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UT Arlington Fall 2014 Student Leadership Retreat

September 13, 2014

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here today. Let me at the very outset extend my sincere thanks to each of you for what you are doing not only to enable yourselves to grow, but also for what you do to ensure that each of our students is afforded the opportunity to reach their full potential, to explore their talents and develop their leadership skills, to find friends and flourish as part of the Maverick family. Just as there are two sides to a brain, there are two aspects to education: the part that takes place formally in a classroom and that which takes place everywhere else. You represent the enablement of the “everywhere else”—the full engagement that leads to true student success.

I’m in awe of the tremendous leadership that I see in front of me. Some of you are already well known on campus and in the community for the work that you do. Others have started successful businesses. Still others are making a tremendous difference in the community by helping those not as fortunate as we are, and still others have tremendous talents that make all of us so very proud to be at this wonderful institution—The University of Texas at Arlington.

  • 40,000 students—the second largest university in the UT System and among the five largest in Texas;
  • The fifth most diverse institution in the nation as ranked by U.S. News; the highest profile Hispanic Serving Institution in North Texas; and the only one in the nation that will be honored next month at the HACU Conference as the Outstanding Member Institution;
  • One of only six to be deemed a “Next Generation University” by the New America Foundation;
  • One with the very best faculty including one in the NAS, one in the NAE, and eight in the NAI—the highest of all in the nation;
  • One of the nation’s best for military veterans;
  • An engineering college ranked in the nation’s top 100 in the recent U.S. News & World Report rankings;
  • The eighth-ranked taxation program in the country;
  • One of the largest nursing programs in the state and nation with NCLEX results above both the state and national average

With students such as:

  • Wasiu Lawal—winner of the AAAS national essay competition through his work on the intersection of science and human rights as related to water;
  • Emmanuel Fordjour—who is conducting pioneering research in infectious diseases at levels equal to or higher than established researchers;
  • Jessica Stevens—our latest Goldwater Scholar;
  • Our Formula SAE racing team that is among the best in the nation and the world;
  • Samantha Jones—winner of the 2014 UT System Board of Regents Outstanding Student Award in Arts and Humanities for creative writing;
  • Our students associated with the 19 GO centers that enable middle and high school students to follow their dreams and aim for a four-year college degree, and so many others.

I was asked to briefly tell you about the state of the University—so I will be brief—given this list and all the other accomplishments of our faculty and students. What I could, and should, say is we are among “the very best.” Thank you for having me here and sit down.

But let me say a bit more. We will continue advancing not just to be a Tier One institution in Texas, but to be among the “best of the best” in the nation, a thought leader, the “go-to” place, and one that sets standards that other universities try to follow.

If you’ve been keeping abreast of the news, you will have started reading about UTA being described as the model 21st century urban research university and, in the days to come, as the 21st century urban flagship university—and yes, we will be those and more. Those are our goals, and that’s where we are headed. We have a new strategic plan that I hope you’ve read about on the Web, and I hope to hear more from you on it in the days ahead as we move with a single focus of “Global Impact Through Enabling a Sustainable Megacity.” This takes advantage of our unique location at the center of a growing metroplex adjacent to the DFW airport—one of the largest hubs in the U.S. and a true gateway to the globe—not just for students from different nations to come to study at UT Arlington, but also for us to go and study elsewhere, to internationally spread the UT Arlington brand and the excellence that each of you represents. Across the University, our forward momentum will be shaped through four cross-cutting themes across all colleges:

  • Health and the Human Condition;
  • Sustainable Urban Communities;
  • Global Environmental Impact; and
  • Data-Driven Discovery for the Enablement of Knowledge.

Our guiding aspirations are focused on a being a leader in the discovery, integration, and application of information and knowledge while setting new standards for a transformative educational experience not bound by confines of time, space, and location.

All of this is more than just numbers to me. It’s the overall reputation that a university has, the experience that its students receive, the spirit they embody through the activities that they engage in both in and out of the classroom. We have and will continue to increase the number of nationally ranked programs and departments, the level of external funding for research, the plaudits received by our faculty and students, and the number of degrees granted. But we will only really get that reputation because our students are well rounded, prepared to engage others in a world that is shrinking by the day, and prepared to live and work in a global economy. When you graduate and join our more than 180,000 alumni, you will carry the flag on your shoulders and with it our reputation. As you do well, our reputation will increase, building on the tremendous accomplishments of those who have gone before you and what you do while you are still students. Be proud—for you are Mavericks and you are achieving things others only dream of.

I was thrilled to hear that the theme for this year’s retreat was based on a quote by artist, filmmaker, and writer Pete Sprankle: “Be the Voice, Not the Echo.” That’s a tremendously strong message for each of us today in a world where people follow the crowd, where behavior at times appears to be driven by mass appeal rather than by a choice between right and wrong, where sometimes individual voices get hidden by the clamor of noise, and where we may feel afraid of reaching out and following our dreams.

There is no doubt that we are at a cusp, at a time when our future will be determined by whether each of us stands up for something or we follow the crowd and lose relevance. We all see things at home, at the University, and in the community that we believe are wrong. Let me ask you to be the change that you wish to see in the world. Don’t wait for others to give you a break. You could be the person who makes something good happen rather than one who lets things happen to them, who is swept away by the waves of inactivity or inertia, and who watches as opportunities pass you by. The choice is yours. Which one do you want to be—the voice or the echo? 

And remember that even a lonely voice in a sea of murmurs stands out. It stands out for what is right, for what is good, for truth and justice. And if you follow your heart and your dreams, there is nothing you cannot do. If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never get it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be “no.” And if you don’t take a step forward, you will always remain in the same spot.

Be the one who dares, the one who achieves, rather than the blind follower.

Be the voice, not the echo.

As James Allen put it: “Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.”

Be the voice, not the echo.

Be a Maverick. Do things your way. Spread your wings and reach for the stars. They are reachable and within your grasp—for each one of you.

Thank you for having me here today.