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Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology

Friends, family, faculty and fellow UT Dallas graduates: Today we commemorate the end of a long journey. Thank you to all of you who shared your time, effort and love with us. Without you, we would not be standing here today.

Even as our time at UT Dallas draws to a close, I can still remember my first college experiences as a freshman: the nervous excitement on the first day of classes, late nights in the residence hall, studying with friends, and, on a personal note, experiencing snow days for the first time. But although we may be done with college, today is not a day of sadness. Rather, today is a day of accomplishment. We successfully completed that lifelong goal of getting accepted to and graduating from college – and a very rigorous one at that.

Growing up, we were constantly reminded to make good grades, to get a scholarship, and to pick the right major. After all, how you do in college determines the rest of your life, right? From grade school, we are taught to focus on that one big end goal we have all heard about so many times – graduate from college and find a good job. For me, as graduation was approaching, I found myself thinking: “My life’s biggest goal is coming to a close. So what next? What do I do now?” Graduating from college is scary. No one tells you the next step. Do we find a job and fall into a monotonous rhythm of life? Have we learned all we need to know to be successful? The answer is no. On the contrary, this is only the beginning of our life stories.

As we each try to figure out our next step, I have two challenges for all of us new graduates. This first is to never stop learning – be a “life-long learner.” If I have learned anything during my time here at UT Dallas, it’s that there is so much more to learn. What we have learned here is only the tip of the iceberg. As graduates, we have been given the gift of a quality education. This does not mean we simply memorize facts or regurgitate information. Instead, we are critical thinkers, problem solvers and true scholars. UT Dallas has given us the foundation to propel us into our new lives and careers, but learning does not stop at graduation. Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Continue to push yourself to grow and to learn more. Knowledge enhances our understanding of the world and enables us to see other perspectives. Build on what you already know, and challenge yourself to learn something new. Success isn’t found only in what we already know, but by what we are going to learn after we leave.

“Have we learned all we need to know to be successful? The answer is no. On the contrary, this is only the beginning of our life stories.”

The second challenge I propose for all of us is to define your own meaning of success. Until now our grades or GPA could measure our achievements. However, moving forward, our accomplishments are not always so quantifiably measured. As we grew up, we often succeeded through the definitions of others, but now it is time to define success in our own personal terms. Each one of us has unique talents and abilities that can be used in a variety of ways, and each one of us has a different sweet spot where our strengths and passions come together. As you discover the best way to apply and use your skills in your future, remember there is no strict formula for success. Determine what is most valuable to you and chase that instead of listening to what someone else tells you is necessary to find success. When we let go of other people’s definitions of value and achievement, we start our real journey. Follow the path you set for yourself, not what someone else set for you.

As you continue to figure out your next steps in life, keep these two challenges in mind. Maintain a passion for learning and define your own success. When I think back to that first day of freshman year again, graduation seemed so far away. The future seemed so very far away. But now, even though the future may seem distant, today is actually the beginning. It’s time to show the world the zealously innovative and independent scholars we have become. It’s time to define our own paths. Thank you.

Keri Schoenemann graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in speech-language pathology and audiology. She attended UT Dallas as a Terry Scholar and received the School of Behavioral Brain Sciences Dean’s Award for Excellence. Schoenemann is also a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and was a nationally selected recipient of the Phi Kappa Phi study abroad grant. After graduation, she plans to complete her Master of Science in communication disorders.