. Everyone looks for the “miracle moment” when change happens. But ask the good-to-great executives when change happened. They cannot pinpoint a single key event that exemplified their successful transition.” It may not be a single event that transformed us, but the time spent at UT Dallas has changed us. Let us thank UT Dallas for providing us with such great opportunities; it is an honor to call ourselves Comets. Thank you for the opportunity to speak, and I hope that you all have a wonderful afternoon.

J. Michelle Abuda graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management information systems. She entered the Collegium V Honors Program and the Davidson Management Honors Program as a freshman, and has been a member of the Golden Key Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi. She helped found the JSOM Book Club and the TEDxUTD Club. She served a year as an Undergraduate Leader on the Dean’s Council. Her current plans involve pursuing a master’s degree at the Jindal School in the fall.