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To the Class of 2011: “Now you will shape the world”

Read and watch U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s address at the university’s 128th spring commencement Saturday, May 21.

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U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was the speaker for The University of Texas at Austin’s 128th spring commencement Saturday, May 21.

Watch a YouTube video of the distinguished alumna giving her commencement address to the Class of 2011. (The YouTube video opens in a new window.)

Her speech to the Class of 2011 follows:

University of Texas Class of 2011, you’ve done it! As you leave these beloved 40 acres, some of you will set out for new destinations and new challenges all across the nation, or even the world. So on behalf of the state, I will say we expect y’all to come back because every Longhorn eventually does. I want you to remember these things while you’re away.

Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison delivers the address at the 128th spring commencement. Photo: Marsha Miller

In Texas, it’s always appropriate to attend a formal event in your best clothes, your finest jewelry, and your cowboy boots. In Texas, when you order a diet drink you know to expect a margarita without salt. In Texas, the local papers cover national and international news on one page, and it takes six to cover high school sports. And, of course, you will check the Longhorn game schedule before you plan your weddings. That’s right. No matter where you go and how long you’re there, you will always carry the pride of being a Texas Ex. I certainly do. I bleed orange and white, and I’ve been known to write and call our coaches when things are going well, and when they’re not going so well.

Your graduation today isn’t happening to you. You made it happen. You are not here by chance. You are here by choice. Unless of course, your parent is one of those I have known who said, “My child, you can choose any college you want to go to. If you go to the University of Texas, I’ll pay for it.”

Well, I want to talk about our history a little bit. In 1883, a quality public university was the highest priority for our Texas founding fathers. They set aside 42 million acres of land for one purpose: so that it’s earnings would support a university of the first class that would be available for Texas students. And that objective has been achieved and protected and passed down through our state’s history. So what we see at the University of Texas today is a fulfillment of the founders’ dream: a public university that is accessible to all based on merit, with the respect and reputation of the best private university anywhere in the world.

But each chapter in UT’s history has had obstacles to overcome. When I spoke to the 1998 graduating class at UT, the autonomy of our state’s education system was under attack by federal bureaucrats attempting to regulate and stop all research. Today, 13 years later, the assault against higher education in Texas is coming from within our state — not outside. Our state leaders are debating the direction and focus of education at our flagship institutions, the University of Texas and AandM. I want to say to you today, no matter what challenge we face, be it fiscal or philosophical, there should be no debate. The simple truth is a vibrant research community is critical to the success of our university. Maintaining respected research programs ensures our top tier status of the University of Texas. It enhances the value of the degree that you are getting tonight, and don’t ever let anyone devalue what you have worked so hard to achieve.

Throughout my time in the Senate, one of my greatest passions has been to strengthen higher education in Texas, to bolster science and research at our state’s institutions by building on each one’s centers of excellence. So what does that bring to our state? The prestige of being a tier one university where the brightest students compete to attend; and 14 Nobel laureates in science and medicine, and 242 members of the prestigious national academies of science, engineering, and medicine have chosen Texas as their research destinations.

I want to give you a few examples – only a couple of the many, many that are happening. Here are some of the reasons that research is important. The lithium-ion battery that powers everything from iPhones to electric cars was developed by federally sponsored material science research right here at the University of Texas. The stent, which has saved so many lives, because it is inserted into arteries to supply the heart with blood and oxygen, was invented at the University of Texas San Antonio. On this late night, we know that quality research draws the best companies, the most innovative entrepreneurs, the best faculty, and the best students anywhere on earth.

As it’s written right up here on the back, Walter Cronkite’s quote, “What starts here at the University of Texas changes the world.” Well, Walter Cronkite was one example of that. As a UT undergrad, he began his journalism career writing for the Daily Texan, and went on to become one of the most trusted journalists in American history. Salam Fayyad, a Palestinian originally from the West Bank, came all the way to Austin, Texas, to earn his Ph.D. in Economics. He later became Finance Minister, a leading voice for reform in that part of the world. He is now the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, and he is known to call his Texas friends during Longhorn football games to listen to it on their radios. And he is here tonight, celebrating with his son who is graduating with you. Rex Tillerson earned his undergraduate degree at UT’s exceptional engineering department, and he was a member of the brave Longhorn Band. He is the CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations, Exxon Mobil. As a pre-med student, Michael Dell started a small computer upgrading business out of Adobe Center, and by the age of 27, was the youngest ever CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And then there is Vice Admiral William McCraven who has recently become one of our nation’s most famous Navy Seals. Of course, he was the strategist and commander of the team of elite warriors who brought down the most wanted terrorist in the world, Osama Bin Laden. I’m proud to ask the question, did Admiral McCraven graduate from the Naval Academy? No. He was a journalism graduate of the University of Texas. And he started his military career in Naval ROTC, right here. Senators, Governors, and members of President’s cabinets have sat in those chairs, walked this campus, and carried the ideas and talent borne here to the highest positions of leadership in the world.

What will your leadership opportunity be? Each generation that has benefited from the freedom won and protected [through] our nation’s history has shouldered the responsibility to assure the greatness of America. We’ve seen tonight some examples already of those of your generation who have already stepped up to the plate. Each generation has been confronted with different challenges, and so I will say tonight, I will ask the question, what will your calling be?

My time in public service is coming to a close. I want to share with you my observation of the biggest challenge I see our country facing during your area and your era of leadership. Cicero once said, ‘the enemy is within our gates.’ Saying, we will not be defeated by outside forces. In America, there is no outside force that can destroy us. The only way our country can be defeated is if America loses its unity. If too many think of freedom in terms of their own self interest, rather than the interest of preserving a unified purpose, then, and only then, would we fall from within. New York Times columnist David Brooks observed recently, public spiritedness, as exemplified by early leaders like George Washington was about self-restraint – subordinating personal comfort or wishes for the good of the whole. Being an American isn’t just about reaping the benefits of our liberties. It’s about reinforcing them through service and even sacrifice for the greater good, always putting America first. America is proud of its heritage, of welcoming the best and the brightest from all over the world who seek to become citizens in our great country, to do their research in our great country, to take leadership in our great country. It is what builds our country. If we always remember what binds us, America will remain the beacon of freedom to the world and a model of democracy for the world. That is my big picture view.

My last pearl of wisdom, is gathered from my life experience and is summed up by the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss. Your life will inevitably include failure. Yep. You won’t always win. But without failure, how would you learn and grow? I can say from experience, failure is a better teacher than success. Dr. Seuss said it even better, “Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because sometimes you won’t. I’m sorry to say so, but sadly it’s true. That bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you. But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. Onward up many a frightening creek. Though your arms may get sore, and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike, and I know you’ll hike far, and face up to your problems, whatever they are. Will you succeed? Yes you will indeed. 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.”

So the Cliff Notes of my speech tonight: Every citizen must put the interest of America first, and we will maintain our strength. Loyalty to your alma mater will maintain the prestige of your hard-earned degree.

Finally, you’re on your journey of life. When you confront obstacles, leap over or detour around, but don’t ever give up. UT has shaped you, now you will shape the world. God bless you, God bless Texas, and Hook Em’ Horns.