2011 Commencement Address
On May 21st, the Department of Economics was honored to welcome the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Salam Fayyad, as the 2011 commencement speaker. Dr. Fayyad earned his Ph.D. in Economics from The University of Texas in 1986 and was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Alumnus Award by the Graduate School in 2009. In his commencement address, Fayyad shared how economics has influenced his career and shaped his vision for Palestinian statehood. The Financial Times recently described Dr. Fayyad as a “US-trained economist without party affiliation, who is seen by the international community as a guarantor of clean and competent government.”
“For me, economics is not merely about the rules of supply and demand, diminishing returns, utility and production functions, or even something as basic as the definition of money. To be sure, it is about all of these things, but it is also… about the way of thinking inspired by the belief generally shared by economists that everything is explainable and that lo and behold when it comes to human behavior, economists are well positioned, if not uniquely positioned, to do the explaining.”
Addressing over 200 graduates in Gregory Gymnasium, Salam Fayyad announced that he was honored to participate in their commencement ceremony exactly 25 years after his own graduation from The University of Texas Department of Economics. He told the audience that the pride of graduation day is a feeling he would never forget, a feeling his oldest son had just experienced in his own UT graduation the day before. Fayyad joked that although he was proud to have a fellow UT alumnus in the family, the fact that his oldest son decided not to major in economics was one small thing to regret. His younger son, on the other hand, was declaring his intent to pursue economics, but unfortunately not at his father’s alma mater. “Worst of all,” Fayyad continued, “is my daughter… who is laughing in the audience right now fully aware that by choosing to major in architecture at MIT, she is guilty on both counts.”
Fayyad praised economics as way of thinking that inspires passion and as a highly useful tool for navigating life after college. “I have no doubt,” he told the graduates, “that today as you prepare for the beginning of a great journey, you have the tools and character to succeed. Let your love for economics as a way of thinking guide you in your quest for personal and professional fulfillment.” This was, Fayyad explained, what he tried to do in his own career in government.
Fayyad pointed to late economics professor Wendell Gordon’s quote “you can’t make potato chips without potatoes” to explain in plain terms the rationale behind the 2009 Palestinian Statehood program. Fayyad called the statehood program “an embodiment of economics, fully immersed in the broader context for political and social development.” To the Prime Minister, the program represents the very nature of economics as a way of thinking. “In this case, a way of thinking about enabling Palestinians to live as free people with dignity in a country of our own. And more generally, a unique way of thinking about attaining social justice, bridging gaps of inequality and allowing people to find fulfillment through self empowerment.”
Fayyad assured the audience he was not there to dole out advice, but he did hope to share some inspirational thoughts and reflections. He encouraged the graduates to use their knowledge of economics to help them carve out a career and a life for themselves. He extended congratulations to the parents as well, reminding them of their role in the achievement. And in closing, he told the class of 2011 to simply “Go Out and Hook ‘Em.”