The University of Texas at Austin- What Starts Here Changes the World
Services Navigation

Three Degrees, One Common Commitment: Graduates take diverse paths on journey to careers

The 119th spring commencement at The University of Texas at Austin will be celebrated May 18 by more than 7,000 graduating students, their families and friends, and members of the university community. Graduates will come to the occasion with personal stories of setbacks overcome, goals achieved and reasons to revel in the attainment of their individual dreams. Among these many stories of academic accomplishment are exceptional chronicles of students who have distinguished themselves as profiles in courage and inspiration.

Love of languages translates to success for liberal arts graduate, Marshall scholar

Jack Tannous
Jack Tannous

For most people, graduation from The University of Texas at Austin with one major is an accomplishment. Jack Tannous is graduating with five — in only four years. With more than 200 hours of credits, and a 4.0 grade-point average, he’ll take his intellectual arsenal to the University of Oxford this fall as a Marshall scholar.

His award, a token of Britain’s thanks to the United States for the Marshall Plan, funds a two-year master’s study at a United Kingdom school of choice. Oxford houses one of only two English language programs on Christians in the Middle East, Tannous’ chosen field of study.

Tannous’ love of languages brought him this far.

"I took my first Spanish class in seventh grade and found that I loved foreign languages," Tannous said. "They were windows into other worlds and other cultures, and, for some reason, I felt I could express myself more freely in a different language."

He studied Spanish for another five years and reached the point that he was able to translate for street preachers in Mexico and teach adult Sunday school. He has gone on to learn Arabic and has studied French, Hebrew and Tajiki, a Persian dialect, "just for fun."

With plans to major in Spanish or history, it was late registration that led him into the study of Middle Eastern culture.

"I registered late, only eight days before school started, and nothing I wanted to take was open," he said. "A friend had been prodding me to take Intro to the Middle East and first-year Arabic with him. Both classes electrified me. Arabic was tough, very tough, but what a beautiful language!"

Tannous started at the university with 57 hours from Advanced Placement, and has never taken fewer than 17 hours each semester. He already had declared majors in Plan II, Arabic and Middle Eastern studies when he found himself fascinated with philosophy as well, and decided to add that as a fourth major. When he discovered he was only one class short of a history major, the fifth major was an easy choice.

For Tannous, all of these interests converged in the study of Middle Eastern Christianity. More…

An instrument of justice—law school student helps free domestic-violence victim who served 14 years in prison

Heather Wilson
Heather Wilson
Persuading Texas law officials to release a woman serving a 99-year prison sentence was a long shot. But Heather Wilson, who graduates with honors from The University of Texas at Austin School of Law, was determined to make the effort.

After much research, Wilson wrote a brief that helped convince the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant parole this year to Gricelda Moreno, a San Antonio woman convicted in 1988 for failing to protect her child from murder by an abusive common-law husband. Moreno, who contends she was not present when her 5-year-old daughter was killed, was convicted of "murder by omission" and received the same sentence as the murderer.

Wilson, 25, had the opportunity to work on Moreno’s case in the fall of 2000 during a "Domestic Violence and the Law" course taught by Professor Sarah M. Buel, a nationally known expert on domestic violence and a lecturer at the School of Law. Wilson, then a second-year law student, wrote the brief to fulfill the class requirement of a final paper, which is in lieu of a final exam.

"Working on this case was an amazing experience, both personally and professionally," said Wilson, a Las Vegas native who plans to take the state bar examinations this summer and then clerk in Austin for a year with Senior Judge Thomas M. Reavely of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Wilson said she’s fortunate to have had an opportunity to put her legal training to use while still in law school.

"This experience has convinced me that law really is an instrument of justice that can have positive effects on people’s lives," she said. More…

Former University of Texas Longhorn football player returns to school to earn social work degree

Mark Berry
Mark Berry
It’s all about serving others for Mark Berry — firefighter, paramedic, high school mentor and now graduating senior in social work at The University of Texas at Austin.

At 33, Berry returned to the university this year and earned his bachelor’s degree. Originally a student from 1987-1992, Berry played football for the Texas Longhorns as a four-year starter at defensive back. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears in spring 1992, just months shy of graduation.

“I bounced around for a couple of years in the NFL and then decided to pursue my first love, which was firefighting,” said Berry, who has been a Dallas firefighter and paramedic at Station 23 rescue company for the last nine years. “I always planned to go back to school to follow my other love — social work.

“There are a lot of similarities in the two professions because they both have to do with a sense of community, family and helping and protecting others.”

Commencement ceremonies at the university are May 18, and Berry plans to be there. His wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 11, will accompany him.

Berry discovered the world of social work as a university sophomore, and realized he had a lot in common with the values and principles of the profession.

“Growing up in a single-parent, low-income household in a low-income neighborhood — social work and social workers always were a big part of my life,” he said. More…

More Profiles of Accomplished Graduates:

Related Stories:

Related Sites:

Office of Public Affairs
P O Box Z
Austin, Texas

(512) 471-3151
FAX (512) 471-5812

  Updated 2014 October 13
  Comments to