Hayes Barnard delivered the keynote address at The University of Texas at Austin’s 140th spring commencement. The ceremony held at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium drew about 50,000 friends and family members who celebrated the accomplishments of more than 13,000 students eligible to graduate.
President Jay Hartzell spoke and introduced Barnard.
The following is the speech delivered by Barnard on May 6, 2023.
Remarks as prepared.
Thank you, President Hartzell, for that gracious introduction.
And thank you to all the staff who has put so much effort into making this special celebration possible.
I couldn’t be more honored or humbled to be here with you this evening.
Wow, standing here, in this great stadium, with such impressive graduates, let’s just take a moment …
Look around and soak it in.
The last time I attended a University graduation, I received my own diploma, and heard my mother cry out from the top of her lungs, “It’s a miracle!”
Yeah she meant it … and yeah… she actually sounds like that …
It was her accomplishment as much as it was mine.
Well … you’re here thanks to the people who have an unwavering commitment to you:
your parents, grandparents, siblings, all those teachers, coaches, friends, those who you love and those who love you.
So Graduates, please stand up with me and let’s give them our thanks.
Now … all those people in support of these exceptional graduates please stand up and give that warm ovation right back.
So so good … good to be here with all 50,000 of you …
ok, let’s go … I didn’t personally attend UT, but I do live in Austin and I love this city.
I have so much respect and admiration for all of you and what you have achieved here today.
It obviously wasn’t easy.
You’ve been on a journey of ups and downs:
You’ve all officially survived celebrating life on dirty 6th street and those painful headaches the mornings after.
Honestly … Look …
I’ve never been brave enough to go out down there … No really, Respect.
From the classroom to Covid and back again.
You’ve HAD a unique four years.
From all those juicy burgers at Dirty’s, and late night karaoke at Moody’s, you’re clearly driven people …
and kind people too …
sharing all those high-fives with Mike at the crosswalk everyday, plus you’ve gotta have patience …
endless patience to navigate the hyper “efficient” waitlist for class registration every semester.
So smile …
you’ve all shown real resilience to get here …
from the ecstasy of the Sweet 16 win … to the agony of the Elite 8 loss …
the highs of the Longhorns completely smashing Oklahoma 49 to zero in the Red River showdown …
to the lows of the heartbreaker against Alabama, when I walked home by your side absolutely devastated.
Ok you get it..
I haven’t been to West Fest or Kirby Lane for a hangover brunch, but I’ve done a little research…
and there are 3 million people who will graduate from college in the United States this year.
Which means there are thousands of commencement speeches from thousands of speakers with words of wisdom, advice and way too much inspiration.
So why am I here … and what do I have to give?
Well, I’ve asked myself these questions many times.
And I’m asking myself that right now.
Graduates, the only thing I feel like I’ve maybe nailed in my life – is that I know my mission.
I know my purpose.
And … maybe … just maybe, I can help you find yours.
So, I figure the best place to start … is right from the beginning …
Chapter one – I’m the luckiest guy in the world!
I’m the only son of Diane Barnard, who is here today.
A single mother that worked multiple jobs to raise her little boy, me, Hayden Dickinson Barnard … She called me Boogie.
During my entire childhood, we rented a two bedroom apartment at 574 Town Hall Court, in Creve Coeur, Missouri, until after I graduated college …
so I was like 22 and shared, one bathroom with my mother … which was … well … perfect
I met my father for the first time when I was 30 years old.
The gap left by his absence and severe alcoholism was challenging for me, but it was also …
Well, a gift …
because it taught me how to turn loneliness into leadership.
I grew up in a neighborhood filled with a sea of single moms, carrying multiple jobs but I was fortunate to witness my Mother, grind to make ends meet.
She worked two and even sometimes three jobs, to keep a roof over our heads, and she still found the energy to walk to the laundromat Every Night to wash my grass stained football uniform.
She Was and Is my hero.
It was a total blessing …
to attend River Bend Elementary School, and have the best first grade teacher of all time … Miss Macy, notify me I had totally flunked and would be joining her for another lap … So for the next 12 years, all my friends would look down on me, from the grade above.
Let’s just say I was enjoying many days in the Resource Room, known sarcastically … as the Romper Room.
Now, Look …
I don’t wanna brag … but eventually I did get a 18 on the ACT and then I crushed the SAT with a staggering 900ish score.
I mean … come on … that’s some serious academics.
Naw … It wouldn’t be until a few years later that I was officially diagnosed with dyslexia …
but my learning differences forced me to develop unique communication and reasoning skills.
Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
The dyslexic advantage is special, while you can’t read well, you can read situations well.
While you can’t see the same way someone else might see, you can clearly see how complex concepts come together to achieve remarkable outcomes.
My dyslexia, gave me patients with others, and more importantly, an appreciation for how much there is to gain by surrounding myself with amazing people.
I quickly realized, I may not always be the smartest person in the room.
In fact, I would learn later …
those who think they’re Always the smartest person in the room or think they have Nothing to learn from others in the room, will Never lead the people in the room for long.
In retrospect, every single one of my life challenges, helped me to find clarity of my WHY.
The pain of my childhood struggles, gave me empathy for the vulnerable and respect for the underdog.
Without them, I wouldn’t know what I value.
Without them, I wouldn’t know what brings me joy.
BUT, I had to learn to use adversity to my advantage.
The biggest problem people have, is that they don’t think they’re supposed to have problems.
When we see adversity as an adversary, we try to avoid pain.
But none of us can go around it.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it..
We can ONLY … GROW through it.
Our minds, like our bodies, try to protect us from pain and challenges.
Our instincts try to defend us from experiencing anything that hurts.
But, Your deepest purpose lies on the other side of that difficulty and sacrifice.
I want to share this with you, because I’m convinced that you have the magic the world needs right now and if you can learn to leverage your own adversity … whatever it is … you’ll unlock that magic.
Chapter two – If you want to change the world for … everyone, begin by changing the world for … someone.
People tend to be so focused on the horizon that they forget to look at what’s right in front of them.
As a kid, I used to watch my Mom load her trunk full of Law Books, selling to attorney’s offices door to door during the day, then selling clothes in the evening, while serving as a substitute teacher when she could, and gardening our neighbors’ yards on the weekends.
And I saw her do all this with a pep in her step and pure joy on her face.
She NEVER took a sick day … She was and still is an unwavering optimist of unparalleled dedication.
Oh well honey … you know these people just can’t keep up with me …
But that wasn’t always enough …
She often struggled paying the bills and I remember watching her sell my grandmother’s jewelry to make our $445 rent and $50 air conditioning payments during those HOT Missouri summers.
I was just a young kid, man … I wanted to help her but I just didn’t know how.
That was the defining moment, where I found, my First Life Purpose.
The moment I realized, I loved someone and cared about something more than myself.
And this clarity gave me a mission –
To protect my Mother and others in her situation.
if ONE day, I can help ONE person afford their bills by working ONE job they love, I will have succeeded.
If I can help someone own their home rather than pay rent forever, now that’s life changing peace of mind.
It took me 20 years to bring this idea into fruition, but ultimately that’s why I created my first company …
helping someone own their home vs pay rent, while lowering their monthly bills and using that extra cash to better their families lives.
Well that, became Paramount to my life.
I started it with my two best friends, those guys I loved, who carried me through class in high school and college.
Ok, well fortunately for us, it went really well for the first three years.
We got to help tens of thousands of families, and received countless letters describing how their lives were positively changed.
We employed over 2,000 people, and became successful in both impact and profit …
It was so gratifying, we felt like we were on top of the world and honestly, I thought it would never end.
Now … if you ask anyone to name the absolute worst time in history to be involved in the business of financing housing, at the top of the list would be the 2008 global financial crisis.
You were probably around 6 years old at the time so you won’t remember it well – but we had a deep recession, one that almost became a depression … everyone was struggling …
And it looked like we were about to lose everything too.
It was one of the darkest times of my life.
I would have panic attacks in my driveway some nights before I could even face my wife and kids.
But knowing that I had a mission that was bigger than myself – reading those customer letters every day – was what pushed me to persevere and prosper.
In the end, we were not only able to survive, we were able to thrive.
The lesson was crystal clear:
Purpose is the Engine of Prosperity and Adversity is the Fuel.
Your pursuit to relentlessly help others, is your drivetrain to a fulfilled life and leverage to never quit.
Chapter three – Sometimes the biggest revelations can come from just laying in the dirt.
During the height of the financial crisis, I took my team to Mali Africa to build a school for the Zerebugu village.
I knew we needed to find more ways to give back.
To gain a … Grateful Perspective, and rid ourselves of any victim mindset.
The village had no school, no light and no electricity.
We did physical labor during the hot days and bonded with our gracious hosts …
One morning around 4am, I awoke to a woman, named Awa, shuffling grain, a type of millet we would later eat for every meal.
As I looked into her eyes with my headlamp on …
she flashed a giant smile, just like my mother’s, and as she departed to walk over 3 miles to the river just to get water, I noticed a familiar pep in her step.
The love she put into cooking food, her loud laughter as she swept the dirt from her hut, and the soft touch she used to care for the lesions on her baby, caused from bathing in brackish water.
Awa moved me and stirred something in my soul.
I could recognize my mother in her eyes …
The circumstances were different, but the story was the same.
Her unwavering commitment to her child’s health, education, and a better life.
That night, as I laid in the dirt, I heard a whisper from deep inside, encouraging me to do more, see more, give more, and be more.
I decided right there, underneath the stars, that I would try to help this woman, just like I had helped my own mother.
I spent the remaining hours before dawn plotting HOW.
I thought … how do we help Awa spend more time filling her brain in the classroom instead of filling her bucket from the river.
I realized, the new game, must be inspired by contribution, NOT my own significance.
Because I’ll never be significant enough.
The new game was going to give me an even stronger purpose to Win the Giving Competition with a Grateful Perspective.
Chapter four – I believe the future is good … and when you are focused on solving ONE problem, for ONE person, you’re solving your Own.
After that trip, I met one of my greatest mentors and formed some other extraordinary partnerships … We vowed to devote the rest of our careers to lowering carbon emissions and saving people money with clean energy throughout the world which has lead us to deploying over a million solar systems.
But … it started with One Solar System, To Reduce One Electric Bill, For One Homeowner
At our GivePower facility in Austin, we’re building off-grid solar water farms providing healthy, affordable drinking water to people in drought-stricken areas.
Turns out, you can’t solve education for women, equality issues, migration issues, economic issues, until you first provide healthy drinking water.
But … it started with One Solar Water Farm, for One Liter of Healthy Water, for One Child
AND you never know … your purpose may come from One Idea, inspired by One Women, after laying in the dirt … One night.
So tomorrow, when you see a huge problem, don’t get overwhelmed by the scale of it.
Instead, recognize the Power of One:
just try to find the One thing you can do, to start solving One problem, for One person.
Knowing, doing that ONE thing starts momentum, which can create a ripple effect of tremendous scale and impact.
It’s the transformation of becoming a mission driven citizen capable of helping others.
Even if that other is just ONE person you love, with ONE problem worthy of hooking your horns into.
Some of the best work is happening right here, on this very campus.
Givepower is sending our first group of UT students on treks to install these transformative solutions in the developing world.
And those of you who are involved are proving, “what starts here, is indeed going to change the world”.
That excitement – that feeling that we’re just beginning – that’s what this commencement ceremony is all about.
So what does that mean for all of us right now?
What do we do NEXT?
Maybe you’re just worried about where you’re going to live, or how you’re going to afford being on your own now, or is maybe how AI will take your job.
If you’re worried about the uncertainty on the other side of this ceremony, I want you to know … You’re not alone.
I’m right there with you.
We’re all right there with you.
I mean, out of all of the speakers, icons, legends, leaders, and extraordinary humans doing the commencement speeches this year, let me tell you, nobody has it all figured out.
We’re all still struggling with what we’re doing on this planet.
Why are we spinning in the middle of space on a random Saturday.
Constantly feeling like we’re not enough, for our families, our friends, our teachers, our mentors, our heroes, ourselves.
In fact, the more successful you become, the louder these voices become in your mind … The more you become a … “rainmaker” … the more you have to invest in umbrellas.
So take everything I’ve shared today, with a big phat grain of salt, and don’t feel so much pressure to be a world shaker tomorrow.
At your age, you’re not supposed to have it all figured out and hopefully it’s refreshing to know, you’ll actually never have it all figured out.
Because NO ONE has it ALL figured out … …
There’s something in the silence of knowing that …
But hey, it’s always worth it to Dream Big and pay attention to how adversity sparks you, AND pursue it with an unyielding heart …
So close your eyes.
Everybody just take a moment and close your eyes.
Picture the timeline of your life.
From your childhood to high school to college or wherever you are.
See a wavelength with peaks and valleys.
The ups and downs of your adventure.
There are big wins and big losses.
There are days when you feel everything is stacked against you – and there are nights like this one, when you put on a cap and gown and think to yourself:
I have a degree from the University of Texas!
Now open your eyes with a smile.
What about that separates those two moments?
What connects each peak to each valley?
Is it growth?
Is it learning?
In one way, your life, is about to be completely different than what you’ve experienced over these last 22 years:
it’s been said that in school, you receive the lesson and then you take the test.
But in life, you get the test, and then receive the lesson.
Without Challenge there is no Strength
Without Fear there is no Courage
And Pressure Always Proves Principles
The philosopher, Karl Young says, “No Tree can grow to the heavens unless it’s roots can reach to hell”
Now that’s deep.
Now … I want you to think again about that wavelength you drew in your mind earlier – the timeline, with all its ups and downs.
I’m guessing you pictured the successes at the top, right?
Your wins and accomplishments.
And then you pictured the struggles at the bottom – your losses and your challenges.
My friends, if that’s the picture you still have in your head, I’m here to tell you:
you have it upside-down.
Flip that chart around!
Reorient your relationship to hardship.
Those pain points, ARE the Peaks – because those are the moments you are discovering who you really are.
Each one of those pain points could lead you to a breakdown … or an amazing breakthrough.
So reflect with me here … on those best days, on those days like today – your graduation day – when everything is going your way, never lose compassion for the underdog.
When it’s easy … pay it forward and when it’s hard … you better pay attention.
AND … even when you haven’t the slightest idea what to do … see the beauty in just taking the next step and fall in love with the adventure of not knowing, fall in love with the Adversity of the adventure, maybe find that ONE someone and ONE something to grind for … while you enjoy the ride of your life!
So in conclusion, on this special day …
Hold up, I want to bring my Mom up here real quick,
Mom come up here … I NEED YOU on my SIDE … let’s do this together.
We wanted to honor YOU and YOUR promising future, all the peaks and valleys to come.
We cheer for YOU as you venture forward to learn more lessons from the tests you’ve yet to take.
We revel in your good fortune – knowing that there is endless opportunity before you, and more tools and technology than any generation that has come before you.
You’re better equipped than any class in history to solve humanity’s biggest problems and we need you to show us the way.
So class of 2023, live with joy and purpose.
Thank you for letting US celebrate you.
WE believe in You.
And WE can’t wait to see How You Change the world!
Congratulations, and Hook ’em, Horns!