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Alan Tully, Chair 128 Inner Campus Dr., Stop B7000, GAR 1.104 Austin, TX 78712-1739 • 512-471-3261

Maidie Ryan, History alumna, underscores value of History degree in today's global economy

Posted: July 18, 2013
History commencement speaker Maidie Ryan

History commencement speaker Maidie Ryan

On May 17, History celebrated convocation at Bass Concert Hall, before nearly 200 history graduates and hundreds more parents, relatives, and friends. Ms. Maidie Ryan's keynote speech was a noted highlight.

Ms. Ryan (B.A. History, 1996; J.D., Law, 2001; and Life Member, Texas Exes) is an attorney, philanthropist and community volunteer.  She has been practicing law for almost twelve years and, as of May 1st, joined Ascend Performance Materials as Assistant General Counsel and Director of Compliance, headquartered in Houston, Texas. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Junior League of Houston as Communications Director.  In 2012, Ms. Ryan was asked to join 1883 Council, a University-sponsored volunteer organization of mid-career alumni across Texas designed to grow future generations of alumni leaders through education and involvement.  Ms. Ryan is an avid runner and outdoor enthusiast, having recently reached the summit of Mt. Rainier as a member of a National Outdoor Leadership School expedition.  Ms. Ryan received her Bachelor of Arts in History with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996 and her Doctor of Jurisprudence with honors from the University of Texas School of Law in 2001.  During law school, Ms. Ryan also served as the Chief Notes Editor for the Texas Law Review.

Ms. Ryan's speech, reprinted below, emphasized the value of a History and liberal arts education as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy.

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To Professor Tully and the faculty and staff of the history department, thank you for inviting me to participate in this important event. To the graduating class of 2013, I say congratulations! Today’s achievement is worthy of a great celebration, and I am honored to be here.

Your parents, family and friends may have questioned your decision to study history, fearing that your career choices could be limited. Many of you may be pursuing one of the traditional options for history graduates—such as teaching or attending law school or graduate school. But there may be some of you who have not quite figured out your next step or your next step is not what you hoped it would be. Please trust me that regardless of the category in which you find yourself, your history degree from the University of Texas at Austin will serve you well.

Why am I so confident that you will in fact be a success upon graduation? In part, because I am standing in front of you today, seventeen years after receiving my bachelor of arts in history from this university. During this time, I have followed—and stumbled—along paths that I never imagined on my graduation day. For example, I have been employed as an information technology consultant, graduated from law school, practiced law in both big and small firms, finished eleven half-marathons, served on the boards of directors of several community organizations and reached the summit of Mt. Rainier. While my accomplishments are not the focus of today’s ceremony, I share these with you because they were made possible by my history degree from the University of Texas.

Pause for a moment and reflect upon your favorite history class. Mine quickly comes to mind. It was a senior thesis course on the History of UT-Austin taught by Professor Lewis Gould. My paper focused on UT football and the now non-existent Southwest Conference. I love college football generally and Longhorn football in particular. And this class allowed me to research in a disciplined and focused way something I love. While the practical application of that paper was admittedly short-lived, I learned the importance of spending time doing things about which I am passionate. I trust your favorite history course taught you the same.  

History has been described as “news from a graveyard.” However, I expect the graduates, faculty and staff, like me, could not disagree more. It is cliché to state that without the study of history, we would be doomed to repeat it. I think Maya Angelou said it better—“History cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.”

Moreover, a bachelor of arts degree in history is not attained simply by taking a long look in the rearview mirror of other people’s lives.  Instead, as part of a liberal arts education, you have had the opportunity to study a broad range of diverse subjects. These studies have developed and enhanced your flexibility, creativity, critical thinking and communication skills—all of which are highly relevant in today’s ever changing, international marketplace. An April 2013 study by The Association of American Colleges and Universities revealed that 74% of the employers surveyed would recommend a liberal arts education to a young person as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy. Additionally, over 90% of those surveyed said that those they hire should demonstrate ethical judgment, intercultural skills and the capacity for continued new learning. Your liberal arts education has armed you with these capabilities, and your degree will allow you to excel in both large and small companies, the practice of law, teaching or starting your own business.

It is said that at the University of Texas at Austin, what starts here changes the world. Allow me to give you three pieces of advice for doing so. I recognize that it is highly unlikely you will remember this advice 10 years—or even 10 minutes—from now. As such, I will keep this brief.  

First, act with integrity. On most, if not all of your days on campus, you, like me, walked by the Tower on which is engraved “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” All UT students should be stewards of the truth, but, as history majors, you must be its ambassadors. Stay steadfast to the truth. This sounds easy and obvious, I’m sure. But you will face many situations that will encourage and entice you to go off course. And you may go off course. Do not judge yourself on these mistakes but use them as opportunities to become better leaders. True leadership is built on the small, day-to-day decisions in life. Being faithful in these small matters will give you the strength to act with integrity in large matters. Do the right thing even when no one is looking. Such decisions build your legacy. Remember—an athlete is not crowned unless he or she competes according to the rules. Carry this in your hearts and minds as you venture forth today.

Second, be unafraid. Spend some time outside of your comfort zone. In fact, spend lots of time outside of your comfort zone. Do things that scare you. Attempt to do something at which you may not succeed. Live in the gap between two trapezes. This is where you will find out who you are and who you can be. Last summer, I reached the summit of Mt. Rainier, the most glacial mountain in the continental United States. Only 50 percent of climbers actually reach the summit, so there was a good chance I would fail. Even if I had not reached the summit, I would have told you about the experience today because I grew from the attempt, not the accomplishment. I’m not suggesting you should all become mountaineers. But do not let your life become a boring pop song.

Finally, be gracious and grateful. If you heed my previous advice, you will accomplish much. And you may fail a time or two. Be gracious in both your successes and your failures. In other words, how you climb down the mountain is just as important as how you climb up. Sometimes you are ahead; sometimes you will be behind. The race is long, but graciousness and gratitude will carry you through the highs and the lows. Remember, to whom much is given, much is required. George Bernard Shaw said “It is my opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and for as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.” For me, this means I give generously both of my time and financial resources to organizations that matter to me, including this university. It also means I recognize that my successes would not have been possible without mentors, friends and family members, especially my brother Patrick. I am grateful for their love and support. Change the world by being a humble and helpful person.

In closing, I leave you with the words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way.” Congratulations again! Hook ‘em horns!

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Related:
"Maidie Ryan's Commitment: A young alumna supports her alma mater with a further gift,"
in the Alcalde, March/April 2013 issue, page 7:
http://issuu.com/utaustin/docs/changing-the-world-march-april-2013?e=1824882/1684275

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