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Madeleine Keith

Portrait of Madeleine Keith

Esteemed professors, honored guests, graduates and my very dear friends. Congratulations. You’re here. And not a very long time from now, you will be an official alumnus of The University of Texas at Dallas. Give yourselves a hand.

Now, I know what you’re wondering and no, I am not going to quote Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You Will Go. In fact, there is likely not a folksy aphorism or word of advice out there that has not already been said by a J.K. Rowling or Lin-Manuel Miranda or Matthew McConaughey, or any number of individuals with wisdom and expertise far exceeding my own. The collective knowledge represented in this room today, by students and professors alike, makes me exceedingly aware that there is little I could speak about that you do not already know.

I’m not going to tell you, for instance, that life is hard and that success doesn’t come cheap. You know this. I have born witness to so many of you working two or even three jobs, sitting through numerous classes just to return home to do three more hours of homework for school the next day. I’ve seen you spend all night studying at the library, only getting up to grab an occasional midnight coffee or inhale some Pop-Tarts (because yes, that person having the meltdown at the table next to you was me). For many here today, completing this degree was by no means an easy task. And yet you persevered.

I’m not going to tell you that life is filled with incredible highs and inexplicable lows. I’ve laughed with you over Frito pies on Texas Day as we all put on our giant foam cowboy hats and collectively wondered just how many waivers we needed to sign for a chance to fall off the mechanical bull. I’ve sat in parking lot T and watched “La La Land” with you as we all furiously decorated our golf carts for homecoming. I’ve stood in awe with you as we witnessed the few, the proud, the chess team beat innumerable, gullible students blindfolded. And I’ve mourned with you as another brick was added to the reflecting pool to commemorate a Comet gone too soon. I’ve seen our brothers and sisters in Greek life lift each other up in the good times and the bad. I’ve sat at the Plinth as dozens of different student organizations championed various charities and causes, and sometimes just championed each other. So I’m not going to talk to you today about what many refer to as “real life.” Because I know you, and you have already lived it.

“It is my hope today that whatever you do in this life, from this day forward, you act in the spirit of service, in the spirit of kindness, in the spirit of showing up. For it is in the little ways in which we serve each other every day that we truly begin to change this world for the better.”

But as I stand here today amid such a diverse group of graduates, some of whom will dedicate their lives to breaking the bounds of science and some who will stretch the limits of our imagination, I do want to talk to you about the one thing we all have in common — people. You see, whether we like it or not — and yes, I know for some of y’all it is a not — all of our lives involve a constant flow of people. Of interactions, of relationships, of “I love yous” and “I hate yous” and everything in between. So there is one thing I’d like to ask of you today. Show up for people. Show up for your family — biological or otherwise — because they showed up for you every day, day in and day out. Be there for your friends because sometimes they’ll just want to gossip, but other times they’re going to need to know that someone out there, just one person, thinks they matter. And they’re going to need you to send them a stupid cat meme to prove it to them.

A great writer once said, “more and more, we have come to expect less and less of each other.” And I want us to be the generation that changes that. I want us to hold each other to a higher standard because we hold ourselves to a higher standard. I want us to try to understand each other’s beliefs instead of belittling them. I want us to be the generation that our grandkids talk about with reverence and with awe because we were a turning point, we took a stand. And, as trivial it may sound, it starts with replying to that text message. It starts with not blowing off that coffee meetup for a date with Netflix. It starts with committing to the people we love and care about. It starts with showing up.

I am confident, having had the pleasure to live and learn beside so many of you, that a number of those walking across the stage today will go on to achieve extraordinary things. Some may become elected officials. Others may win Nobel Prizes or Pulitzers, becoming innovators within their fields. There is little doubt in my mind that some of you will change the world. But, perhaps, more importantly, I hope that many of you will go on to change your world. To shape your community. To better your city. To make people within your little corner of the world feel loved. It is my hope today that whatever you do in this life, from this day forward, you act in the spirit of service, in the spirit of kindness, in the spirit of showing up. For it is in the little ways in which we serve each other every day that we truly begin to change this world for the better. And I look forward to changing it with you. Congratulations, again. God bless, and Whoosh!


Madeleine Keith graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minor in history. She has been involved in a number of student organizations on campus including UTD’s Moot Court, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Connect CMI and The Mercury. Last spring, she was an Archer Fellow, working in the U.S. Department of State Office of the Judicial Liaison. She spent two years as a University student tour admissions representative. After graduation, she hopes to return to Washington, D.C., to pursue a career in government service.

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