Final Thoughts on an Unusual Commencement Weekend

ECommencement 2015

With Josh Aldred and Esperance Nasezerano

As you all know, for the first time in many years, our university-wide spring commencement ceremony had to be cancelled on account of dangerous weather. All of our college and school graduation ceremonies took place. And we convened a small ceremony inside the Main Building, where our keynote speaker, Darren Walker, delivered an inspiring address for our graduates to watch online. You can watch or read his speech here.

On Sunday night, the weather cleared enough for us to invite graduates to the Main Mall, where I “conferred” their degrees and we all enjoyed the traditional fireworks show. (You have your degree whether you were there or not.)

I’m always impressed by our graduates’ stories of achievement and persistence. And I’d like to share just three of those many stories with you here:

Josh Aldred is receiving his PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the Cockrell School of Engineering. Josh studied the benefits of using activated carbon air filters to improve health in buildings. By collaborating with UT Austin Environmental Health and Safety on improvements in one campus building, he was able to cut indoor ozone levels by nearly half while simultaneously saving $50,000 a year. This strategy might be used in new campus construction such as the Engineering Education and Research Center and the Dell Medical School.

Josh is also a major in the Air Force and has been deployed in Afghanistan, Qatar, Oman, and Iraq, where he led a work-training and education mission called The Village of Hope, teaching young men who were former militants to read and do basic math. Josh is headed to Korea this summer for a one-year tour and then plans to teach civil engineering at the Air Force Academy. Thank you, Josh, for all you’ve done, and congratulations!

ECommencement 2015

Computer science graduate Brianna Connelly

Brianna Connelly earned a degree in computer science from the College of Natural Sciences. Bri led a team of 13 students in the IBM Watson competition to win $100,000 in seed funding. They used the money to develop an app that uses artificial intelligence to help Texas residents find health care, food assistance, and other social services. That class project has now become a company, and Bri, who was the only female in some of her computer science classes, is the CEO.

She was an officer in the Women in Computer Science organization and helped found what is probably the first co-ed computer science fraternity in the country. She also was a member of the prestigious Turing Scholars program. She starts this summer as a product manager at Google. We’re looking forward to watching your success. Congratulations, Bri!

Ten years ago, on the night of August 13th, 12-year-old Esperance Nasezerano of Congo and her family were huddled in a U.N. refugee camp in Burundi when armed soldiers began shooting and setting fire to the tents in which they were sleeping. One hundred sixty-six people died that night in front of her, and Espy herself was shot in the back.

She recovered from her injury, and two years later, her family moved to the United States and settled in Fort Worth. She began learning English at 16, graduated high school, and enrolled in a community college. As a junior, she transferred to UT. Here, she majored in international relations and global studies in the College of Liberal Arts and worked in our International Office.

Espy has seen the worst of humanity, but she lives with optimism. She wants to attend graduate school and then work for the U.N. in human rights advocacy. Espy says, “I am just so thankful to God and America for giving me a second chance to live again and have the opportunity to do things that most of my friends will never have the chance to do.” Esperance, you give us all hope for a brighter future. Congratulations!

Like Josh, Bri, and Espy, each of our graduates has a unique story. But they all share the common experience of being graduates of one of the finest institutions in the world, The University of Texas at Austin. You can find more profiles of our outstanding new alumni here.

I hope all of you were able to be with your loved ones and celebrate graduation in your own special way. Our thoughts and prayers are with those throughout Texas who are recovering from the extraordinary weather of the past week.

Bill Powers signature

UT’s 132nd Commencement: A Time to Celebrate

Commencement 2013 Saturday evening

As UT Austin’s 132nd Commencement approaches this weekend, I want to send my sincere congratulations to our graduates and their families. Graduating from The University of Texas is a tremendous achievement and a profound milestone in your lives. I’m proud of every one of you.

I’d like to share a few statistics about our graduates this year you might find interesting:

  • • Some 9,007 degrees will be awarded this weekend to a total of 8,667 graduates. The majority are women, who outnumber men by more than 200.
    • We will award 6,104 bachelor’s degrees, 2,042 master’s degrees, and 861 doctoral degrees.
    • Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), and Dallas counties sent the most students to this year’s graduating class.
    • California, Illinois, and New York are the top contributors of out-of-state students.
    • China, India, and Korea are the top contributors of foreign students.
    • There are eight degree candidates under the age of 20 and 10 over the age of 60.
    • Our College of Liberal Arts has the most graduates of any of our 17 colleges and schools.
    • The most popular major in the Class of 2015 is Business Administration.

Again, my warmest congratulations to all of our graduates. I hope to see you all at our University-wide Commencement Ceremony on the Main Mall Saturday night at 8 p.m. This year’s keynote speaker will be Darren Walker, an inspirational UT alumnus and president of the Ford Foundation.

What starts here changes the world.

Bill Powers signature

Alumni help Blanton celebrate 50 years by lending masterworks

Blanton Museum of Art - University of Texas Austin - May 2006
On Saturday night, I had the privilege of being a part of the Blanton Museum of Art’s gala celebrating a half century. (Although the current building opened in 2006, the institution dates to 1963.) The golden anniversary is also being marked by the exhibit “Through the Eyes of Texas: Masterworks from Alumni Collections.” This is one of the most exciting exhibits to be shown in Central Texas in memory, and it’s all the more special because it’s our own alumni and friends directly enriching the education of our students.

The eclectic exhibit of nearly 200 pieces includes ancient Mayan vessels, tribal masks, Chinese jade, Renaissance paintings, and Old Master prints and drawings, which are showcased alongside more contemporary works by artists such as Claude Monet and Georgia O’Keeffe.

The lenders to the exhibition include alumni Jeanne and Michael Klein of Austin, Mary Winton Green of Chicago, Judy and Charles Tate of Houston, Cindy and Howard Rachofsky of Dallas, and Darren Walker and David Beitzel of New York. The exhibit will be on display through May 19.

To be a world-class university, we need a world-class art museum, and fortunately we have one in the Blanton, which is flourishing under the leadership of Director Simone Wicha. I’m so proud of what it has accomplished in its first half century, and I’m excited about where it’s heading.

What starts here changes the world.

Bill's Signature