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Bachelor of Science Degrees, Neuroscience and Biochemistry

Good morning — thank you faculty, family, friends and, of course, the Class of 2016. It takes a lot of time, motivation, frustration and dedication to get to this point, so congratulations on completing your degree plans; we’re finally here.

UT Dallas has an amazing knack for attracting a certain type of student. Categorize us how you will, but I think one thing the majority of us have in common is our abilities to get drawn into other times, places and universes through the right combination of words on paper. With that in mind, I’d like you all to consider one of your favorite books. No, it cannot be a textbook, even though I’m sure those hefty tomes are the first that come to mind. Hopefully, this book you’ve thought of has some sort of beginning, middle and end, with an interesting plotline to tie it all together.

Growing up a reader, endings were always my favorite part of any story. I liked that they are the magical section where loose ends are tied up, complications are resolved and a happy closure is generally reached. Epilogues, in particular, were extremely satisfying. Many of you might fight me on this now, but when I first read the epilogue to the Harry Potter series, my 13–year–old heart got all of the perfect-ending feels.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve realized that by seeking out endings, I was missing the whole point. By pursuing the predictable post-series smooth sailing, I was skipping the twists and turns, the abrupt stops, the moments that would make me search between the lines, behind the plot and over my head to understand the journey the author chose to take her characters on. Good endings can be clean and satisfying; however, I’ve come to think that truly great endings leave you with something to gnaw on. Something that makes you uncomfortable, stretching your mind beyond the billions of neurons and glia already there.

"Give yourself permission to be passionate and to reach beyond what you know you are capable of; find that point where the discomfort gives you a reason to care, then push further."

We have reached an ending here today. If I’m the first to tell you that, then you clearly haven’t been checking your email for the last five months. But, I hope you are leaving this chapter not completely satisfied. If I have one wish for each of us, it is that we are not 100 percent happy with how our time here wrapped up. I sincerely hope that B+ you almost got up to an A itches a little; I hope that time you were blindsided by a rejection left behind a little scar; I hope you didn’t quite squeeze in everything you planned to accomplish these last couple of years. Why? Because that means you fought to take in everything you could while you were here; it means that we pushed beyond ourselves and dared to grow.

We’re all heading different places, taking “real–world” jobs or perhaps jumping into graduate school. I, for one, will be taking an unplanned gap year to become an EMT, adopt that Siberian husky I’ve always wanted and reapply to medical school. “Reapply” — such an inherently embarrassing word. It implies so much: rejection, failure, years of hard work that ended in seemingly negative results. I’ve been told my whole life that when you get knocked down, it just means you need to come back up trying harder, but I don’t think we want our peers to know that’s what we’re doing. We want to maintain our cool exteriors while desperately trying to fix things behind the scenes or, even worse, quitting.

But, then, what’s the point? If you start to push yourself beyond your boundaries, sometimes you will fail. You will fail in fantastic and devastating ways. But, you will also restart, you will refocus and if it’s important, you will find the right way to re–begin. Give yourself permission to be passionate and to reach beyond what you know you are capable of; find that point where the discomfort gives you a reason to care, then push further. Be flexible; open your mind so that you can take advantage of every opportunity, whether it takes you where you planned or not. Reach for more, give that extra hour, volunteer for that additional task. If binge–watching Netflix until midnight followed by completing that big assignment before its 8 a.m. deadline has taught us anything, it is that we are capable of great things when we push ourselves.

I’d like to wrap up with a brief quote from Lao Tzu: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Beginnings are messy. They’re challenging. They’re often confusing, but they’re also necessary to achieve your goals.

Well, Class of 2016, this is it. I hope you’re excited because we live in amazing times. I hope you’re nervous because that’s how you know you’re challenging yourself to reach somewhere new. But, most of all, I hope you’re both happy with the path you’re about to embark on and hungry for what the future will bring. This is your beginning, so — ready, set, go.

Alyssa Hutchinson graduated magna cum laude with Bachelor of Science degrees in neuroscience and biochemistry. A National Merit Scholar, she has also been a part of the Collegium V Honors Program and served as a Supplemental Instruction Leader and Super Leader. She has enjoyed membership in the Neuroscience Student Association, Health Occupations Students of America, Alpha Epsilon Delta, Golden Key International Honour Society, Deutschklub and the Cycling and Triathlon Club. After graduation, she plans to return to Seattle to work as a medical scribe and EMT while applying to medical school.