Office of the President

Education is Empowerment

Commencement Address Spring 2015

Graduates, and friends and family members of our graduates, please allow me to share a few thoughts about today's ceremony.

Graduation represents one of the most significant accomplishments in any life. Everyone who will cross the stage today entered UT Dallas with exceptionally strong academic credentials. But success was assured for no one.

Graduation is an earned accomplishment, not an entitlement. Earned by getting to class every day, rising early from bed or putting in late hours after work, mastering coursework even when the class was not a favorite subject or was taught by someone who was not a favorite professor. Studying instead of partying or being with family. Persevering despite discouragement, and staying on track, despite life's unpredictable ups and downs that can threaten to overwhelm academic goals.

But through it all, you made it! Your achievement says you have character and heart, as well as intelligence.

Friends and family, take pride in knowing that today's graduates have secured their degrees from one of the most rigorous, demanding institutions of higher education in the world: UT Dallas. Today's graduates have earned our deepest respect. I salute and applaud each of you.

“Teaching a person how to think is education's greatest gift. This gift knows no boundaries related to discipline.”

Over the course of three days, UT Dallas will be conferring degrees on several thousand students. Their majors span such fields as finance, economics, engineering, science, interdisciplinary studies, mathematics, audiology, aesthetic studies, history, art and performance, criminology, and others among the more than 130 programs UT Dallas offers.

They're all areas worthy of study, or we wouldn't offer them. But I often hear questions and opinions about the perceived value of one college major or degree over another in terms of potential to secure a job.

I understand the premise. The immediate job market for a person earning a degree in a field such as history might not be as obvious as the market for someone earning a degree in a field such as software engineering. But both kinds of degrees offer great value. And a diversity of types of graduates in the workplace is not only desirable, but also a necessary ingredient for success.

I'm an engineer, and an educator, and spent a good deal of my life teaching and practicing engineering before I morphed into a college administrator. The single most difficult challenge I faced as an engineering professor was balancing the need to teach basic principles—the underlying laws and rules that govern science and engineering—against the need to teach applied methods—how to actually do things. The first, an understanding of basic principles, is necessary for a lifetime of work and evolved sophistication as an engineer. The second, the design charts and software packages in an engineer's toolbox, is what will give my graduating student an immediate livelihood and the ability to go out and find a job.

As an educator, I'm convinced that I got the balance about right, although I confess I might have leaned a little toward focusing on basic principles. I feel that I served my students' best interests by striking a balance between education and training. I'm confident that our exceptional faculty at UT Dallas, likewise, served today's graduates well by balancing fundamental education with the need to teach practical skills.

We often hear questions raised about whether a college degree offers enough training for a first job. The immediate relevance, for example, of liberal arts degree programs in the workplace may not be as readily apparent as that of programs such as finance, accounting or electrical engineering. But a person who has pursued a broad education in an excellent university with enthusiasm and energy is ideally prepared to think, to analyze in historical context, and perhaps most importantly, to communicate well. Some degree holders may make a slower start out of the gate in terms of income and title. But it's clear to me that the ultimate rewards associated with such an education catch up with, and may even surpass, more technically focused educational preparation.

I recall meeting for the first time one of our most successful alumni. This individual is now the CEO of one of the largest banks in the world. I asked him how his UTD education had helped him gain this high success. He paused for a moment, and then said, "UTD taught me a way of thinking."

His insight is profound. Teaching a person how to think is education's greatest gift. This gift knows no boundaries related to discipline – just different permutations in style and substance, not objective.

Education is empowerment. The first job is a first step. But life has many more steps. To me, the underlying strength of intellectual muscle is more important than the size of the first step. I am confident that your experience at UT Dallas has helped you build the intellectual muscle you will need to make a long, rewarding journey, and that the social and leadership skills you've honed here will serve you well.

I want to close with an observation that I hope you will remember. The future is always uncertain. The only constant is change, and your only real control lies in your ability to grapple with and respond to the new things each day brings. Change is one of the great wonders of the human experience. But amid constant change, our knowledge and understanding of solid principles and values serve as our guides.

Today, here with you, are the people who helped you learn those principles and values: your family, your friends, your University community. You are part of The University of Texas at Dallas, and it is part of you. The earned body of knowledge and way of thinking is what we celebrate today and can never be taken from you. It's yours to employ as you go forth into this world of constant change. Decide how you will use it to change the world to benefit yourself, your family and our society.

Graduates, congratulations, thank you for your attention, and good luck!

Updated: May 28, 2015