Office of the President

Commencement Address Fall 2019

President Benson waves to graduates.

Thank you, Provost Musselman.

Welcome to UT Dallas, everyone!

To all of our graduating students, my University colleagues — and most especially families and friends, including those who are watching online – thank you for being here today.

I know that today is special for our graduating students and their loved ones.

It’s also a very special time for our University. This year UT Dallas has turned 50!

Since this is our 50th anniversary, you might think our first commencement was 50 years ago. But it wasn’t.

UT Dallas was established in 1969. The first classes — all graduate-level courses — were offered in fall 1970.

So, the very first commencement ceremony held for UT Dallas was in 1973.

There were no undergraduates in that first graduating class of four people; no alma mater; no Temoc; and definitely no web-based viewing of the ceremony.

In our archives is a black-and-white photo of the first graduates accepting their diplomas from the University’s first president — Dr. Bryce Jordan.

Many years before UT Dallas was to be as important to me as it is today, I met Dr. Jordan. His career path eventually had taken him from the presidency here to the presidency of Penn State. Our meeting took place in 1996 when he returned to Penn State for the opening of the Bryce Jordan Center named for him on that campus.

I was a member of the engineering faculty there. Little did I know that almost 20 years later, I would be leading UT Dallas.

During my inauguration as president in 2016, I said that it was no small privilege to follow in the footsteps of our first four presidents: Bryce Jordan, Robert Rutford, Franklyn Jenifer and David Daniel

Dr. Rutford — the University’s second president — was in the audience that day and I have had the pleasure over the last few years to spend time with him. Sadly, Dr. Rutford died just a few weeks ago.

He was a celebrated geosciences researcher who completed more than two dozen treks to Antarctica. And, I am quite certain, he is the only person to have both a mountain and an ice stream named for him in Antarctica!

But, even more importantly for those of you earning your diplomas today, Dr. Rutford was a pivotal force in the growth and drive for excellence here. It was under his tenure that freshmen and sophomores were first admitted and that the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science was established.

Think how much differently your lives — and mine — would be without his leadership.

I want to talk a little bit more about those four students who graduated in that first class in 1973. All of them were graduate students, majoring in science and mathematics. They were taught by some of the best scholars in their disciplines. And while we were not yet a top tier research university, we were already focusing in that direction.

UT Dallas, at that time, only had a few buildings, including Founders. What we had was a lot of space and a lot of room to grow into what our founders had envisioned for us.

I’ve seen some artistic renderings of early plans for campus that included a monorail between buildings. We may not have that, but we soon will have a commuter rail connecting our campus to other points across North Texas.

Speaking of futuristic modes of transportation, some of your fellow students, staff and faculty got creative when imagining UT Dallas 50 years in the future. Let’s hear what they had to say:

I appreciate that video. It not only captures the creative thinking that takes place here, but also puts into words why we love UT Dallas.

The founding of UT Dallas was not just one brilliant act of creation. And our founding is not complete.

We are still giving shape to this young University, and each of you have a part to play in that. Put simply, each of you are Founders. You are the heartbeat of our University, and you have made UT Dallas better for having been here. Thank you for that.

You came to UT Dallas for your degrees, and today you have them. But you also came here for more — to explore the world as you did not yet know it, to expand your circle of friends, and to seek answers to life’s questions.

You pursued your academic goals while volunteering, competing, and performing.

Many of you found ways to not only be students, but to be parents — or grandparents; to be employees and employers.

Family and friends, I hope that you have spotted your student in the chairs. In a short time, they will cross this stage and we will celebrate not only their achievement but also the ongoing successes of this bright young University.

To this dynamic graduating class, today marks a rite of passage. It is a public affirmation of your hard work and determination.

I applaud each and every one of you for navigating the rigors of academic life … and for your impact on UT Dallas, both now and in the future.

Congratulations, Comets!

We are proud of you.