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Mohammad Nourani

Portrait of Mohammad Nourani

U-T-D. I was really unsure how to start this speech, but I felt better after I Googled “worst graduation speeches ever.” When I was a little boy, my momma told me there were three hard things to do in life: One was to climb a wall leaning toward you, two was to kiss a girl leaning away, and three was to get a college education. Now I never got a chance to climb a wall that leaned toward me — not a big rock climber. But man, did I try to get a college education.

I’m fortunate enough to say that this is not my first commencement at UTD. I have been to at least 10. This is the second one in which I’ve participated. Most of the time I was over there in the audience. Trust me, the seats weren’t always that nice.

I have been bleeding orange and green since I was 5. My parents have been involved with this great University since before the turn of the century when my father started as a professor of engineering. Then my mother got a degree here, and the dominoes were in effect. Fast forward 20 years later, and seven members of my immediate family have gotten at least one degree from UTD. Although I may have denied it in my rebellious teenage years, I sort of always had an inkling that I would end up here. I grew up hearing about the University, being on campus all the time and watching my siblings attend UTD one after the next. So again, I was lucky. I had an early life blueprint in front of me: go through early education (check), go to high school (check), come to UTD (checkaroo), graduate from UTD and then . . .

“Get to your joy in life, and never give up on finding it.”

Well, this is where we are now. Fellow grads, we made it to graduation. I am honored to be able to share my story with you. But each and every one of us has had a unique path to this stage, all special in their own ways. And now? Perhaps the number one conversation all of us have with friends, family, co-workers: “Oh, you’re graduating? Congrats! What are you going to do afterward?” That is a stressful question. Lots of pressure. We’re expected to have a plan, and many of you today might — which is great. But for me, these questions would cause anxiety and lead to sleepless nights. Even though I normally answered about getting some job related to my degree to get people off my back, my real answer was always the same: “I don’t know.”

Do we jump into the corporate world? Do we take time off and travel the globe? Try our hand at entrepreneurship? Get another degree? (Eh, I tried that one.) What is it? What’s next on the checklist? There are no more blueprints; we complete college degrees, but we experience living. The late Heath Ledger said, “Everyone you meet always asks if you have a career, are married, or own a house as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy.” Don’t compromise happiness to do what you’re “supposed to do.” If you want to invent something, do it! Love making money? Build it! Have a passion for helping others? By all means. Do you have no clue what it is you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life? There is nothing wrong with that, and there are no wrong answers. Or, like me, you could go from working as an intern at a cosmetics company to a job at NASA! It doesn’t have to be today, it could be in our 30s, 40s, 50s. Get to your joy in life, and never give up on finding it.

Because in the end, when looking back, we don’t actually remember events. What we really remember is how they made us feel. And what I will remember from Dec. 17, 2019, is accomplishment, nervousness, freedom and joy. That’s happy. Thank you.

Mohammad Nourani, from Plano, Texas, is graduating cum laude with his MBA. He joined UT Dallas in 2012 as an Academic Excellence Scholar, and earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 2016. He ran on the cross country team for four years, was named an American Southwest Conference all-academic honoree, and received the UTD Athletics Comet Award in 2016. He also was a Clark Research fellow, an Orientation Leader, a Skip Moore Leadership scholar, club sports council member, and the president of the men’s club volleyball. Since 2017, he has worked in center operations at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.