Convocation Address Fall 2020
Greetings, students. I am Richard Benson, president of The University of Texas at Dallas.
Let me begin by congratulating you on becoming a part of one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing universities in the nation. And, no matter where you grew up — whether in Texas, or half a world away — you are welcome here!
Typically, we gather in the Activity Center for the official opening of the year. But today, we’ve moved our time-honored tradition into the virtual realm, and I am speaking to you from Inspiration Hall in the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center. Virtual or otherwise, we begin a new academic year, and from this day forward, when I greet you, I will happily refer to you as Comets.
Being a Comet means that you are part of a wonderful community — a large, talented and diverse family of scholars. And for the Comet community to function at its best, you and your classmates will need to get to know one other, respect one another, and trust one another.
Over the course of your time here, you will collaborate with other bright and inspiring individuals, many of whom you have yet to meet, but soon will. And — not to belabor the obvious — you are launching this educational journey in 2020, a singular year in world history. This, too, will forever mark your journey as scholars, and I challenge you to rise to the occasion.
I began college half-a-century ago, in the late ‘60s. It was a very turbulent time in the history of the United States. Then, as now, young adults were at the forefront of calls for societal change. I encourage you to be involved and lend your voice to the causes that matter to you and to our society. As students, you factor prominently in the University’s mission statement, which is that:
The University is committed to graduating well-rounded citizens whose education has prepared them for rewarding lives and productive careers in a constantly changing world.
And how will we honor this commitment? By living our values of community, diversity and inclusion. I want to address each of these values more fully, and discuss how they apply to your time here as a student.
Community: When you chose UT Dallas, you became part of the Comet family. This includes the graduates of UTD, who, for over 50 years, have gone on to lead productive and rewarding lives. And, of course, it also ties you to the students who will come after you, and will look to you for inspiration.
Diversity: Your choice of UT Dallas clearly shows that you are willing to be with people who are different from yourself. In my Convocation speech from 2016 — my very first as the new president — I gave seven points of advice. One was to embrace diversity. I would like to repeat what I said in 2016:
“You are about to make friends with many scholars who have vastly different life experiences than you. Learn from them, and share your story too.
This also applies to the diversity of ideas. Allow yourself to be challenged. Present your own arguments when you feel strongly about a matter, but always do so in a respectful way.
It is okay to hold your ground in a dorm room debate, but, as a rule, if you never change your mind on any topic then it is a safe bet that you are not learning and you are not growing intellectually.”
Inclusion: This requires action on your part. The surest way to practice inclusion is to be involved. Consider taking a course in something that interests you outside of your major or join a student organization.
As an engineering student, I played in a jazz/rock band, took two elective courses in music, two in art, one on Shakespeare, and one on the history of China and Japan. There has hardly been a day since then that I have not thought back to something that I learned in those electives outside of my major.
Those are the types of actions that broaden your view and add to the richness of our University.
If each of you join with us at UT Dallas in living our values, I know that we will not only gain a greater understanding of each other but become allies in confronting current challenges. The best thing about living our values is that we end up having fulfilling and productive lives. Everyone benefits! Remember,from your first day in the classroom until the day you cross the stage with a diploma, you are a vital part of UT Dallas. You deserve to be here!
In closing, thank you for choosing UT Dallas for your studies. Enjoy all that lies ahead. Your time at UT Dallas will enrich your life for years to come.