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125th Spring Commencement

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

Jody Conradt
The University Of Texas At Austin
May 17, 2008

Congratulations to the class of 2008. What a great night. What a great honor! And you can’t imagine – yes, tiny west Texas town, 22 people in my graduating class – so this is a little overwhelming for me. But, I really appreciate the opportunity to share your special day at a university that we all love.  I got a lot of advice when I talked to people about what an imposing task this was going to be.  Somebody told me, “Well, just remember three things – either pet a dog, kiss a baby or stay brief.” And I don’t see a dog and the babies are too far away so I promise I’ll stay brief.  Somebody else said, “Oh don’t worry about it, everybody in the audience is happy.”  Is that right?  Yeah!  I was with Mack Brown earlier in the week in Portland and I was talking to him about how much pressure I was feeling and he didn’t make me feel a whole lot better because he reminded me that Joe Namath, a quarterback who had reasonable success, said, “Pressure is what you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing.” So, I think I got all the advice I needed.

I love our tag line – World Talent – that’s you!  Do you know how many people apply and try to be where you’re sitting tonight?  Did you see those numbers? Almost 30,000 people applied to be a member of the class entering in ’09. That’s pretty special that you not only entered, were chosen among thousands, but you have achieved, you have success, and you are going to leave with a degree from the University of Texas.  That deserves applause. 

A lot of times, I recruited a lot of young women from across the country and particularly in this state.  And after I had told them all the good things about this university, I would simply ask them one question, “If I put before you a diploma, a degree from all of the universities that are recruiting you and you could walk up and pick and have one, which one would you pick?”  It pretty much was unanimous.  Every one would love to have on their wall what you will have after tonight – a diploma from the University of Texas. 

You are the world talent and the second part of that – Texas Tradition. Think about all the traditions that we have: a very special school color, special songs, a special hand sign.  You’re going to light the tower tonight – it’s the goal of every student who comes to this university to have the tower orange for their accomplishments. And certainly among those Texas traditions is competition. I sort of did a quick count and I counted 555 team championships that the University of Texas has won. And I think that is something that you understand and something that you appreciate.  And, the competitiveness that you’ve had to show with determination and commitment to achieve what you will receive tonight shows that you understand that part of Texas tradition. 

Buzz words that are popular today are things like leadership and teamwork, and I think it’s important for all of us to think about that.  Yes, you go forward from today’s ceremony as an individual, but you know what, I think one of the most important lessons that you can remember about your experience here wasn’t taught in a classroom. It was taught about finding teammates, bonding with people who had a common goal. People who could help you pursue your dreams, your aspirations and your goals.

Someone said, “Passion means that you love something, leadership means that you make others love it,” and I think those are words that will serve us well regardless of the arena, even though it may have nothing to do with bats and balls and gymnasiums. I think if we are to be good team members then we have to possess several qualities and I’ve identified three of those. 

The first is passion, energy, intensity, focus. All of us want to be around people that give energy – energy that we can draw from. Excitement and a thrill from day to day. I thought of a young woman that I recruited several years ago from a small town near Lubbock and she had committed to come to the University of Texas and I called her one Sunday afternoon in the spring. Her basketball season was over and her little sister who was eight at the time answered the phone. I said, “Is Johnna there?”  She said, “No ma’am, she’s at the gym shooting.”  I said, “Is your mom there?”  She went, “No ma’am, she’s at the gym rebounding.”

And I thought about that story, I thought about your passion. I thought about your dreams and your goals. But I also thought about all the people who supported you in those efforts. The people who are here because they love you, because they care about you. And they might not have been rebounding, but I’ll bet they were doing something to help you achieve this special night.

I think the second thing that we can take with us that we see on all of our teams on playing fields, but also applies to what we do in our professional lives, in organizations, maybe it was just a class project, but there have to be people in every group who find a way to contribute to the good of the group. In athletics, we call it role players. It means that you may not do the glamorous things. You may not get your name in the paper, you may not get a pat on the back, but you’re willing to consistently and faithfully do those things that are necessary for the good of the group.

I thought about another player, I thought about a national championship here in women’s basketball. First time that a team had gone undefeated in NCAA history. And I thought about the best player on that team.  She was a point guard, she was 5’4”, which isn’t very tall by basketball standards. Not very quick, didn’t shoot very well. I’m glad she’s not here when I tell the story, but Kamie Ethridge not only led her team to a national championship and a record of 34-0, but when that season was over, she was awarded the Heisman for women’s basketball, which is called the Wade Trophy. Individually, she received the highest recognition in women’s basketball. And the interesting thing about it, she averaged less than 5 points a game. So she didn’t do the things that we generally think people have to do, to have gaudy statistics for individual recognition. But obviously it was apparent to the people, the media across the country who voted for Kamie. Because when Kamie was on the floor, everyone else on the floor with her performed better. And I think that’s the highest compliment a coach, a manager, a boss, a team leader can give to an individual player.  Everybody else on my team performs better because of my presence.

And I think the third thing that we have to take from team success is there has to be communication. Communication to me doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re able to stand in front of a group and speak. In fact it doesn’t have that much to do with talking. It has to do with listening, to sensing, to feeling what’s going on around us. And certainly teams that have success have individuals who are willing to be tolerant, to be compassionate and most of all who are willing to give back. I think they’re simple things. They’re not difficult but they’re really the recipe for success. I can’t think of very many jobs in today’s society where you work in solitude. Where everything you do determines how successful you’re going to be.

Most professions require that a group of people or people in support of others accomplish their task so that we as individuals can look good and enjoy the feeling and the exhilaration of accomplishing things as a group that we had only dreamed about as an individual. I think the competition that you have experienced, the competition that you have witnessed on this campus, should serve you well.

It reminded me, and by the way, I have to tell an Aggie story, it’s written into my contract.  I heard about an Aggie and a Longhorn who took a test. The test was graded and the professor called them into her office and said to the Longhorn, “You missed one question and you made an A-,”  And then she turned to the Aggie and she said, “You missed one question and you make an F.” The Aggie was puzzled and he said, “Well I need an explanation.  If we both missed one question and he gets an A and I get an F, what’s the reason?”  She said, “Well the question that the Longhorn missed, he wrote ‘I don’t know’ and on the question that you missed, you said, ‘me either.’”

President Powers mentioned that even though winning was certainly important, as it is to any coach, and I had a tremendous opportunity to be at a University that valued those opportunities for young women just as they did for young men, I think that we have to think about all of the things that we can do in the future to not only pursue and be successful as individuals, but to surround ourselves with people that will help us achieve those goals.

I close with one story. I heard about a man who was driving on a muddy country road and his car slid off into the ditch and he couldn’t get it out and he was looking around and all he saw was a farmhouse down the road and a farmer in the yard.  So he walked to the farmer and he says, “My car is stuck hopelessly in the mud, and I can’t get it out, is there anything you can do to help me?” He said, “Oh yes, I have a mule, Ol’ Warwick over here will help you get that car out.” And the man looked at the mule and he thought, that’s the oldest, most broken down mule I’ve ever seen, I can’t imagine that he’s going to be able to pull my car out of the mud. But he didn’t have any options so he agrees to go with the farmer. They hook the mule up to the car, the farmer snaps the reins and he says, “Go Bob! Pull Ted! Go Red! Go Warwick!” and the car very easily comes out of the mud. The man is thankful, but he’s also pretty puzzled so he says to the farmer, “I really appreciate it, but can you tell me why you called all those other names like Bob and Ted?” The farmer looked at him and just grinned and said, “Well, you know, Ol’ Warwick is almost blind. But when he thinks that he’s a part of a team, he can do just about anything.”

And I know that you, you have that world talent in your head and that Texas tradition in your heart and what else could you need to go out and achieve your dreams?” Thank you so much for an opportunity to share tonight.  Hook ‘em.