Commencement happens every spring (and every fall, for that matter), but the ritual is no less meaningful because of its frequency. Celebrating years of cramming for finals, discovering new passions and bonding with lifelong friends never gets old.
And when it's University of Texas at Austin students we're talking about, the future is even more exciting than what has come before. There's a reason we say What Starts Here Changes the World.
It's impossible to capture all the accomplishments, dreams and personalities of the 8,686 Longhorns graduating this Saturday. But the four stories below are a good start.
Congratulations to all the graduates and their friends and families. Hook 'em.
Human Development and Family Sciences
Bacterial meningitis took Jamie Schanbaum's fingers and legs, but it couldn't stop her from becoming a powerhouse public health advocate, undergraduate researcher and Paralympic cycling champ with two state laws named in her honor. (The most recent bill was also named for Texas AandM University student Nicolis Williams, who died from the disease while living off campus.)
"Through my classes, I learned how to adapt my emotions to my new life" as an amputee and facing college life, Schanbaum says. "My classes educated me about the biological effects from different emotional tolls (stress, depression, anxiety, social inclusion, confidence, self-esteem, happiness). From these lectures, I was more likely to be able to recognize certain symptoms, categorize my emotions, and in my own way, reap the benefits. I am grateful that I enrolled into this university and took this degree, because I learned who I was within these years at UT."
Sure, robots are cool. But in Nhat Ho's hands, one day they could help change people's lives.
"I want a future where the disabled, elderly and injured can wear cloth-thin robots to help them in their everyday activities," says Ho, a mechanical engineering student who worked in the Rehabilitation and Neuromuscular Robotics Lab with assistant professor Ashish Deshpande.
Ho contributed to a project called the Upper-Body Exoskeleton and can help patients recovering from stroke by assisting them with precise, repetitive motion therapy. (Ho, a basketball fan, also developed an "exo-baller" device intended to isolate a person's arm movement to train to make the perfect shot. It's a work in progress.)
Ho says engineers are already designing effective rehabilitation robots. Now it's just a matter of the technology and affordability catching up to the ideas.
Urban Studies, Economics
Jordan Metoyer is intelligent, ambitious and passionate, but she doesn't belong at UT at least, that's what the statistics suggest.
"Right now all of the statistics show that where you are born and where you are raised will determine where you end up in society," says the Inglewood, California, native and Truman Scholar.
But Metoyer doesn't think geography or any other factor should predetermine anyone's opportunity.
It's why she formed a task force to successfully defeat a city council ordinance that would have restricted affordable student housing. It's why she switched majors from finance to urban studies and economics. And it's why when she leaves UT she'll continue her efforts by working as an assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
When he arrived at UT, Nishant Mehta was sure he wanted to be a doctor. But after joining Professor George Georgiou's protein engineering lab, his aspirations found a new home in biomedical engineering.
By his junior year he had worked with a graduate student to invent a special kind of protein that could bolster cancer treatment. As a senior, Mehta joined classmates in the Longhorn Startup Lab to found a lab materials company. They have pitched to top investors, including Dallas Mavericks owner and "Shark Tank" star Mark Cuban, and already have seed funding.
"I think that by far the best way to learn is by doing," says Mehta. "What good is information if it just sits in your mind without being applied to something?"