I remember the first time I stepped foot onto the UT campus several years ago. I was so lost—literally. My roommate at the time was showing me around the campus. After several hours of walking around, we decided to head back to Jester, and I happily walked in the wrong direction. He quickly corrected me and, with a hint of exasperation, advised me, “Whenever you get lost, just look for the Tower to find your way home.” …to which I responded, “What Tower?”
He merely returned a look of frustration—one that we would both repeat many times while Greg Davis was offensive coordinator. (Nothing like a screen pass on 3rd and 20…)
This was an embarrassing and sobering moment for me—as I’m sure all of us had when we arrived at the University of Texas for the first time. I left high school knowing it all and ready to conquer the world, but realized quickly that I could not have even survived orientation on my own. August came around soon though, and, like all of us, I began to attend classes, lectures, and football games.
Over the past several years, we have been witnesses to many events in our world. We have witnessed the election of a new president—one we were finally able to vote. We have witnessed a credit collapse. We have witnessed a budget crisis. And yet, we knew that this was the world in which we were about to be unleashed in only a matter of years.
My own eyes slowly began to open. Suddenly the age-old promise of the future being ours seemed to be less of a promise and more of a threat.
In our classes, we learned about commerce, economics, and ethics. We learned about cultures, religions, and traditions. We learned about integrity, honesty, and freedom. We learned every two-letter word that could be played in a game of Words with Friends. We learned about principles to apply to a real world—a cold, rigid, and harsh world that was awaiting us.
Today we reach a crossing where we have the chance to mold and shape this world. If “what starts here changes the world,” then we have a daunting task and great expectations laid upon us. Yet, it is ours to embrace!
As we embark with our degrees today, it is important to consider what we are receiving. For what does a degree truly guarantee? Success? Happiness? Employment?
Our degrees are invaluable–our quintessential defense. Our greatest safeguard is that we are able to read, write, and reason—the ability to create. It is a shield against manipulation and cajolery. It is our sword against evil and tyranny. It is our shofar to signal a just cause and to alert those who remain unarmed.
As we see the uncertainties that abound the world we enter, we know that we come from an outstanding university and will attain careers in influential roles. It is with this outlook that we know we will have the opportunity to shape the world for other students one day. And it is with this understanding that we are aware that we undertake great expectations. We sing “the eyes of Texas are upon you” frequently, but today, for the last time, it is being sung to us. We have the expectations that we, with what we have learned at the University of Texas, will continue to strive for the higher ideal to hopefully leave the world better for the next generation, as the past generation strived to leave it better for us.
Many years from now, we will look upon this day, not as an ending, but as a beginning of the time we were unleashed into the chaotic world we inherited. Many years from now, we will look upon this day as the start of our lives as true contributors to the communities around us, contributing in our thoughts, our words, and, most importantly, our actions. Many years from now, we will look upon this day as the moment in which we embarked upon a journey in which we examined the lessons of the past and sought to correct them as we emblazed on a new path. (Many years from now, we will look upon this day and wonder just how Angry Birds grew to be so popular…) Many years from now, we will look upon this day and recall the many ways each of us has individually shaped each others’ lives to give us the new perspective with which we approach our next challenges.
I have by no means cemented my destiny, but what is for certain is that I am no longer lost as I was graduating from high school years ago. What we have learned over the past five years has given us a clear sense of direction, and, in acting upon the lessons we learned, we, as a class, can be trusted to lead the world into the next era.
John Wooden once said, “Little things make big things happen.” And I’m a firm believer in that saying. All of our actions, no matter if seemingly small and inconsequential, cumulate and send the greater message to those around us. Thus, as we leave today, we go with confidence and a charge to continue to use our work to be helpful to everyone around us. These are the responsibilities that our education now endows us: that we actively set the example, using what we have learned from our experiences here, to ensure that the next generation inherits a paradise of integrity, trust, and freedom; that our contributions do matter; and that we have the opportunity, as a class together, to guarantee that the world will be ready to be inherited many years from now in better shape than we received it.
So I ask you: if what starts here truly changes the world, what are we waiting for?
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The past several years have been amazing, and I am indebted and forever grateful to the faculty and staff at UT, especially those within the McCombs School of Business and MPA Program, and my peers who stood beside me during my best and worst hours. Thus, thank you, Austin, for five absolutely beautiful years, and may God’s face be able to shine upon the work of our hands forever!