Office of the President

Worth It? Yes!

Commencement Address Fall 2014

Greetings, and welcome to UT Dallas! It is my pleasure to recognize our soon-to-be-graduates, their family members and friends, assembled faculty and staff, and those who join us via the Internet, watching from around the world. Thank you for being with us on this most special day.

Graduates, your achievement adds to the record of excellence that UT Dallas is setting. I am proud of you, and you have many reasons to be proud of yourselves and your association with your university. But I suspect that no one is more proud of today’s graduates than parents, siblings, children, spouses and other loved ones who played such an essential role in making today’s commencement possible. To everyone who supported today’s graduates, on behalf of our entire university, I say thank you!

“Graduates, you are the product of a growing institution, one that is not only becoming bigger but also better, with academic distinctions that attract the best and brightest.”

Graduates, you are the product of a growing institution, one that is not only becoming bigger but also better, with academic distinctions that attract the best and brightest. Your university is on its way to becoming large enough to compete with the very best public research universities in America, and we are already academically capable of holding our own with them. Pursuit of this top-tier goal is a priority, not only as a matter of institutional pride, but also as a matter of assuring that the value of the degree you are about to receive is always rising.

About that degree: Starting today, the very real, hard work and the sacrifices of the past semesters will be embodied in symbols. You’ll have a diploma you may hang on a wall, perhaps a class ring you may have dunked in our fountain, a “selfie” you shot with classmates, a transcript that lists the courses you mastered, and the photographs that friends and family members will take of your joyful celebration today. What is all that worth?

We hear a lot of questions these days about the value of a college degree. This conversation is framed by concerns about the expense of college, the debt that some students incur, challenges in today’s economy, shifting needs of employers, competition from overseas, and uncertainty about the future.

So, was it worth it? All the early mornings and late nights? The hard work that goes into mastering a difficult subject? The financial sacrifices? Is the diploma you are about to receive worth your substantial investment of time, energy, and resources?

Like many of you, I was the first in my family to earn a college degree. My parents sacrificed to make sure that I could get to college and for this, I am deeply grateful. I cannot imagine my life without the advantages and inspiration that higher education granted me. My college education literally changed my life, and in so many ways, made a full and rich life possible. Professionally, I learned the skills that I would need to become a successful engineer and, eventually, a professor and college president. As a student, I was challenged as I never had been before by my professors and fellow students to think and communicate well. Mastering my most difficult college courses was probably the second-hardest thing I’ve ever done in life. The hardest, by the way, was being the best parent that I could be to my children.

College taught me the importance of discipline, planning, listening carefully, and perseverance—working my way through some courses that I did not enjoy, taught by professors who were not my favorite ones. That lesson alone – working hard when it’s not particularly enjoyable just because it is a necessary step on a journey – is a concept that should be learned as early as possible and never forgotten.

I can’t say that your experience has been or will be the same as mine. And I can’t speak for all the colleges and universities in America. But I do know that the world cannot get enough of UT Dallas and its graduates. Without any hesitation or reservation, I say to each of you assembled here today: Yes, it will be worth it for you.

Perhaps you think I’m referring to the conclusive research showing that, on average, people who possess a college degree earn far more over their lifetimes than those without degrees. And that’s good. But I must admit that if our only contribution to your well-being is to move you up to the next rung on the income ladder of your career, I’d be sorely disappointed in myself and in UT Dallas.

UT Dallas is focused on what our students need most. Not skills training that will slot you like a human widget into some entry-level job. But the kind of intellectual muscle that empowers you to excel and will stay with you well past your first position out of college and throughout a lifetime of challenges and opportunities that we cannot begin to imagine or foresee today. This ability to learn, adapt, and change applies not only to the professional path you choose, but, even more importantly, to your own life, values, personal fulfillment, and relationships with friends and family.

“The empowerment that comes from an educated way of thinking is priceless – a gift that cannot be willed or bequeathed, only earned through diligence and hard work.”

We’re here to teach you how to think, how to synthesize, how to discover, how to change when necessary, and how to work with others, including those who don’t look like you and don’t share the same cultural or religious background. Welcome to the global community. This is the real world, and you’ve been participating in it, whether you realized it or not, every time you had a new experience here.

Someone once said, “Education is a person’s progress from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty.”  The educated person sees and appreciates conflicting points of view, relishes in subtleties and nuances, and is capable of synthesizing and processing incomplete or conflicting information. The empowerment that comes from an educated way of thinking is priceless – a gift that cannot be willed or bequeathed, only earned through diligence and hard work.

Some people would note, in reflecting on the importance of education, that it’s not what you know that counts – it’s what you do with what you know. Simply being smart isn’t enough.

To that I say: We have explicitly, intentionally, and even methodically designed both the curriculum and the student experience at UT Dallas not only to make you smarter, but also to teach you how to use what you know.

For the academically gifted, motivated, and disciplined student (that’s all of you!), a college education is not only worth it, but has no equivalent. In a sense, there is no greater personal enrichment than an educated mind. Greater even, I would argue, than physical beauty, athletic prowess, or inherited wealth.

Parents, children, friends and family members of today’s graduates, from this point forward, I want you to view our newly minted alumni in a new light. Unequivocally, undeniably – despite what parents might have feared years ago when today’s graduate was only a young child or pre-teen – these graduates have earned our highest level of respect for what they have accomplished. Whatever might have happened in the past or does happen in the future, know that your graduate may now be called, without any question whatsoever, an educated man or women. It’s a priceless credential that each has earned.

Graduates, I close by thanking each of you for all that you have contributed to UT Dallas, offering my sincere congratulations, and looking forward to hearing of your achievements to come.

Thank you, and good luck!

Updated: May 28, 2015