UT Wordmark Primary UT Wordmark Formal Shield Texas UT News Camera Chevron Close Search Copy Link Download File Hamburger Menu Time Stamp Open in browser Load More Pull quote Cloudy and windy Cloudy Partly Cloudy Rain and snow Rain Showers Snow Sunny Thunderstorms Wind and Rain Windy Facebook Instagram LinkedIn Twitter email alert map calendar bullhorn

UT News

Throwback: 6 Great Commencement Speeches from UT Austin

Take a look back at six great commencement speeches from years past.


Two color orange horizontal divider

Before the Class of 2016 leaves the Forty Acres to change the world, they’ll pick up some life advice from UT System Regent Sara Martinez Tucker.

A former undersecretary of education at the U.S. Department of Education, Tucker will deliver the keynote address during the 133rd Spring Commencement

In anticipation of her commencement address, take a look back at six great commencement speeches from years past:

Admiral William McRaven, 2014

Admiral William McRaven, B.J. ’77, delivered one of the most popular commencement speeches of all time, with his “10 Life Lessons” racking up more than 4 million views on YouTube.

McRaven, who is now chancellor of The University of Texas System, shared advice on how to change the world, drawing from the grueling experience of Navy SEAL training.

“Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often,” McRaven said. “But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up if you do these things, the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today and what started here will indeed have changed the world for the better.”

Read the full speech from Admiral William McRaven.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

“The power to shape the future is in your hands.”

In the spring of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson touted the value of higher education and told graduates “the power to shape the future is in your hands.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson

President Johnson delivers a commencement address at Howard University in 1965. He spoke at the spring 1964 commencement address at UT Austin. The LBJ Library

In his speech, Johnson described a recent night in Washington during which a band performed “The Eyes of Texas” in front of leaders from across the country.

“Such a moment was full of pride for any Texan,” Johnson recalled. “But tonight it is not just the eyes of Texas which watch you — the eyes of the Nation, the eyes of millions in faraway lands, the eyes of all who love liberty are upon you. You cannot get away.”

“Do not think you can escape them,” he continued, “until you have brought us to the early morn of a Nation without rancor and a world without fear.”

Read the full speech from President Lyndon B. Johnson.




Michael Dell, 2003

“Never measure your success based on the success of others – because you just might set the bar too low.”

While a student at UT Austin during the 1980s, Michael Dell launched the company he later grew into a multibillion-dollar global corporation.

Michael Dell

2003 Cactus yearbook

Dell told graduates to let passion “be the fire that drives your work,” and his advice to the Class of 2003 landed on NPR’s list of “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.”

“Many times along the way you’re going to ask why — Why am I on this path? What is it all about,” Dell said. “You’ll ask yourself those questions in 10 years and in 20 years as often as you’re asking them now. Well, I have an answer for you. It’s all about winning — that’s right, winning.”

“But,” he continued, “I’m not talking about the most points, or toys, or market share — though I certainly like market share. I’m talking about winning in a contest with your own potential. I’m talking about believing in yourself enough to become the best accountant, engineer, or teacher you can possibly be.”

Read the full speech from businessman Michael Dell.

George H.W. Bush, 1990

“Whatever you do, live a life of adventure and meaning so brilliant that, like a Roman candle, it lights up the world. Dazzle

President George H.W. Bush returned to the Forty Acres in 1990 to deliver a commencement address to the Class of 1990.

George H.W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush poses for a picture during the 1990 commencement celebration. 1990 Cactus yearbook

Bush told graduates to think globally and talked commended the first Texans who called for “a university of the first class.”

“Let me say it loud and clear,” Bush said. “The first Texans, in a sense, were wrong. This is not just a first-class university. You are graduates of a world-class university.”

Read the full speech from President H.W. Bush.






Robert Rodriguez, 2009

“I’ve always tried to be that little kid with his hand in the air. It really works to be that naïve, to really think you can

Having first attended UT Austin in the early 90s, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Robert Rodriguez returned to the Forty Acres after taking “the 20-year scenic route” and completing his bachelor of science in radio-television-film during the summer of 2008.

Robert Rodriguez

Wearing his trademark western hat with a graduation tassel dangling from the brim, Rodriguez told graduates that graduating, and earning his degree, means more “than any award because an award is something that’s given to you, and a degree is something you went out and earned.”

His advice to the Class of 2009 landed on NPR’s list of “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.”

“How much did you get away with while you were here in the university, simply by saying, “Well, I’m a student. I am free to make mistakes, take the risk, try new things.” How many times did you use that as an excuse,” Rodriguez asked.

“Keep using it,” he continued, “Because if there’s one thing I can tell you with all certainty it’s that you will never know it all. You’ll always be learning. We have to continue to be students of life and students for life.”

Read the full speech from filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.

Darren Walker, 2015

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, delivered a moving speech to the Class of 2015 after inclement weather forced the university-wide ceremony to be canceled.

Walker, a Texas Ex, asked graduates to consider the road ahead, saying they’re “poised to change the world.”

“Every time you feel pressure, embrace the privilege,” Walker said. “Every time you feel tempted to rest on your laurels, make that day matter. Because, yes, ‘what starts here changes the world,’ but in order to change the world, what starts here cannot stop here.”

Read the full speech from Ford Foundation President Darren Walker.

Related: Five Great Longhorn Speeches

For details on commencement celebrations, visit oneclass.utexas.edu