Honors Day Ceremony Address

Honors Day 2016

Honors Day Address

Maurie McInnis, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
April 16, 2016

Thank you, David.

I am very grateful to be invited here to speak to you today. For those of you wondering who I am, my name is Maurie McInnis and I will be the next Provost here at UT starting in July. For some of you, you’re probably wondering what that means. What is a provost? In short, the provost is the chief academic officer of the university. I am the person the president will turn to to make sure you have the best faculty teaching your classes, that you have access to world-class museums, collections and research centers, and to ensure we recruit the best and brightest students – students just like you. My primary focus is making sure you are getting a first class education, and I can’t wait to get started.

Before I go any farther, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the recent tragic loss of one of your fellow students. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this, including all of you here today. I’m coming to UT from The University of Virginia, and we suffered a similar loss on our campus about eighteen months ago. What I can share with you from that experience, is this – that healing does come with the support of one another and the passage of time. Lean on each other. Listen if someone needs to talk, and find someone if you need to talk. Let’s honor Haruka’s memory with compassion for each other during this difficult period.

As David mentioned, I’ve lived and worked at UVA for the past 18 years, and leaving was a very big decision for myself, and my family. But I left because The University of Texas is an extraordinary and exciting place, and I am beyond thrilled to be a Longhorn.

This campus has an amazing wealth of opportunities for students. UT ranks among the elite universities in the country and in the world, and has resources that other universities only dream about. And when you graduate and tell people you have a degree from UT, people will take notice. You are extraordinary students at an extraordinary university, and that is powerful. What starts here, truly changes the world.

When I was first asked to speak here today, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey as an undergraduate, and a valuable lesson I learned that altered the direction of my life.

Right now, you probably spend a fair amount of time trying to answer these questions:

What do I want to do after I graduate?
How am I going to figure that out?
What are my passions?

My advice to you is this - take advantage of every opportunity and take intellectual risks now. Go outside your comfort zone. Try new things.

Intellectual risks often open doors you never knew existed, and sometimes light the path to your life’s passion. I know, because that is what happened to me.

When I first stepped on campus as an undergrad, I had it all mapped out. Always strongest in math and science in high school, I had decided that I would go to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon, and because I had been a serious dancer all my life, I was going to specialize in dance injuries and work with dance companies around the world. Sounds great, right? But something unexpected happened during my freshman year – I wondered into a greek art history class because it sounded interesting and it fit my schedule.

I loved that class, and I continued taking art history classes alongside my pre-med curriculum. One summer, I secured a really exciting internship at the National Institutes of Health. But every day that I was not required to be in the laboratory, I chose instead to visit the art museums in DC. It became clear that I had found my passion.

So I went back to Virginia, and made that phone call to my parents that said, guess what? I’m not going to go to medical school, I’m going to major instead in art history. It was the phone call that many like to joke about. What are you going to do with that? Many might have asked. Even though there were many times I had no idea what was next, I’ve let my passion guide me and I’ve never regretted my choice. Today, I love coming to work because I love what I do. As provost, I get to work with faculty to make sure that students at UT have the same opportunities I did, to find their passions in life and work with great faculty who are dedicated to their success. If I hadn’t taken that greek art history class, I may not have discovered my life’s passion and ambition.

My story is far from unique. It is a story that parallels the experiences of many of my friends and literally hundreds of the students whom I have advised over the years.

Thinking about my friends from college. Some are doing exactly what they thought at 18 they would do: an English major who went on to get a PhD from Princeton and now runs the writing program at Georgetown. A pre-med Bioethics major who went to medical school and is now a pediatrician and an assistant dean in the school of medicine at Virginia.

Then there are many more I can think of who are in very different places. The friend who left medical school in order to get his Ph.D. in conducting, and is now the Music Director for the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra and in demand around the world as a guest conductor. Or two of my friends who went to law school, but now are film and TV producers with credits that include The Jane Austen Book Club, the movie Up, and hit-show The Office.

While I could go on, my point is this: expose yourself to as many intellectual experiences - and risks - as possible, both while you’re here and after you’ve left the 40 acres. And don’t be afraid to fail. We learn more from our struggles and failures than we do from our easy successes.

There’s a chance you’ll find your passion in an unexpected place along the way.

Here at UT, there are so many places to explore, and opportunities you should take advantage of.

Those of you in engineering can go to the Longhorn MakerStudio, use 3D printers, laser and plasma cutters, and all kinds of incredible tools for free, where what you dream can become reality.

At the Harry Ransom Center, go see the earliest known photograph made by a camera, changing forever our relationships with ourselves and with imagery. As you take your selfies and post them to instagram today, know that it all started with that experiment nearly two hundred years ago. And you can only see it here.

If you haven’t already, consider studying abroad. One of the best ways to learn about yourself, is to live and learn in another country. There are lots of scholarships available.

Get involved in undergraduate research. UT is one of the worlds’ best research universities where knowledge is created, not just disseminated.

Look at internships. Internships give students the opportunity to work in teams and build a professional network. Many find that an internship helps them connect what they are learning in the classroom with a career beyond.

And for those of you about to graduate, make the commitment to yourself now to constantly expose yourself to new places, people, and opportunities. Make learning and curiosity part of your lifestyle.

You’ve heard my story about the greek art class that changed my life, so I’ve put together a short list of classes here at UT that I wish I had time to take.

  • Modern-Day Slavery
  • Pathways to Civic Engagement
  • Exploring Food & Urban Change
  • Global Inequalities in Health
  • Beyonce Feminism
  • Really Bad Bugs

Talk with your academic advisors and ask them to make suggestions that will stretch you beyond your comfort zone and expose you to different disciplinary perspectives on an issue you are passionate about.

When it comes to challenging yourself and taking intellectual risks, it is important to remember that you don’t do this to prepare for your first job. That isn’t what your college education is all about. Rather, it is to prepare you for life ahead. For many of you, the job you will have twenty years from now doesn’t even exist today. The best way to prepare for that job is to stay curious and learn, to cultivate your creativity and problem solving.

Now, I’d like you all to take a moment and look around you today. You’re here because you have demonstrated that you have the aptitude and ability to do great things. It is a significant accomplishment, and you have earned the right to feel good about it. We, your faculty and your family and friends, are here to celebrate your outstanding academic achievements, and give you the recognition you deserve. So I ask all of us to give you a rousing round of applause to honor your accomplishments. Congratulations.

Moving forward, I urge you to learn from what you’ve done to this point, and push yourself even farther. The promise and potential in this room right now is beyond measure, you are the future Longhorns who will change the World.

Congratulations to you all, and Hook ‘em Horns!