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photo of Donald L. Evans, the 34th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce

Donald L. Evans

Donald L. Evans Keynote Address
34th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce

“Three Nights in Texas”

Thank you, Dr. Faulkner for your stewardship of our fine University. It’s great to be back home in Texas.  

Thank you to the members of the distinguished faculty. To all of tonight’s special guests. And, most of all, to the family and friends of the graduates. It’s a privilege and honor to stand before you tonight.  

I bring warm greetings and congratulations from First Lady Laura Bush and the President.


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 United States.  


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 TV.  

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 prevail.

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 for all.

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 school.  

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 it.  

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 option.”  

As graduates of UT, your optimistic spirit continues the heritage of those True Texans who settled this state and these Forty Acres generations ago.   

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 Texas.”   

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 sky.  


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 you uphold.  

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.

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