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'Be that light in someone's life'

First lady implores graduates to continue to serve their communities

First lady Laura Bush urged graduating students to use their education and talents to serve others during remarks May 11 at Graduation Celebration at Maverick Stadium. Mrs. Bush was the keynote speaker for the third annual event, which drew more than 6,000 graduates, faculty, staff, alumni and special guests.

Laura Bush

Following are excerpts from her speech:

Thanks to each and every one of you for your warm welcome. I’ve spent many a summer night here in Arlington, watching games at the Rangers ballpark. So it’s great to be back in a place that already feels like home.

And I’m thrilled to be here with faculty and alumni, parents and families, and all the members of the UT Arlington community. But most of all, I’m honored to be with the class of 2007. Thanks and congratulations to every one of you.

Tonight we honor 2,700 students from nine schools and 79 countries. And now you’re united by one distinction: You’re UT Arlington graduates. This is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. And there’s no better time than now to thank your parents and your teachers, whose love and support brought you to this day. So please give them a round of applause.

Now I know I’m supposed to offer some kind of parting wisdom. So I thought back to my own graduation, and I tried to remember the advice my graduation speaker gave to me. But I couldn’t recall who gave that speech at The University of Texas back in 1973. And maybe that’s because I skipped the ceremony. But I did look it up, and I found out who gave that address. And you can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was some guy named George Bush. Four years after that speech, I married his son.

From the classrooms of your Honors College, to your accounting courses at your College of Business Administration, to the courts at the women’s basketball games, to the labs of your highly ranked College of Engineering, the class of 2007 has learned to excel. And tonight, you may be wondering how to apply these lessons in the days after UT Arlington. As you face these questions, I can tell you one thing for sure: You won’t waste your talent and education if you use them in service to others.

"About 70 percent of you will stay here after graduation and build your careers and your families and your lives. As you do, make time to give back. Continue the service you’ve started at UT Arlington."

Serving others comes naturally to UT Arlington students. Through the Center for Community Service Learning, giving back is an integral part of your curriculum (see "Learning to serve"). In the School of Urban and Public Affairs, students breathe new life into Dallas’poorest communities. In the College of Science, students help run a planetarium to educate local schoolchildren. School of Architecture students revitalize neighborhoods in Fort Worth, Arlington and South Dallas. The College of Liberal Arts brightens community life through free musicals and theater.

Students in the College of Education tutor young people in the Metroplex public schools. The School of Social Work has clocked more than 170,000 hours bringing equality and justice to neighbors in need. The School of Nursing nurtures preemies, comforts the ailing and heals the sick in local hospitals and clinics. They’ve shared their skill, and their love, with more than 61,000 patients.

Your compassion hasn’t gone unnoticed. The class of 2007 can be proud of its role in placing UT Arlington on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction. Congratulations to all of you.

Class of 2007, keep this commitment to others now that you’ve graduated. There are so many people who need your help. Continue your tradition of service to our nation. UT Arlington has one of the largest ROTC programs in the country, and 110 of your fellow students participate. This summer, following graduation, our armed forces will be stronger when 10 members of the class of 2007 receive their commissions in the U.S. Army.

Keep serving your neighbors on the Gulf Coast. For UT Arlington and all Texans, the 2005 hurricanes hit close to home. And in the face of unprecedented disaster, UT Arlington responded immediately. More than 12,000 students gave 75,000 hours of service. You collected clothes, distributed food and baby-sat evacuated children. Many students went to New Orleans on an alternative spring break. True, it wasn’t South Padre. But the week you spent rebuilding the New Orleans Rescue Mission will help residents for years.

After Katrina, you welcomed more than 250 students from Gulf Coast universities. Many have stayed to graduate from UT Arlington. And one of these students is your classmate, Ronya Alberts. Ronya was born and raised in New Orleans and never expected to graduate from college in Texas. After high school, Ronya immediately went to work, met her husband, and focused on her most important job—being a parent.

Ronya wanted to set a good example for her kids by getting an education. So she enrolled at Southern University at New Orleans to study history. Ronya was a senior at Southern when Katrina struck. Her home in the Lower Ninth Ward was completely submerged, and the family lost everything. Ronya remembers that she turned to her husband and asked, “What are we going to do?”And he responded as so many have on the Gulf Coast. “We’re going to wake up again tomorrow,”he said, “and we’re going to keep starting over.”

Ronya and her family have started over here in the Metroplex, thanks to the warm welcome from UT Arlington. Ronya’s fellow students brought clothing and school supplies to class. They extended friendly invitations to church gatherings and to home-cooked dinners. Ronya says, “It’s amazing how the students’hearts just opened up.”

Today, after a long journey, Ronya is finally a college graduate. Because of UT Arlington, Ronya’s dream survived Katrina intact. And after graduation, she’s going to give back to this community what this community has given her: the gift of education. Ronya will use her degree to teach history in a local public school.

Class of 2007, join Ronya in giving to Arlington what it has given to you: a strong sense of community and a superb education. Many of you grew up in this area. You’ve all gone to school here. About 70 percent of you will stay here after graduation and build your careers and your families and your lives. As you do, make time to give back.


Continue the service you’ve started at UT Arlington. You volunteer at local shelters and give people their own homes through Habitat for Humanity. Hundreds of you contribute to service projects through UT Arlington’s annual Big Event (see "Service with a smile").

Many of you give back through Mission Arlington. You give to ministries that offer citizenship and English classes, GED classes and job placement. You reach at-risk children with homework help and after-school sports leagues. You keep families in their homes by providing assistance for rent and gas and by delivering furniture and appliances. During the holidays, you make sure everyone can share the cheer. Mission Arlington puts together Thanksgiving baskets, hosts a huge Easter egg hunt and runs a "store" where parents can pick out Christmas gifts for their children free of charge.

One of your fellow students who volunteers at Mission Arlington is Donna Salazar. Of all the people she’s helped at the mission, Donna remembers one single mother who was unemployed, on probation and had nowhere else to turn. Donna gave her clothes for a job interview and encouraged her to go back to school. The woman was overcome with gratitude. That night, thinking about how much those small acts of kindness meant, Donna says, “I went home and cried.”

Donna wept because she knew the importance of these kindnesses. She’d dropped out of school in the ninth grade but earned her GED and supported herself as a waitress. When an injury forced her out of the only career she’d ever known, Donna realized she didn’t have the education to get another job. So she came to UT Arlington. Donna remembers that when she first walked through the doors of the University, she promised herself that she wouldn’t leave until she’d achieved everything she possibly could.

With the help of some remarkable people, Donna has made good on her pledge. In addition to Mission Arlington, she helps abused women rebuild their lives with safety and dignity. Donna mentors Girl Scouts and is an advocate for senior citizens. This determined criminology major goes to South Dallas to help ex-felons find jobs. All the while, she’s maintained a 3.8 GPA.

Ask Donna why she serves, and she’ll reply: “I never expected to have this chance at an education. So in return for all the opportunities I’ve been offered, I need to give something back.” Donna finds her rewards in the people she helps, like the young woman at Mission Arlington. “With just those small acts of kindness,” Donna says, “it was like someone had turned a light on in her life.”

Class of 2007, be that light in someone’s life. You’ll find happiness and fulfillment along the way. Congratulations to each and every one of you. Thank you for giving me this chance to share this special day with you. May God bless the UT Arlington class of 2007. Congratulations.

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