Graduates, you’ve achieved one of life’s
most precious dreams. To those of you who received honors, awards, and
distinctions, I say, job well done. And if you made a D or two along
the way, congratulations. You too can be Secretary of Commerce of the
In 1969, I was sitting where you are, about to graduate from this magnificent
institution. And I still have the sense of excitement and optimism
that I see on many of your faces tonight.
Looking back, my life sometimes feels like one long season of Reality
First, at UT, I was “The Bachelor.” After graduation, I learned about
“The Real World.” When I landed my first job, I was hired as “The Apprentice.”
And now that I am Secretary of Commerce, I like to think of myself as
an “American Idol.”
But as my wife is quick to say, “Don, you can’t sing. And you need serious
help from the Fab Five.”
When I graduated in 1969, we heard from an extraordinary and accomplished
speaker. While I don’t recall every detail, his message captured my
attention and sparked my imagination.
He said: “blah, blah, blah…Hook ‘Em.”
35 years from now, I don’t expect you to remember everything I’ve said
tonight, but I do expect you to make a difference. By serving others
wherever you go, lifting others up in whatever you do.
You are not just bright graduates, but you are good people. Always remember,
we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
While others spend their lives building careers, I challenge each of
you to spend your career building lives.
I’m optimistic about your future, because I know you have Texas Longhorn
values to guide you through the challenges you will face.
The value of Courageous Leadership - taking risks and believing that
nothing is impossible; the value of Opportunity for All using your
talents to improve the lives of those around you; the value of Individual
Responsibility being a steward for positive change in Texas and beyond.
And one other, the value of Good Health - maintaining a steady diet
of Maudie’s enchiladas, chile con queso, and a side order of guacamole.
Remember, as you leave here tonight, you take with you the strength
of the symbol of our University. The Longhorn fed a nation, settled
a continent, and gave a chance to families with nothing more than hope.
They were a driving force, expanding the destiny of our country, and
shaping our national character.
The Longhorn is a fitting symbol for the people of Texas and the spirit
that finds its fullest expression in this University. And standing here
tonight I can tell you, that spirit will take you as far as your dreams
will allow, and always bring you back home.
I want to tell you about Three Nights in Texas that are very
special to me.
As Secretary of Commerce, I’ve had the chance to travel all around the
world and meet people from all walks of life. From Presidents to schoolteachers,
Premiers to shopkeepers, people marvel at America.
One Night in Texas, around a campfire in Crawford not a big fire,
by Texas standards - I shared an unexpected moment with a unique friend-
Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.
It was late November 14, 2001, two months after September 11th. We
were talking about Texas, America, and the world, and he turned to me
and asked a powerful question:
He said: How has America accomplished so much, in only 200 years?
You see, America is a young nation. And older countries around the world
look to America as a beacon of strength, a harbor of hope, and the promise
for a better life.
So I told him our success could be found in these basic values:
Our freedoms. Our optimistic spirit. And the faith, trust and goodness
of the American people.
America is great because Americans are free. Grounded in our Constitution,
our freedoms are so precious that we have always been willing to make
the ultimate sacrifice to protect and defend them.
This is a defining moment in the history of our world. We face unparalleled
challenges. Freedom is at war with terror tonight. But freedom will
Because as light penetrates darkness, freedom unleashes the potential
of people to thrive. In every region of the world, free people and free
societies are proving their power to lift lives.
I’ve seen freedom take hold in countries that have started down the
path of democracy, spreading the bright rays of hope and opportunity
Countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic that have only
been living in freedom for 13 years. Countries where the only people
who have lived in freedom their entire lives, are still in junior high
Freedom is powerful, and it is precious. But there are still corners
of the earth where failure is final, where fate is unforgiving, where
people have never known the blessings freedom can bring.
Think about this: There are six billion people who live on the planet,
and three billion of them live on less than two dollars a day.
There is too much poverty, too much despair. Not enough hope, and not
enough opportunity in too many parts of the world. That’s not right,
and that’s not good. And it’s our responsibility to do something about
Freedom does not belong to one people, one religion, or one nation.
It is a universal right, and God’s gift to all mankind.
America stands as a lighthouse of liberty for all others to set their
course, but freedom lights the path of progress for our fellow man.
The freedoms we cherish give us our belief in a better day.
The Optimistic spirit of America has seen us through Depressions, guided
us through wars, lifted us from recessions, and delivered us from fear.
America is great, because Americans are optimistic.
And Texans in particular have a special brand of optimism. We are the
home of Sam Houston, the land of the Longhorn, the site of a space program
that took man to the moon, and coined the phrase: “Failure is not an
As graduates of UT, your optimistic spirit continues the heritage of
those True Texans who settled this state and these Forty Acres generations
Which brings me to another Night in Texas I want to share with you,
and it takes us to the town of No Trees.
There actually is a small town out in West Texas called “No Trees.”
There aren’t any trees there.
For a time, George W. Bush and I lived close by, in Midland, while we
were chasing the American Dream. West Texas may be barren and flat.
But it’s a wonderful place.
One night I was driving through the dusty West Texas desert and passed
through No Trees. And I thought to myself, “the people who settled
here generations ago must have had an optimistic spirit as grand as
They did indeed. And they were the Pioneers of the Lone Star State.
They set out in search of a new beginning. Their rugged determination
led them to a place where they could realize their dreams and raise
a family. Their optimism enabled them to find happiness. Their courage
lifted up others, and helped them to make a better life.
They didn’t see any trees in West Texas, but they saw a big sky. And
if you’ve ever been out there, you know, the Sky is the Limit.
That spirit is the foundation of strength for all Texans today, but
it represents the dreams and desires of pioneers all around the world.
So dream big, and never let an absence of trees block your view of the
Finally, America’s freedoms and optimism would be nothing without faith,
trust and the goodness of the American People.
America is great because Americans are good. People of integrity, who
believe their word is their bond. Life is defined by the principles
In the 1970s, I was a young man working at an oil and gas company bigger
than Ford Motor Company. But when oil prices collapsed, we lost everything.
Everything, except the most important things: our integrity, our belief
in ourselves, and lives built on trust.
When I think of that time in my life, I’m reminded of something Coach
Darrell Royal once said, “As long as a person doesn’t admit he is defeated,
he is not defeated he’s just a little behind and isn’t through fighting.”
We didn’t quit fighting. We believed in the only things we had left,
and with the support, friendship and trust of others, we rebuilt our
company from the ground up.
You can say I’ve been cycle-tested in life. And you will be too.
Along the way, I learned a lot about humility - not getting carried
away when you’re riding high. And I learned the importance of staying
true to your values even at your lowest moments.
Most importantly, it taught me that the Greatness of America is found
in the hearts and souls of her people.
Our freedoms, our optimistic spirit and our faith are the cornerstones
of the American Experience. They define America, but they’re fundamental
to any triumphant human endeavor.
And here is where you come in.
I’ve been privileged to spend nights with world leaders in Crawford.
I’ve seen nights of freedom in Eastern Europe, and I’ve driven through
optimistic nights in places like No Trees.
The last Night in Texas I want tell you about is tonight, where I began
long ago, and where you begin now.
Wherever you go, you take part of this special University with you.
But remember, there is nowhere more special to return.
Others before you have left UT, committed to do right by doing good,
to serve others in life, and to do their part to transform the world
to a place of peace, prosperity, and freedom. A world our children and
grandchildren would all want to call home.
And now it’s your turn. When you see the Tower lit orange tonight in
your honor, remember the values it represents: Our freedoms, our optimistic
spirit, the faith, trust, and goodness of the American people.
Longhorn graduates are a special family, and the values we cherish are
those we must share. Regardless of your profession or calling, you have
the power to transform lives for the better. One heart, one mind, one
soul at a time.
While you may leave Texas, Texas will never leave you. Always know that
you will be remembered here.
Always Remember: We’re Texas. And every night as you chase the bright
stars that chart your trail in life, remember, that burnt orange sunset
will always lead you home.
God bless you. God bless Texas. And Hook ‘em, Horns.