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Text of Dan Ellis Speech
At 2001 Summer Commencement

Dan Ellis
Dan Ellis

President Marks, Faculty, Honored Guests and Graduates: You honor me by allowing me to share in the celebration of the achievements of the graduating class of 2001, and the commemoration of the 122 years of academic excellence of Sam Houston State University.

Its namesake, Sam Houston, General, President, Senator and Governor, knew the importance of education.

General Houston, who had little formal schooling, advised colleagues in one of his last speeches as president of the Republic of Texas on the importance of education. "Give to the rising generation instruction," he said. "Establish schools everywhere among you... Intelligence elevates man to the highest destiny, but ignorance degrades him to slavery."

On April 21, 1879---San Jacinto Day---Texas Governor Oran M. Roberts signed the bill creating Sam Houston Normal Institute. Now, after well over a century of giving to the rising generations instruction, Sam Houston State University is truly "a great name" in Texas education.

You have come a long, long way. Sam Houston State University is today a thriving university, offering over 160 degree programs to a student body of over 12,500 strong.

Today's celebration reminds me again just how special graduations are. In the years ahead, as time goes by, you will realize how few moments we save for genuine celebration. We do not reserve enough time in our busy lives to stop and take stock of where we are, where we've been or where were going. Ceremonies such as this, give us time from our hectic days to reflect on what we've accomplished and on what lies ahead.

To you, the parents and families of the graduating class of 2001, let me offer my heartfelt congratulations. As the father of two boys, with years of tuition payments still ahead of me, I can almost taste the bittersweet exhilaration you must feel today, as you mark the end of your children's schooling. It must seem like yesterday that you first took them to school. Back then, you must have wondered if this day would ever come, and I know you hoped that time wouldn't fly so fast.

To you the faculty, these ceremonies mark the seasonal changes of your professional life, so to you congratulations on another class of graduates, on another year well-done, and to the joy of watching your students become your peers and the future leaders of our state.

My sincerest congratulations go to you, the class of 2001, the last class to graduate from Sam Houston State University under President Bobby Marks's Leadership, so today is both a day of celebration and a day of farewell, to you as graduates and to President Marks.

I remember the first time I met President Marks. It was at a Board of Regents meeting held here at Sam Houston University in the Beto Center. He probably doesn't remember that meeting. I was there at the recommendation of our friend Representative Allen Hightower for the sole purpose of meeting some people involved with Sam Houston---the year was 1997, I was a candidate for the office I hold now. I remember being struck by the love and hard work being shown by not only President Marks, but with the faculty and the Board members themselves.

After I was elected, one of the very first meetings I set up was with President Marks to discuss the needs of Sam Houston in the upcoming legislative session. Once again his dedication and love for this great institution showed forth, and I can tell you that it was infectious. I may not have attended formal classes at Sam Houston, but in that and subsequent meetings, phone calls and strategy sessions, I too became a Bearkat. I also knew that I had a new friend.

During the years since then I have seen that energy, dedication and vision tested time and time again, but never faltering, always holding true and steady---the vision for the students and the future of Sam Houston University always at the forefront of his thought.

Under President Marks's leadership, and with the help of what I consider to be the greatest staff in the University System, Sam Houston has become one of the premiere academic colleges in the State of Texas and in the entire United States. Our future is great! Thank you President Marks, for your dedication, vision and hard work, but also for your friendship. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

We are looking at a new era, one with a new president of this university. President Gaertner and the faculty have the task of carrying on this vision and formulating new strategies and ideas for the future. One I have all the faith in the world that they are up to. Today, everyone here shares something in common---the uncertainty of what the future holds---one of mine is whether I will still be Sam Houston's representative in Austin. I make this pledge to you, Sam Houston University will always have a friend in Austin and an advocate for as long as I am in the legislature, regardless of where my geographical district may end up being, and rest assured that I haven't given up on continuing as Walker County's representative. The fight is on, Let's get ready to rumble!

For many of you today marks the end of your formal schooling, but your education is just beginning---and as always, there's good news and there's some bad news.

The good news is that in the next few years, your anxiety level will drop. Although you finally hold your diploma, right now you may secretly fear that you don't know enough, and you're right. But once you get over that fear, and start your professional life, you'll find that what you don't know doesn't matter, you know plenty. You're smart, you'll work hard, and you'll learn your profession fast. During the next few years, you will be thrown into many sink-or-swim situations, and you will swim! Within a few years you'll be an expert in something. Until now, you've had everything but the knowledge that only experience can bring, call it it it whatever you wish; you don't have it yet, but sooner than you can imagine, you'll have that, too.

That doesn't mean that there won't be days of panic; days when you'll wish you were back at Sam. I can assure you that at least once during the next few years, you'll make a mistake, your stomach will churn, burn, and knot up. You'll think your career is in shambles. The next day, against all the odds, you will go to work, and you'll find that your mistake was not that serious after all and then you will feel that renewed confidence that comes from believing in yourself. That's the good news.

The bad news is that as your anxiety level declines, your responsibilities will grow, and so your general level of stress will remain about where it's been these past few years. People will recognize your talents. They will put you in charge of things and as your professional responsibilities rise, your personal responsibilities will rise even faster.

As you come into your own professionally, you'll come into your own personally:

Your own mortgage.

Your own car payments.

Your own marriage or relationship.

Maybe your own children.

You will have to make many hard personal choices---choices about where to live, how to live, and who to live with. For some of you, these choices have been made, but for many of you, they lie ahead, and some days, during these next few years, it will seem so unfair to you that everything has to happen all at once. So the good news is that the next few years will be extremely exciting. The bad news is that they will also be extremely fast, furious and frightening.

During the next few years, most of you will change jobs once, twice, or even more, but don't worry if your first job turns out not to be your last. Changing jobs is a normal and natural part of post-graduate education.

Over the next few years, you will have many hard choices to make about how to balance your careers and your lifestyle. Regrettably, you'll give up some of your dreams. Your success will exact a personal cost. You'll have to decide how much time to devote to your job and how much to yourself and to your family. Sustaining a two-career family can be a very difficult challenge. As you confront the question of how much money and prestige really mean to you, you may have to choose between doing good and doing well.

As you make these choices, please remember that you obtained your degree for the freedom that it would give you. You did not spend all these years building your resume so that you could be unhappy in your work and absent from your home and family. Work is important, but there are many more important things in life than work.

In making these choices---and you'll make them daily---you will feel very lonely. For all the love and support that surrounds you today and that you will continue to receive, you will find that there are some decisions that only you can make, but you will come to trust yourself. More and more, you will come to believe in yourself. After years of seeking wisdom from others, you will find it in yourselves, and there will come a day when you stop asking, "what makes them happy?" and start asking, "what makes me happy?". And when that day comes, take the chance, seize the moment, and don't play it safe. For on that day, you will decide not only what you won't stand for, but also what you do stand for.

When the time comes for you to choose a career, I hope that you will choose to commit yourself to careers not of selfishness, but of service. As the years go by, remember Sam Houston State University, not just as the place you received you degree, but as the place where you learned commitment to service, principles and your moral bearings.

Graduates, as you rise to take your diploma, please take a minute to look at your teachers. Think about the ideas and the hours they have given to you. Think of your loved ones, your spouses, your parents, your families, and your friends---those who are here with you today and those who could not be here. Draw strength from their confidence and faith in you and their love and support for you.

Please look at one another, and consider all you have shared and all that you have learned from and taught to one another.

Finally, and most important, please take a minute to look inside yourselves. Trust the wisdom that you find there. Remember your dreams. Remember you values, those values that brought you here, and those that you take from here.

Today you begin a new journey, one that is exciting and yet intimidating. Your degree is a boarding ticket for that journey. Your hard work has provided you with a first class ticket from Sam Houston State University; use it well and you can do anything you want in life.

I wish you the same good fortune and happiness in life that I have had.

Good luck graduates,

God bless you.

God bless Sam Houston State University

and God bless Texas!

Aug. 11, 2001

SHSU Media Contact: Julia May
Aug. 13, 2001
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