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Sara Martinez Tucker Keynote Address
President and CEO • Hispanic Scholarship Fund

photo of Sara Martinez Tucker, president and chief executive officer of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund

Sara Martinez Tucker Biography

Thank you, President Faulkner. 

Chairman of the Board of Regents Huffines, Commission of 125 Chairman Jastrow, Deans, Vice Presidents and members of the platform party, it is an honor to join you on this very special evening.

It is so good to be home, especially to a place that means so much to me and to my family – The University of Texas.

I’d like to extend my appreciation to all of you who were instrumental in the education of tonight’s graduates – the faculty, parents and family members. 

To the faculty – you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in these students, and tonight you get to see the proverbial fruits of your labor. 

To the parents and family members – you’re where it all began.  You made college an expectation for these students.  You’ll see from my remarks how much I value the contribution you’ve made to your children’s education.

And my congratulations to the graduates – the class of 2005.  You’ve worked so hard to get to this point.  Your feelings have to be bittersweet – excitement for what comes next, and sadness for what you’re leaving behind.

Among the memories you take with you, I hope you remember your commencement theme:  “The University of Texas at Austin:  Inspiring place, Inspiring people, Inspiring Ambition”

Your ambition already has been inspired. Can you remember the moment when you decided to come to UT?

My message tonight starts with my father.  It was December 1969 and my father got the family ready to watch what many were saying was the college football national championship game between number one Texas and number two Arkansas. 

Never mind the excitement of the game – what I remember most was what my father said when we asked why this game was so important.  He said, “Because this is the best school in Texas and it’s your chance to see them win the national championship.”  The best school in Texas – that made such an impression on me.

Years later, when I was in high school, my father drove my classmates and me from Laredo to the campus for a UIL – University Interscholastic League – competition.

We left Laredo at 3 a.m., arriving on campus just before 7.  The campus was so quiet.

As we walked away from him, I turned to thank him.  I wish I could describe for you the look on his face.  He said, “It’s so beautiful here.  Everything is so clean and fresh – I hope you get to come here one day.”

From that moment on, I knew I wanted to come to UT.  And I immediately sensed that I would be part of an inspiring place! 

Can you remember picking your major?

Earlier this year, the campus hosted a symposium on the Presidency in conjunction with the opening of the Watergate exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center.  Imagine my excitement at being a journalism major here at the height of Watergate.  I was reminded of all the guest lecturers the campus was able to attract during my time here.

And, still today, I find myself quoting professors who helped shaped my thinking, both during my undergraduate and graduate experiences. 

Who have you had access to?  At UT-Austin, we are fortunate to have been surrounded by inspiring people!

You’ve spent the last few years in an inspiring place surrounded by inspiring people.  What ambition has your time at the University inspired in you?

My single most important message for you tonight?  Your impact on others can be as much as or even more than others’ impact on you!

Let me say that again in a different way.  You know the magnitude of the impact others have had on you up to now.  You will have that much – or more – impact on others.

What ambition will you inspire?

Inspired ambition moves people to action!

John F. Kennedy challenges a country to get a man to the moon and safely back by the end of the decade.  Ronald Reagan says, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Or a football coach tells a place kicker, “You’re the luckiest human being in the world because, on your last kick at The University of Texas, you’re going to be the hero.” 

Inspired ambition:  successful space travel, a cold war ends and democracies are formed, Texas wins its first-ever Rose Bowl. 

I’m headed to a Jesuit college from here – an order founded by Father Ignatius Loyola.  He observed that when ambition is this inspired it is almost “holy.”  But he also warned about ambition becoming “disloyal.”

Disloyal ambition – unfortunately, you’ve seen plenty of examples recently.  How do you feel when you see yet another elected official more interested in his or her donors than in the constituents they serve?  Or when public officials put themselves “above the law?” 

What happens to our trust when we read about yet another corporate scandal?  When corporate officers are more interested in creating personal wealth instead of value for their customers or opportunities for their employees?

Those who have misused public trust have been disloyal – to their constituents, their employees, and their families.

But they’ve also been disloyal to themselves – their own sense of purpose and inspired ambition.

How can you keep your ambition “inspired?”  As you leave an inspiring place and inspiring people, you’ll have the opportunity to discover other inspiring places and people.  

But you’ll also have to find your own compass, your own way to stay inspired.  With that in mind, I’ve got three recommendations.

First, be true to yourself!

As I left Laredo for UT, my father sat me down and said to me, “You are a person first, then a gender and then an ethnicity.  Ask for help when you need it, but don’t rely on crutches.”

I couldn’t imagine why he felt the need to say that.  But then I saw how easy it was to create labels for yourself – student, reporter, grad student…

Then during my corporate career – professional, part of a dual-career couple, executive.

I loved my life at AT&T.  It’s where I learned to be accountable, to generate profits, to make investment decisions.  But as long as I considered myself a corporate executive, ambition meant climbing the corporate ladder.  I wasn’t fulfilled.

I remembered my father’s advice – you can lose your sense of self.  One thing I did know, though, was how much my education had made possible. 

In my community, far too many children see their destiny in their heritage.  They don’t know what else is out there for them, how to make their way.   

I found myself when I found my heart, my purpose.  I wake up every day driven to bring a college education to as many Hispanics as possible so they can create their own destinies.  If they choose their heritage, that’s great.  But I want them to have a choice. 

What will define you as you leave the University, and how do you want to be remembered?

My sister, Rosie, BBA ’82, told me about a speaker who remarked, “You tend to look at the birth and death years on a headstone.    But it’s really about the dash.” 

Think about it.  It’s what happens in between that matters.  It will be an empty journey until you’ve found your calling.

So remember, be true to yourself.

Second, recognize the source of others’ ambition – and inspire them when they need it. 

Not all of us have positive inspirations with respect to picking a college, picking a major or even going to college in the first place.

I had lunch with Dean Gau of the Business School recently.  As we got to know each other, we discussed our college experiences. 

He said, “Being a first-generation college student, I did not know what I was getting myself into when I left home for a distant university.  But I knew I wanted the opportunity.”

I had the good fortune of being inspired to come to UT.  But picking a major?  Becoming a journalism major? It wasn’t that a journalist inspired me.  I earlier mentioned the UIL competitions.  Winning district, participating in the regionals – writing was the only thing I’d done that had been recognized outside of Laredo.  And I couldn’t think of another occupation that paid people to write!

In the work that I do, I hear time and again from students who know they want a different life, a better life….to make a difference.  But they have no inspiration to give them aspirations.

I’ll never forget a meeting I had with Hispanic high school students.  I couldn’t get any energy in the room.  We’d had a local fundraiser so I asked them how they’d spend the money from the fundraiser if they wanted to increase the number of Hispanics going to college.

Then they started speaking up.  “Build an office.  Fill it with counselors.”  And not just any counselors – people they could relate to and who could understand what they were facing.

When I told them that rent and salaries would reduce the amount of scholarship dollars available to them, Benjamin in the front row said to me, “Mrs. Tucker, if I can’t see myself in college, all the money in the world won’t get me there.”

Will you be able to recognize when others around you need inspiration?  Make sure you do, and then do something about it.

Third, know that – if your cause is true – your work will never be done. 

We had a convenience store when I was growing up in Laredo – the “Come-n-Shop.”  My brother and I worked there on weekends during the school year and on alternate days in the summer.

We loved Tuesdays – that’s when the new magazines and comic books would be delivered.  We figured we could sit on the Coke machine and read all the new comics as soon as we got our chores done.

My mother had different ideas.  Even if we’d done the sweeping, the dusting, restocking the shelves – she would call out, “Initiative!

“You’ve got to come in every day with an attitude to change things so we’re more attractive to customers, to improve things to make it easier for our customers,” she said. 

It isn’t, “When I complete my tasks, I’m done and I can relax.”  It’s “What can I do to make a difference today?”  Your work, when it’s inspired, will never be done.  But you’ll never lack the will or energy to do it.

Tonight we celebrate the completion of your studies at an inspiring place surrounded by inspiring people.  Are you inspired?

What’s inspiring your ambition?  How do you keep it inspired?  How do you keep it from becoming disloyal?

Remember these three things.  Stay true to yourself.  Inspire and liberate others.  Stay challenged by the work yet to be done.

When your ambition is well-served, when it’s inspired, you will move people to action.

I started with a story about my father and I’ll end it that way.  He was the best example of inspired ambition, of staying true to himself, liberating others and getting the job done. 

I celebrated my 50th birthday with my family in Austin last month.  As we enjoyed being together, I couldn’t help remembering and missing my father. 

What defined him?  Wanting a close family, wanting his children to be close to each other.  As children, we saw him make career choices consistent with this.

What inspired his ambition?  To create a better life for his children, sacrificing so that his children could have the best education.  We grew up with his encouragement to go to college. 

My favorite memory of my father happened about 10 years ago.  I got home and my husband told me I needed to call home immediately.  Fearing the worst, I called.  My father answered – I could tell he was crying, and he couldn’t find his voice.  The bottom fell out of my stomach.

He handed the phone over to my sister Rosie.  She told me that our brother Neto, at age 35, had graduated from college that day. 

When my father finally found his voice, he said to me, “All of my children are now college graduates.  I can rest.”

Each of you has made your own way here.  It was easier for some than it was for others.  But you’ve made it.  You’ve earned your place here.  What can you do with this gift?  What will you do?

If I could have a conversation with my father tonight, I’d say, “Daddy, you were right.  What I’ve learned is that first and foremost, I am Sara Martinez Tucker.  I’m a woman of Hispanic heritage.  But there’s something else that defines me.  I am also a graduate of The University of Texas.”

Tonight, so is each and every one of you.  Hook ‘em!

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