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In Praise of Failure: UT Commencement Edition

In honor of things not going according to plan, here are some thoughts on the value of failure, brought to you by the wise words of speakers — all UT alumni — from commencement ceremonies that actually happened.

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The fireworks were ready. The stage had been set. Mom and Dad braced themselves for the tears. Too bad the weather had other ideas.

For the first time in our history, UT’s Spring Commencement ceremony was canceled due to severe weather. We are devastated. Commencement is the most important day of the year, a celebration of our core mission to educate future generations and send them into the world with knowledge and confidence.

And yet, there is the opportunity to learn and grow from occasions when things don’t go as planned. After all, failure is one of the most popular topic for commencement speakers. And more importantly, how to respond when faced with it.

So, in honor of things not going according to plan, here is our tribute to failure, brought to you by the wise words of speakers — all UT alumni — from commencement ceremonies that actually happened.

[This year’s speaker, Texas Ex and Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, did deliver his moving remarks in an abbreviated indoor ceremony. Watch the speech and read the text here.]

“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.”

Admiral William McRaven, Commander, United States Special Operations Command (2014)

“Without trying and failing you never really get the opportunity to stand in the face of your disappointment, your insecurities, your arrogance, your pride and say I’m stronger. When things are great we rarely stop and take a moment to truly evaluate what we’re learning or how we’re growing. Failure then becomes imperative to true prosperity.”

Sanya Richards-Ross, Olympic gold medalist in track and field (2013)

“I can say from experience, failure is a better teacher than success.”

Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. senator  (2011)

“Learn from your mistakes. Every success I have ever had was on the back of 300 failures.”

Marcia Gay Harden, Academy Award-winning actress (2010)

“Be ready and willing to fail. Failure is good. It means that you’re seeking new ideas. Winston Churchill said that, ‘Success is the ability to move from one failure to the next failure. With enthusiasm.’ So yeah, get happy about falling on your face. Then turn that perceived failure into success.”

Robert Rodriguez, director, producer, screenwriter (2009)

Recognize that there will be failures, and acknowledge that there will be obstacles. But you will learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, for there is very little learning in success.”

Michael Dell, Dell chairman and CEO (2003)


So there you have it. And just remember, #WhatStartsHereIsntStoppedByRain.