Delivered on May 15, 2009, at the Hooding Ceremony at the Graduate School, University of North Texas
by Frances Brannen Vick
I was extremely nervous about speaking to you today. What could someone who started out life writing with a pencil on a Big Chief tablet have to say to people who started out writing on a PC or a MAC, and who wrote your dissertations on the same? To further show my technological ineptitude, I recently bought an iPhone, which I have no hope of conquering before my demise. Answering the blooming thing seems to be impossible at the moment. I could not even retrieve the voicemails that were left when I couldn’t answer the phone until my 14-year-old granddaughter showed me how to do that. What could such a person tell you who are of this new technological age? You are probably sitting out there texting right now, even as I speak, something else I can’t do. My messages come out in some exotic, undecipherable language because I cannot hit the right keys. So what could this archaic woman standing up here with her East Texas twang have to say to you? Thus my nervousness about it.
Then I heard Bob Schieffer say on May 3 that he was honored to be speaking at 3 commencement ceremonies this year and that he was quite eased about it because he knew that absolutely no one pays any attention to what is said at a commencement ceremony. And he is right, of course. I have no idea who spoke at mine or what they said. And rightly so. You are sitting there, as are your family and friends and professors, full of pride with what you have accomplished. You have worked hard to receive these hoods today. What an honor—for both you and for those who have helped you get to this day. So what I have to say is probably not of much consequence.
I do have one story to tell you that I hope will have some relevancy for you—that will strike a chord—and that you may even take away with you. I tell this rather simple story to you who have spent the last few years in intellectual pursuits that have been full of high-flown ideas and packed with thought provoking quests. This story touched me in a way I have not been touched in a long while and I thought the simplicity of it might come as a relief to you after your efforts to acquire your hoods.
Recently a good friend on mine had the terrible misfortune of losing his beautiful, intelligent 11-year-old daughter to cancer. This child, by the way, had been, among other things, an exceptional lobbyist for cancer research in Washington, D.C. She was so exceptional in her lobbying that her Congressman became a good friend and gave a eulogy at her funeral. She had fought cancer since she was five years old. She had done some remarkable things in her short 11 years. She was undaunted by what life had thrown at her. She is really a wonderful role model for the rest of us—an inspiration.
At the celebration of her life, I was taken with the words the minister said her parents had used in describing this incredible young girl. I was taken by it because I was an English teacher at one time and they were speaking my language. They said she was not so much a “noun” like girl, such as: “student,” “friend,” “soccer player,” etc. She was not so much an adjective girl: like “energetic,” “inspiring,” “caring,” “witty,” etc. She was more an action verb: Go. Do. Study. Visit. Play. Research. Make. Persuade. Love. Inspire. So my hope for you newly hooded graduates today is that you will be action verb people like my friend’s daughter. That you, too, will Go. Do. Study. Visit. Play. Research. Make. Persuade. Love. Inspire. What a well-lived life that would be. And what a challenge.
Life is just one adventure after another, if you are lucky. And you never know where you are going to end up. At least that has been my experience. You start out one place and end up somewhere entirely different. For me, it was starting out as an English teacher and ending up in publishing. In retirement I am doing something else altogether with the Texas State Historical Association, and according to my friends almost anything else that strikes my fancy and that I think is going to be fun. And “fun” is a key word here.
What you have done to acquire those hoods today should qualify you to do and be just about anything you want to do and be. You are in a perfect place to be an action verb. What a great future you have before you! And it will be a grand adventure. Keep all your options open and be ready to jump into what opens up for you. Be an action verb. But also HAVE FUN! You should be loving every minute of whatever it is you end up doing.
And one last thing. Do not forget your alma mater. After all, as the old folks used to say, you need to dance with the one who brung you, and, the University of North Texas did bring you to the dance! It brought you to this day of great celebration.
Congratulations to you. You have joined a sterling group of alumni who have gone before you. I salute you all—graduates, families, friends, and particularly the faculty, administration and staff who helped you get here today. Now my challenge to you is to go forth and follow the lead of an inspirational 11 year-old and be an action verb!