Office of the President

Bonded by Hard Work, Connected to a Broad Legacy

Commencement Address Fall 2016

Let me welcome you all — family and friends — to UT Dallas.  Whether you are here with us in person or watching online, I join you in celebrating our newest graduates.

Every student whose name will be announced during this ceremony has found support and encouragement — from those who have taught and guided them while here, and from family members and friends who made it all possible.

In just a few moments, our assembled students will smile and wave as they cross the stage. I will shake their hands. And in a very public way, we will celebrate their achievement.

Their time in the spotlight, of necessity, will be brief — a disproportionate amount of time when compared to the hours they have spent in our lecture halls, research laboratories, library and study spaces.

Ultimately, this day is one of celebration, and maybe even relief. Under every cap and gown in this room are stories of challenges met and exceeded.

To the students — from today forward, you can call yourself a graduate of UT Dallas. That is an honor that you share with more than 90,000 alumni — people who have left here and pursued any number of paths, as business owners, educators, civic leaders, medical professionals and researchers.

I cite these careers as examples of the range of our graduates’ abilities, knowing full well that it doesn’t come close to giving a complete picture of what our graduates accomplish in their lives.

For example, Drs. Gwen and Aziz Sancar are among our accomplished alumni. They met at UT Dallas and married while students here. Today, they both are on faculty at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Some of you may recall hearing about Dr. Sancar. In 2015 he was announced as one of the winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work to map at a molecular level how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard genetic information. His work provides a significant contribution to developing new cancer treatments.

The work of Aziz Sancar demonstrates that what we do at UT Dallas matters far beyond our campus borders. It also points to the importance of those who work here, to the efforts of our dedicated staff and our distinguished faculty.

“Take pride in the impact that this University has made on your future. And, in turn, make sure that you make an impact wherever your path takes you.

Dr. Sancar came to UT Dallas because of the people — in particular, Dr. Claud Stanley Rupert, who had discovered DNA repair. Such accomplished professionals are the norm, not the exception here. I trust that each of you has been positively impacted by someone from our stellar faculty and staff.

You share more with your fellow Comets than a career choice, though. Your diploma, regardless of the chosen field of study, unites you through the common bond of hard work — mixed with a lot of joy — that accompanies a formal education.

You are also connected to a broad legacy in this nation of graduating from a public university. The variety and quality of public universities in the United States is the envy of the world.

Allow me to be professorial for a moment because I want to share with you why I treasure the role of a public university.

While this university is young — not even 50 years old — it is tied to institutions founded more than 150 years ago. These are public institutions created in response to a daring 19th-century belief that a college degree should be available to any bright and ambitious person.  

This was an extraordinary proposition at a time when only a wealthy few went to college — in any country. It was a transformative act of creation based on amazing foresight that our nation — and every state in the nation — needed the services of its brightest citizens.

So here you are today, graduating from a young public university that continues to benefit from resources provided by the state and through the UT System.

Some of you are first-generation college students. For others, it may have been your mother or father who was the first in your family to attend college. In every case, lives have been transformed. Your personal legacy is also the legacy of our state and our nation. You have much to contribute to the economic and social strength of our civilization.

Graduates, whether you have yet recognized it, you are different today than when you first arrived. Your diligence extended beyond classroom learning. Many of you volunteered hours mentoring schoolchildren, tutoring senior citizens, tending the community gardens and helping local agencies.

Any number of you competed in the athletic arena. I applaud your efforts to thread the needle of being a student and having a life outside of the classroom and laboratory.

And I’m certain that more than one of you juggled the demands of family and employment while managing to meet and even exceed what was required to complete a degree. In doing so you continue to exhibit qualities of many determined students before you.

In the years to come, you will have the opportunity to reflect on your time here. Take pride in the impact that this University has made on your future. And, in turn, make sure that you make an impact wherever your path takes you.

Congratulations, Comets. We are proud of you. Enjoy this special day and all that comes after.