AUSTIN, Texas—Wars, disease and genocide are among the problems facing college graduates who will become our nation’s leaders in the years ahead. The problems are ominous, but the good news is that they are no more ominous than those faced by previous generations of Americans, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Oshinsky told graduating students Saturday, May 19, at The University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. David M. Oshinsky
“It’s hardly a secret that you’ll be leaving this cloistered, nurturing campus to enter a messy, unpredictable world,” Oshinsky told the crowd of 22,000 people gathered on the university’s Main Mall to celebrate the graduation of about 7,400 students including undergraduate, graduate and law students.
“But here’s the good news,” Oshinsky said. “Our world has always been messy. The problems you face today are no more ominous than those faced by previous generations of Americans. These problems have solutions, and it is up to you to figure them out.” He expressed confidence in the skills and abilities of today’s graduates not only to resolve the world’s problems but to make it a better place for future generations.
“So there’s good reason to be optimistic—to savor this moment, to breathe it in slowly, and to dream big dreams,” Oshinsky said. “I only ask these things of you: be civil to those with whom you disagree and be generous to others along the way. Fully understand how privileged you are to be graduates of The University of Texas at Austin. Be mindful of this gift and willing to share the bounty it will bring you. And remember how much your parents and family members have sacrificed to get you here.”
Oshinsky, the Jack S. Blanton, Sr. Chair in History at The University of Texas at Austin, received the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his book “Polio: An American Story,” which details America’s obsession with the disease in the 1940s and 1950s. His keynote speech was among the highlights at the 124th Spring Commencement ceremonies at the university, which also included a fireworks display from the university’s Tower, which glowed bright orange with “O7” on the sides of the building.
The speaker said the students should be proud of their university’s accomplishments through the years and its goal to take its rightful place among the elite of state universities in the United States, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia.
“These are the universities we aspire to emulate, to compete with, in the academic sphere,” Oshinsky said. “But this will not be easy. To be blunt, our university, at present, does not receive the funding required to get us where we hope to go. We need more full-time faculty to service our growing student population, and greater diversity among the people we hope to hire. We need additional resources to attract and retain the very best professors, to encourage their cutting edge scholarship, and to successfully compete for the world’s top graduate students. As citizens of Texas, and men and women who want the very best for our university, we must insist that closing the gap on Michigan in the national academic rankings is every bit as important to us as beating them in the Rose Bowl.”
Oshinsky said athletics and academics are both essential parts of the university’s educational mission, and he urged the graduates, their families and friends to “strongly support The University Texas at Austin in all of its future endeavors, including the hard but vital push to reach its full academic potential.”
A transcript of Oshinsky’s speech is available on the Commencement 2007 Web site.
For more information contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.