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Vice Admiral Bono Tells Graduates It’s Okay to Break A Few Molds

In her commencement address, Vice Adm. Bono tells students what they dream of at Texas can actually happen.

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Text of the 135th commencement address at The University of Texas at Austin delivered May 19, 2018 by Vice Adm. Raquel C. Bono, M.D., director of the Defense Health Agency.

President Fenves, thank you very much for that kind introduction.

I don’t know if you noticed, when he stepped away, how suddenly I came up to his height here. One of the things that I was worried about — I’m standing on a step stool here — one of the things I was worried about when I was asked to come speak was whether or not the podium would be about my size, because oftentimes when I do come to public speaking events, the podium is rather large and imposing, and the only thing that you can see when I stand behind it are my highlights. So I made sure and got some highlights just for y’all. I hope they look okay.

I am so thrilled to be here. I cannot tell you. Well, I will, I’ll tell you here in just a few minutes. But this is so exciting to be back here on the Forty Acres. And as President Fenves mentioned, this past fall I had the opportunity to be inducted as one of UT’s Distinguished Alums. That was one of the highest honors that I’d experienced.

I started here, coming from San Antonio. Before that I grew up in a lot of different places. I come from a legacy of healthcare workers. My grandfather was a surgeon. My father was a surgeon. And as the eldest in our family, I had the opportunity to wait up for my father when he came home from work, from the hospital. And I remember one time waiting up for him and hoping to have a couple of bites of his steak before I went to bed, and that I would get a chance to catch up with him. And I told him when he came home that day, I said, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to work in the hospital so that I can see you every day and be with you every day.” And I went through all the things that I thought that I could do in the hospital to be there with him.

And he said to me, “Well, why don’t you want to be a doctor?” I said I didn’t know girls could be doctors. And he said, “You can be anything, you can do anything.”

So I grew up believing that and knowing that, which came in really handy when my two brothers tried to convince me to do other things. And when they tried to be the boss of me: No.

Fast forward to when I became a mom and I had my own daughter. And for the parents in the audience, congratulations to you, and I think this story will really resonate with you and those of you that are getting ready to be parents. I was having one of those moments when my daughter asked me, “Mama, what do you do?” And I thought, this is a great moment. I was there telling her about how I was a naval officer and how I was one of the one percent in uniform that served our great nation. And then I told her about what it was like to be a surgeon and how I took care of patients when they had something wrong and they needed some help. I was able to take them to the operating room and help them and then make sure that they were all right afterwards. And for you parents, you know this moment when your child is transfixed on you and their eyes are just on you. I can remember to this day those huge eyes and those long lashes. And she says to me, “Mama, can boys be doctors too?”

I realized that something had happened there from the time that my father had told me that I could be anything, I could do anything, to when my daughter was asking me if boys can be doctors too.

Now, in between there I did a couple of other things. One of the things that I did was I attended the University of Texas. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to always tell people that I went to Texas because you know, it needs no explanation, right? You just say, I go to Texas or The University, no explanation is needed. And I’m a fervent fan of the University of Texas. Even to this day. And I’m not judging, but I have learned to say with a lot of confidence every year when the football team’s playing that it’s a building year. I haven’t lost faith in our football team.

But coming to Texas was one of those liberating and mind-expanding experiences that I had, and it was a real pivotal time in my life. Not only was it a blast — I mean I had one of the best times in my life here at the University of Texas. I can still remember it to this day, camping out for football tickets, because we had a winning football team. And I can remember the start of every semester when I would have to rush across the plaza here, getting to my classes because I didn’t quite know where they were and getting the shin splints that I had the first two weeks of every semester until I got used to my schedule. And I remember the great friends that I had here and the professors and all the people that were invested in my success here at the University of Texas.

And I knew that if I could come here to Texas and I could find a way to succeed, then I was set for life. That what I learned here at Texas was going to set me up for whatever I needed to do going forward. Now, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew all the things that I had learned here, that I had experienced at Texas, were going to situate me for the rest of my life.

There’s one other story that I want to share with you about my career and that is about being an admiral. There’s about 300,000 of us in the Navy and of that 300,000, about 300 of us are admirals. The whole point about being an admiral is that there is a certain amount of responsibility imparted to you. There’s an authority that you’re given, and there’s an expectation that you will help continue to bring the Navy forward. And in my case, because of my nomination for the job that I currently have, I also work across the services with Army, Air Force and Navy. The job alone is just thrilling. Just being considered to take that position is an extremely high honor and privilege, and in order to take that position, it meant that I would be promoted to a vice admiral, which is a three star as well. Here’s the thing: when it came time for my promotion, I had to special order the bling that I’m currently wearing because they’d never had a female medical three-star admiral.

See, you guys can do that. All of you can do this. Absolutely. And that’s what I wanted to come back and tell all of you. You can do anything. All of you can do anything.

And wherever you go, it is okay to break a few molds. It is okay for you to have to make them special order you something because it’s never been done. It’s okay to rock the boat, and every now and then you’re going to need to because — and this is my big finish — what starts here truly does change the world.

Class of 2018, you have a wonderful future ahead of you, and I’m here to show you that whatever you dream of here can actually happen. I don’t know that I’m as fortunate as some of you in the audience. I don’t think I knew when I left here exactly what I was going to do. But I did know what I learned here at Texas was going to make me ready for whatever came.

Congratulations to all the graduates of 2018 from the University of Texas. Congratulations to the parents, to your support networks, your friends and families that helped get you here.
And for all of the Longhorns in the audience, hook ‘em. Thank you.