Antonio O. Garza, Jr. Keynote Address
President Powers, thank you very much. It’s great to be back home on the 40 acres.
Members of the Board of Regents, distinguished faculty, honored guests, friends, family and especially, the Class of 2006: It’s an honor to be here tonight to share this important day in your lives.
As you leave here, you take with you many treasured memories of your time at UT. Memories like shelling out as much cash for parking fines as tuition. . . . Thursday nights with your old friends Cain & Abel. . . . Who knew there was so much happiness inside a Mason jar?
But most of all, Class of 2006, you leave here knowing this: 41 to 38!
I have been asked to give you a little advice today for the road ahead. Frankly, I’m a little wary. After all, Socrates gave advice and they poisoned him.
I can’t honestly say I remember the speeches given at my graduations, nor do I have any illusions that you’ll remember much of what I say tonight. But I do have some thoughts about this fast-moving world you are about to enter that I hope will help you as you find your place in it.
We live in a world of challenge and change. The life you make for yourself and the success you find along the way will depend on the choices you make from here on out.
I’m reminded of the words of Zora Neale Hurston who wrote: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” And I’ve found the answers have been easier to come by with a few fixed stars to guide me. And I’d like to share a few with you.
First: Families are the backbone of our society. You’d never know it by watching The Family Guy. I know you love this guy – but I ask you: What kind of a dad suggests to his wife that they kill the kids and sell their organs for beer money?!
The steadiest rock you will ever find in your life is your family – both the one you have now and the one you make for yourself in the future. Nothing else will ever come close.
So thank your parents today for their love. You made the grades, but they paid the bills. . . . And they paced the floor when you were teething … and again that first night you got your driver’s license.
And right now your parents are dabbing their moist eyes and thinking about how fast you grew up … And they are praying … praying to God that you don’t move back home. . . . Your old bedroom would make a great gym.
Treasure these good people who love you no matter what you’ve got painted on your caps right now. They are what Desmond Tutu had in mind when he said, “You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.” And one thing you’ll appreciate more as you grow older is the texture and meaning they’ve brought to your life.
Back in my freshman year in college, my dad wrote me a letter. He really wasn’t the letter-writing sort, so even then I knew this was something special. As I read the words he chose, I caught a glimpse of his soul. I felt his spirit in the curve of his script.
And I envisioned him hunched over our kitchen table in South Texas, taking the time to craft something for me that was very personal. That letter became one the most precious gifts I have to remember him by.
At the time, I wanted to return the gift. So I sat down those nearly 30 years ago and I wrote him back. A few months ago, my dad passed away and my brother and I found a small box where my father had kept his most treasured possessions. … Inside were a picture of my mom as a young woman, notes from his own parents, and the letter that I had written him that freshman year.
My family’s love encouraged me and sustained me and opened my eyes to a another very fundamental truth – and the second point I want to share with you tonight: It is people – the real, human connections we make – that matter most.
Globalization is revolutionizing the way we live. But something in danger of being trampled in the stampede to the future is the delicate thread that draws us together as human beings.
We surf the internet in multiple languages, yet never speak to the person next door. Webcams show us deprivation in the far reaches of the globe, yet we never notice the poverty in our own backyard. What good is crystal clear reception on your Bluetooth if you can’t hear the voice of your own conscience or your neighbor asking for help?
Skip the text messaging once in a while. Pick up a pen and paper and write a letter – with a real postage stamp – to someone you love. Make real personal connections with others. Nurture those relationships. They are what will help you find your way in life.
My third point: Find your purpose and set the bar high, but don’t let success alone be your goal.
Now I’m not saying success is bad. Believe me: I’ve known success and I’ve fallen on my face. And success is definitely better – especially when you are doing something you feel passionate about.
But understand success for what it is -- and what it isn’t. Use it to make a real difference in the world around you. Reach for the substance, not the shadow. Albert Einstein, kept a sign over his desk that simply said: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
Einstein understood that no matter how famous you get, how much money you earn, or how many scientific mysteries you unravel, they are nothing if you lose your sense of imagination and wonder.
I grew up along the border, and I remember if someone seemed a bit odd or colorful, folks would say: “es que tiene la música por dentro” – he’s got the music inside of him.
Looking back, some of the most successful and most satisfied people I’ve ever known are those with that “música por dentro.” And it’s because they took the time to stop and contemplate the world around them with awe and wonder.
Things like the fragile artistry of stained glass in a local church… or the graceful imagery of a favorite poet.
Simple things that humble us with more questions than answers.
Like the view from the rim of the Grand Canyon….or a bright-orange sunset over the Hill Country.
Let this glorious world that God has entrusted to us move you. . . . Take care of it -- and take care of each other. Life has shown me that if you can’t appreciate all that is awe-inspiring around you, it’s not likely that you’ll even begin to understand the miracle that is the person standing right next to you.
So if you remember nothing else, remember my fourth point: Life will test you in ways you cannot imagine. And one of the ways it will test you – over and over -- is how you treat others who don’t look like you, talk like you or earn like you.
My grandparents came to America from Mexico looking for a better life. Their leap of faith made it possible for my dad to raise his family running a filling station in South Texas. His hard work and sacrifice allowed me to do what I am doing today. One generation removed from Mexico, and the grandson of four Mexican immigrants is now the face of America for millions of people in Mexico and around the world.
We have come far as a society. We are no longer the Jim Crow nation that buried the hopes of so many long before we buried their bodies.
But you and I know that our work is not done until the invisible are invisible no more. Until all hearts accept what no law can mandate – and that is to love one another. To respect one another. The history of our nation is vivid proof that there is strength in difference.
America didn’t get where we are today off the sweat of just one race, one religion, or one culture. It took all of us, working together, in what Martin Luther King called the “inescapable network of mutuality.” What affects one citizen, affects all citizens.
Think about our country’s motto: E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. The American dream is a powerful draw. When you travel our world you come to understand why. We are fortunate to live in a country that is richly blessed – something we often take for granted.
And if you ever need a reminder of all that we have, simply ask any of the hard-working immigrants here why they endured days in a scorching desert or why they crossed an ocean in a crowded boat to get to the United States. . . . They will tell you that they came in search of opportunity … in search of a better life. They will tell you they risked their lives just so they too, could have a shot at achieving our American dream.
Sharing that dream is one of the great challenges of our time – and one that requires both wisdom and compassion. Simply building walls does not speak America to me. I know we can be both a welcoming society and a secure and lawful one.
And when we welcome others, we are all stronger as a society if we share what we must provide to every citizen of Texas: a quality education … an education that is only available through well-funded schools and institutions of higher learning that focus on high standards, strong curricula, and excellent teachers.
Some of you will go on to serve as the teachers who are the heart and souls of our schools. Others of you will put your talents and degrees to different use. My hope is that you will all join in the work of transforming our communities to help make them a better place for everyone to live and work and raise their families.
At home or at work, find ways to lead by example and put the true “spirit of Texas” into action. That is what great Texans do – they work to make Texas a better place, not only for today, but for generations to come.
Nobel Prize-winner Octavio Paz captured the modern challenge in his poem January First. He wrote: “Mañana habrá que inventar, de nuevo, la realidad de este mundo.” Tomorrow, we shall have to invent, once more, the reality of this world.
Graduates, that challenge is now yours … Texas is blessed, … But as I look at you, I can see that Texas’s best days are still ahead.
My hope for you, Class of 2006, is that the reality you create for yourselves and for the others around you will be one full of promise, purpose, and brave acts of decency.
God bless you all. And God bless Texas.
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