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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 12, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Graduation Celebration at the University of Texas at Arlington
Maverick Stadium University of Texas at Arlington
Delivered May 11, 2007
8:53 P.M. CDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much, President Spaniolo. Thank you. Thank you all. Thanks so much.
I want to acknowledge Dr. Dana Dunn, the University Provost. Thank you very much, Dr. Dunn. And Bob Estrada, my good friend from the UT Board of Regents -- thank you for joining us tonight, Bob. Also Wajiha Rizvi -- your speech was really, really great. Thank you very much for joining us here today on the stage.
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 to 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 UTA Class of 2007. Thanks and congratulations to every one of you. (Applause.)
Tonight, we honor 2,700 students from nine schools and 79 countries. And now you're united by one distinction: You're UTA 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. (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. (Laughter.) 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. (Laughter.) Four years after that speech, I married his son. (Laughter.)
We never know where life is going to take us. But wherever you go, you'll be helped by the lessons you learned here at UT-Arlington. Many of those lessons you learned as part of student life. Before UTA's commuters came here, you might have worried about those "Freshman 15" pounds that you gained -- until you realized that the nearest parking space was actually 15 miles away. (Laughter.) You may have wondered why yours is the only school in Texas without a football team -- until you realized it's more fun to hold "Bed Races," and duct-tape your shoes for "Oozeball." And you discovered it was actually okay to "Be a Maverick."
Other lessons you learned as you shaped your university. In UTA's new Living Learning Communities, roommates continue their intellectual debates after class. Through new programs like "One Book" -- which had the campus buzzing this year about The Kite Runner -- you've transformed UTA from a collection of 25,000 students into one community of scholars.
The Class of 2007 helped bring about your school's mascot change. Old Sam Maverick did need a facelift. You've helped bring a polling place to campus, and voted to approve the new Cowboys stadium. The team did send some very effective lobbyists. It's hard to turn down the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. (Laughter.)
From the classrooms of your honors college, to your accounting courses at your School of Business Administration, to the courts at the women's basketball games, to the labs of your highly ranked School 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.
Serving others come naturally to UTA students. Through the Center for Community Service Learning, giving back is an integral part of your curriculum. 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 evacuate -- to educate local schoolchildren. The School of Architecture students revitalize neighborhoods in Forth 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 -- (applause) -- nurture preemies, comfort the ailing, and heal 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 ten members of the Class of 2007 receive their commissions in the U.S. Army. (Applause.)
Keep serving your neighbors on the Gulf Coast. For UTA, and all Texans, the 2005 hurricanes hit close to home. And in the face of unprecedented disaster, UTA responded immediately. More than 12,000 students gave 75,000 hours of service. You collected clothes, distributed food, and babysat 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 UTA. 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 UTA. 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 UTA, 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 UTA degree to teach history in a local public school. (Applause.)
Class of 2007, join Ronya in giving to Arlington what it's 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% of you will stay here after graduation, and build your careers, and your families, and your lives here. 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 UTA's annual "Big Event."
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 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 9th 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 UTA. 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. (Applause.) Congratulations. (Applause.)