A Glimpse of Graduation

Stevin George

Bachelor of Arts, Political Science

Faculty, fellow graduates, guests and everyone joining us through the Internet, welcome and thank you for being here.

Profile Photo of Stevin George

I’m honored and humbled to be speaking before you, my fellow liberal arts majors from the schools of EPPS and A&H. Our schools are distinguished from the other schools on campus – we don’t pore over digital circuits, stress over ketone structure, or worry about first-in, first-out accounting. We are human rights activists, playwrights, and essentially right-brainers. We are the ones who walk around thumbing the pages of Faulkner and Hayek in the spring, the envy of EE and biochemistry majors alike. And like Renaissance understudies, we have received our education under the influence of the masters. They have taught us to examine the breadth, the genius, and the uncertainty of the human spirit. A note to my classmates: if you can’t define precisely right now what the word “justice” means, then that means your liberal arts education is legit.

After this ceremony is over, most of us will start planning for the journey accompanying the next chapter in our lives. Regardless of whether this next step involves graduate school, politics, civic volunteerism, or a much-needed road trip to Bonnaroo, we will have to eventually rummage in our closets for the familiar suitcase. You know the one I’m talking about — it’s either some neutral color like beige, or bright and flamboyant like Day-Glo orange, scuffed around the edges, a few travel tags left over from interviews. We’ll pull this out from behind the dozens of extra-large UT Dallas T-shirts that have reached critical mass in our closets, toss the old suitcase on the bed, and then wonder what to do. What artifacts do we take on our new journey? What talismans do we leave behind? And most importantly, will we have space to take a limited-edition, Cecil Green bobble head for good luck?

“Take the tools you’ve been given – a world-class education at UT Dallas, opportunities for scholarship and leadership, access to faculty who are the elite in their respective fields – and endeavor to personalize them to fit your goals. Whether it was reading Rousseau, learning about Lagrange multipliers, or debugging a single noxious line of code, we have all proved ourselves worthy of a degree. The real test of education, however, is not the acquisition of such skills; rather, it is the relentless pursuit of excellence and the application of knowledge.”

The key to packing is being practical. Imagine where you’re going, take what’s absolutely necessary, leave some space for souvenirs, and close the lid. We may disagree about a few particulars, but the following tips are some time-tested ways to help you get the most from your travel experience.

First, try to wear jeans as much as possible. Jeans may be heavy, but they’re durable and the perfect companion piece for when traveling gets rough. Jeans are like the friends we make: We may always want more, but the ones that we currently have end up being the best fit because they’re familiar, a bit worn around the edges, and comfortable. When they do fade away, it’s only after many years of wonderful times together. We may move on to others, but the ones we’ve kept forever have a peculiar way of reminding us of home.

Second, pack back-up clothing. What this means is that you should plan for failure or setback by investing in techniques to get your creative self back on your feet. While there’s no use crying over spilled milk, you should be ready to slip into a backup outfit that you’ve had the forethought to pack. Spills occur more frequently than you might think. In the time spent complaining over what the game of life has dropped into your lap, you could be finding the cure for cancer, imagining the opening line of the next great American novel, or completing a perfectly executed handstand. Go out into the world ready to conquer by packing accordingly for accidents. As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared for anything.

Third, take that which defines you. Your overhead compartment space, your time, and your energy will start being limited. Learn to be efficient in your pursuits. Don’t put things in your metaphorical suitcase because everyone else is doing so. According to Forbes magazine, when executives from Apple met with AT&T’s board to discuss the new iPhone, the AT&T board suggested that Steve Jobs and company pack suits for meetings. Steve Jobs reportedly said: “We don’t do suits. We don’t even OWN suits.” Create yourself in your own image. Don’t go for the safe look. Case in point, everyone goes for the sport jacket, but it’s incredibly clunky and lacking in function. The collars don’t fold up, the buttons are gawky and purely decorative, and you shouldn’t want to look like an extra from “Office Space.” Be daring. Wear a black turtleneck. Wear sandals with socks. Wear a canvas belt or shark-tooth necklace with incredible pride.

Fourth, start examining your luggage after each trip. A little while after you’ve finally reached your destination, look at what you took and what you really used. You’ll find that the things with the most utility might be those things you least expected to be useful. The nights spent procrastinating on Total Comet Move, playing Call of Duty, or watching Mad Men instead of working on your senior thesis may have been to your benefit. Total Comet Move reinforced both the value of community and the cool factor of wearing a “Polze is my Homeboy” T-shirt. Call of Duty taught you about organizational behavior, a skill you’ll need as you navigate the modern workplace. And Mad Men, well…Mad Men made you realize that while it’s impossible to be as smooth as Don Draper, it can’t hurt to have your elevator pitch down perfectly in case you happen to meet the next Mark Zuckerberg. Take the tools you’ve been given – a world-class education at UT Dallas, opportunities for scholarship and leadership, access to faculty who are the elite in their respective fields – and endeavor to personalize them to fit your goals. Whether it was reading Rousseau, learning about Lagrange multipliers, or debugging a single noxious line of code, we have all proved ourselves worthy of a degree. The real test of education, however, is not the acquisition of such skills; rather, it is the relentless pursuit of excellence and the application of knowledge.

Finally, be nice to your fellow travelers. No one likes the guy in sweats who feels entitled to elbow his way to the front after the plane has just finished landing. Be friendly to the little guy; the flight attendant will be here when you return. If you can, offer your seat to the elderly couple that would like to sit together. Avoid yelling at the dozen or so babies that will start crying in midflight – you were once just as precious. And always be a team player: Power off your phone when asked. The little sacrifices in life test our maturity, and college should have taught us (at least) that we are all along on this ride together.

Because we are a research university, I’d like to close on the following scientific point. Astronomers say that while comets travel like planets or asteroids, they commonly deviate from their flight paths, becoming brighter and more radiant as they approach the Sun. Smaller than stars and most asteroids, comets nevertheless command our awe and fill us with wonder. We look to them and wish for our hopes and dreams.

Happy travels, Class of 2012! May you inspire the next generation of scholars, may your journey be adventurous, and — in the words of The Hunger Games — may the odds be ever in your favor!


Stevin George graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He was a founding member of Onomatopoeia UTD, a combination flash mob/improv society. He was a Bill Archer Fellow and interned in the Office of the Counselor to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was a member of Collegium V Honors Program, Phi Kappa Phi, the John Marshall Prelaw Society and UT Dallas’ Moot Court Program. A Dean’s List honoree, he also was a soup kitchen volunteer at a Dallas homeless shelter. After graduation, George will begin a two-year service commitment in the Mississippi Delta with Teach For America. His long-term plans include attending law school and becoming a law professor.