UT Dallas Family, Friends Celebrate Newest Grads
Weekend of Commencement Ceremonies Honors Largest Fall Class to Date

Family and friends worked to contain their excitement as they watched UT Dallas’ newest graduates walk across a stage decorated with poinsettias.

But once the pomp and circumstance came to a close and President David E. Daniel declared the students fall 2011 graduates, the reverence of the moment broke into spontaneous celebration.

The crowd rose to its feet, and amid thunderous applause, the stomping began. It grew deafening as the graduates looked up in awe.

Sandra Martinez

Sandra Martinez will use the degree she earned Saturday to teach mathematics.

The Friday afternoon graduation for the Naveen Jindal School of Management undergraduates kicked off a weekend of commencement ceremonies for more than 1,800 UT Dallas students, the largest fall graduating class to date.

Among the weekend’s graduates is Sandra Martinez, who has always wanted to be a math teacher. On Saturday, she earned a degree in mathematics from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, as well as a teaching certificate.

“I went to college because I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “But it prepared me for real life.”

Martinez hopes to return to her alma mater, Sunset High School, in the Dallas Independent School District.

Martinez credits her success to the Academic Bridge Program, which helps high-potential, first-generation college students earn their degrees. At first, Martinez was apprehensive about juggling college life, but she said key lessons in time management during her first semester stuck with her.

Dr. David E. Daniel and James Reilly

UT Dallas President David E. Daniel accepts a UT Dallas pennant and a cap that Dr. James Reilly took with him aboard the space shuttle.

Astronaut Alumnus Returns
With Souvenirs from Space

Astronaut and alumnus Dr. James Reilly returned to campus Saturday to watch his daughter, Caitlin, graduate and he brought something special for his alma mater.

Caitlin Reilly

Caitlin Reilly

Before the start of the ceremony, he presented UT Dallas President David E. Daniel with a green UT Dallas ball cap that has traveled 18 million miles with him in space over the course of three space shuttle missions. He also gave the University a UT Dallas mini-pennant that he took with him in 2007 when he flew on STS-117, as well as photos that show the cap and mini-pennant with him on orbit.

“It’s … to recognize not only the school that gave me my start, but it’s the school that is giving my daughter her start and all the other students here, and it’s going to be a great foundation,” said Reilly, who earned his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in geosciences from UT Dallas.

Reilly’s daughter, Caitlin, accepted a Bachelor of Arts in criminology during the 1 p.m. ceremony, at which Daniel showed off the cap to the crowd.

“It’s not an easy school,” she said of UT Dallas.  “You have to study. It’s really challenging. You get more responsibilities.”

President Daniel commended students on facing those challenges and responsibilities in his remarks.

“The student experience at UT Dallas is rigorous and demanding — and not for everyone,” Daniel said.  “We recruit talented individuals and help them turn into people who can prosper in a fiercely competitive world — really smart, hard-working, creative people with a will to succeed.”

Naomi Emmit, student speaker for Friday’s first ceremony, told the crowd about finishing college after 23 years away from school.

“The common term that is used is non-traditional student,” Emmit said of herself. “I am 43 years old. I am a full-time student, a full-time employee, a full-time mother of three and a full-time wife,” she said.

The crowd responded with loud applause.

The students who filled the Activities Center at the first ceremony Friday represented the diverse student body at UT Dallas.

International, non-traditional and traditional students sat next to each other, united as Comets.

“The way UT Dallas’ atmosphere uniquely brings together different races, religions, nationalities and ideologies is truly beautiful. In a way, this environment is a microcosm of the increasingly globalizing world that we are all stepping foot into, and we should be thankful for already having been exposed to this environment and having the required skills to succeed in it,” said Sabin Kshattry, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Student speakers also acknowledged the challenges they faced at UT Dallas, and how accomplishing their goals required determination and lots of coffee.

“Recognize the work that went into preparing for exams and passing classes.  Recognize the long hours you spent pounding out job applications and cover letters.  Recognize the all-nighters and the caffeine dependency.  Recognize how much you learned,” said Andrew Cyders, who received his master’s degree from the Naveen Jindal School of Management with a concentration in operations and consulting.

Jessica Adams

Jessica Adams

Jessica Adams, a first-generation college student who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international political economy, faced double the adversity as an undergraduate: twin daughters.

“When I found out I was going to have twins, I turned to my family, friends and professors for advice and help when I started back at school. Without their help, I don’t know that I would be standing before you today,” she said.

Like Adams, Laura Roppe spoke about her experience as an older student.

“At UT Dallas, I did not feel like I was just another number.  I felt like a student who belonged, regardless of my age, my past, or how not-so-traditional my path.  Everyone with whom I have had the honor to cross paths has made my time at UT Dallas an experience that I will never forget,” said Roppe, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. 

Laura Roppe

Laura Roppe

Shortly after the first ceremony ended on Friday, University administrators stood outside the Activity Center to applaud the graduates as they embarked on the commencement recessional on a chilly, sunny afternoon. 

Latoya Castleberry, a graduate who earned her degrees in business administration and accounting and information systems, reflected on the occasion as she strolled down the tree-lined path.

“I feel good,” she said.  “It was a lot of struggle for me because I have two kids. I feel really excited. I’m trying not to cry.”

The recessional ended at Memories on the Mall near the site of the future Arts and Technology building. Graduates embraced their parents and loved ones. Cameras flashed as graduates posed for pictures with their families.

Later Friday, the Naveen Jindal School of Management held its second ceremony for graduate students. Afterward, near the entrance of the University’s Activity Center, junior Sonny Sethi beat a two-sided drum playing music that marks joyous occasions in Northern India. Many joined in a spirited romp to celebrate the graduation of Rohan Nilekani.

Fall 2011 Graduation

Naomi Emmitt, student speaker for Friday’s ceremony, told the crowd about finishing college after 23 years away from school.

“It’s a time for celebration, togetherness and achievement,” said Nilekani, who just earned his master’s degree in business administration.

Two ceremonies were held Friday for the Naveen Jindal School of Management honoring 787 graduates. On Saturday, graduations were held for the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science with 314 graduates; the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences with 196; the School of Arts and Humanities with 169; the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics with 148; the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences with 144; and the School of Interdisciplinary Studies with 81. Overall, UT Dallas awarded 905 graduate and PhD diplomas, and 934 undergraduate diplomas.

President David E. Daniel commended the graduates on facing the challenges of completing a college education.


Graduation Gallery

More photos and student speeches available at the fall 2011 graduation website.









Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].