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.

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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.

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New study confirms huge economic impact of UT Austin

TexasInvestment

I want to share with you the results of a recently completed study that examined UT Austin’s impact on the economy of the state. The study, conducted by the firm Economic Modeling Specialists International, found that in fiscal year 2013, human capital creation, start-up and spin-off companies, operations spending, and payroll at UT Austin, together with the spending of our students and visitors, generated $8.8 billion in added income to the Texas economy.

This constitutes a 15-to-1 return on investment by the state, and is the equivalent in economic activity of creating 133,000 jobs every year.

Perhaps the most striking number in the report is the long-term economic impact. UT’s enrolled students in 2013 (the year studied) will generate an estimated $23.5 billion for the state’s economy over the course of their careers. And Texas communities will realize $2.8 billion in savings related to reduced crime, lower unemployment, and increased health and well being across the state due to benefits associated with UT Austin.

We know from many anecdotes how important the state’s flagship university is to the Texas economy. These numbers corroborate those stories. A summary of the report can be viewed here. The full, 67-page report can be viewed here.

What starts here changes the world.

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40 Hours for the Forty Acres raises more than 250% of goal

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Gage Paine, vice president for student affairs, joins student organizations in raising money and awareness on the Main Mall during a special student event Thursday.

 

On Wednesday, the University launched its Second Annual 40 Hours for the Forty Acres campaign to engage our alumni, students, and friends in giving back. Our goal was to raise $140,000. At the end of the 40 hours, more than 2,000 of you had given more than $367,690 to deserving programs all across our campus.

Your gifts are making a difference. You’re providing high-tech simulation equipment at the School of Nursing and undergraduate scholarships at the Cockrell School of Engineering. You’re helping to renovate RecSports’ beloved Whitaker Fields and providing funds for Student Emergency Services and International Student and Scholar Services. More than 40 student organizations also participated, and you showed them how much you believe in their efforts by donating to the Communication Council, Voices Against Violence, Texas Rock Climbing, and many others.

I’m heartened by the support you continue to show for UT, and I’m especially proud of those students who made their first gift. Once again you have risen to the challenge and more than doubled the goal. Thank you for your generosity.

Hook ’em!

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Shaka Smart perfect fit for UT basketball

ShakaSmart

I want to officially welcome Shaka Smart to the University of Texas family. As the new head coach of our men’s basketball team, Coach Smart is off to a great start, building rapport with the team and reaching out to former players for support and guidance.

Shaka Smart, 37, was born and raised in Wisconsin and attended Kenyon College in Ohio, where he graduated magnum cum laude with a degree in history. He began his coaching career in 1999 at California University of Pennsylvania. There, he also earned a master’s degree in social science. He also has been assistant coach at Akron, Clemson, and Florida. For the last six years, he has been head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he won at least 26 games each season and took the team to the final four in 2011. His wife, Maya, is a writer and alumna of Harvard and Northwestern, and they have a three-year-old daughter. I know you will give a warm Texas welcome to Shaka and Maya.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Coach Rick Barnes for his 17 years of service to The University of Texas. Rick led our program with integrity and much success, and for that, we thank him and wish him all the best at the University of Tennessee.

Hook ’em Horns!

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Men’s Swimming wins 11th National Championship

SwimmingChampions

Horns are up this week for our men’s swim team, which this past weekend won its 11th national championship, all 11 occurring under legendary Head Coach Eddie Reese. The Longhorns led the meet from start to finish and claimed the team title with 528 points to UC-Berkeley’s 399 points and Michigan’s 312 points.

With this championship, Eddie Reese ties former Ohio State coach Mike Peppe for No. 1 all-time. Saturday’s win marks UT’s first team championship since our volleyball team claimed the national championship in 2012. UT now has 48 all-time NCAA team championships and 51 overall national team titles throughout school history.

To our swimmers and to Coach Reese and his staff, thank you for your hard work and congratulations on your victory.

Hook ’em Horns!
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Photo courtesy UT Athletics