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Commencement Speech by Chancellor Charles R. Matthews

(As written for presentation at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 17, 2005 in Johnson Coliseum at Sam Houston State University)

Matthews, Gaertner
Charles R. Matthews, left, chancellor of the Texas State University System, visits with James F. Gaertner, Sam Houston State University president, before Saturday's 10 a.m. commencement exercise.

It is a privilege to be with you today to celebrate your accomplishments. This ceremony is called a "commencement" because it represents your initiation as a newly degreed student. You have made countless sacrifices and endured a demanding academic schedule in order to make it to this place.

Take pride in your endeavor. Remember your first days as a Bearkat--new buildings, a new home, new schedule, you were filled with uncertainty, not knowing how your experience would end--and yet, here you are. The very fact that you are sitting here today is a testament to your hard work, intelligence and drive to finish what you start.

However, I suspect that you have had some help along the way. With you today to celebrate this momentous occasion are a cadre of family members and friends who provided financial assistance, encouragement, sympathy and a few home-cooked meals to get you through your academic career. They have been with you every step of the way, from your early years of learning to count and saying your ABCs to struggling through your final exams, class projects and theses. In fact, I heard that the Parents' Association provided 1,200 apples and 5,000 scantrons to help you get through the end of the semester. Graduates, would you stand and join me in thanking those who have contributed to your success here today.

As you celebrate with these, your loved ones, and feel the overwhelming sense of pride that they have in your accomplishments, I hope that you look upon your experience here fondly, but assume that the best is yet to come.

Earning a degree has given you a great advantage in succeeding. The benefits you will reap are numerous. According to two national studies, as a college graduate, your average annual income, lifetime earnings and ability to maintain employment are greater than if you only had a high school diploma. As a matter of fact, the College Board estimates that you will earn as much as 73 percent more money over your lifetime than a high school graduate, which equates to approximately $1 million. Furthermore, as a college graduate you have a significantly lower chance of ever needing public assistance. You are projected to have better health, to volunteer more and have a greater interest in the social well being of others. Texas elected officials will be glad to know that you are also more likely to vote.

In addition, you are graduating from an institution in which you can take great pride. Sam Houston State University was created by the Texas Legislature in 1879 as Sam Houston Normal Institute to train teachers for the public schools of Texas. The first baccalaureate degree was awarded in 1919. In 1936, the institution began offering graduate instruction.

Following World War II, the institution dramatically expanded its academic program so that by 1960, about 25 percent of the graduating seniors were receiving degrees in fields other than teaching.

In recognition of the expanding academic programs, the institution's name was changed by the Texas Legislature in 1965 to Sam Houston State College. Four years later, the Texas Legislature changed the institution's name to Sam Houston State University.

Today, Sam Houston State offers an extensive range of bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as four doctoral degrees. The faculty, who have served as your teachers and mentors, are recognized regionally, nationally and internationally.

Sam Houston State University has a remarkable history and is an invaluable resource for the State of Texas. Many of Sam Houston State's programs are highly ranked and provide unique credentials for its graduates. Let me mention just a few.

The Musical Theatre program is ranked in the top 10 by Broadway Theatre Project .

The Dance Program is rankied in the top 25 by Dance Spectrum Magazine .

The College of Criminal Justice is ranked in the top five by the Journal of Criminal Justice .

The Educational Leadership program is recognized in the top four in Texas and top 50 in the nation.

The College of Business Administration is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Only one-third of the Business Administration programs in the country are so accredited. Moreover, the College of Business Administration offers one of only three banking degrees in the nation.

Sam Houston State University has such an outstanding reputation that students from 46 countries have come to study here.

Graduates, I have reviewed your activities and found that you have been exceptionally busy during your academic career. You have taken the institution's motto, The Measure of a Life is its Service, seriously by actively participating in more than 191 social, professional, political and religious student organizations.

Through these organizations you have worked with numerous governmental, community and non-profit groups including the American Red Cross, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Habitat for Humanity, American Heart Association, Kiwanis, Rotary International, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, local churches as well as a large number of public schools here in the pineywoods and beyond.

In volunteering, you assisted in feeding the hungry through campus fund-raisers such as the Turkey Trot. You raised the awareness of others regarding drug and alcohol abuse. You mentored the children of prisoners and volunteered to work with the Special Olympics. You donated blood and collected funds for the victims of last December's tsunami tragedy.

Just three months ago, you assisted the victims of Hurricane Katrina and were quite generous in giving of your time and money. Little did we know at the time that another hurricane would soon follow. When Hurricane Rita threatened the Gulf Coast, you housed some 1,400 evacuees. In rallying together to get through this difficult time, you demonstrated great kindness, exceptional creativity and an uncommon resilience. These are lessons that will follow you all your life.

Based on all your activities, I believe you deserve today's celebration and some rest.

If I could offer you a little advice, as someone who has been around for a while and, hopefully, learned from my own mistakes, I would suggest several things for your consideration. I would encourage you to discover what it is that you enjoy doing and do it with all your heart.

You have earned a degree in a particular subject area and are now looking for the next step in life. Taking that next step can be frightening and it may take a while to get to where you want to be. Nevertheless, remember that you are gifted and you have been trained to use your gifts. Trust that you will find the right place to invest yourself.

Continue your work in community and public service. The volunteerism that you have demonstrated as a student is tremendous. Maintaining that kind of commitment will help to make this world a better place. The good that you do is personally satisfying and adds immeasurable quality to your life as well as those around you.

Remember that change is inevitable and makes us stronger. Completing your college courses and degree requirements was a fairly clear process, but life has a way of being completely unclear, particularly at times of transition such as this.

Wrestling with the challenges brought on by change will make you resilient. Trust yourself. The future holds a great deal of excitement and uncertainty. Facing what lies ahead takes nerve, but you have been given the tools needed to manage the uncertainties you will encounter.

Understand that in our rapidly changing economic environment, learning will be for you as it has been for me, a lifetime event. You have learned at this university how to understand and assimilate new information. Because of this educational experience, you will be able to look more critically at information and come to a more reasoned judgment as to its meaning. This is especially needed in today's increasingly global and diverse culture. It is an exciting time to be alive and to make your mark on the world, but it requires that you make your own judgments about the new thoughts, people and experiences you encounter. You have been given the knowledge to deal with these new elements in your life. Continue to read and contemplate the mysteries of life that you encounter along your path. Consider that the degree that you are earning today might only be the first of several degrees that you earn over your lifetime. An attitude of continuous learning, I believe, will serve you very well. Albert Einstein stated:       

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."

He meant that you would derive much pleasure in examining problems and using your newly acquired skills to come to a reasoned conclusion. Your education and will make this possible.

Also, remember the small things. It is easy to get wrapped up in so much activity that you forget the things that are truly important--family, friends, all of those who are with you today, and your health. In the midst of your work, remember to keep a balance in life. You are beginning a new chapter in your life and the temptation will be to focus so much on the goals and objectives of your career that you overlook the true value of things. It is good to stop occasionally to smell the roses.

As the chancellor of the Texas State University System, I worked with nine Texas public colleges and universities, which educate some 70,000 students. I have been asked to identify my vision for the System and, as I look out at you, I know full well what my vision for this System should be--to provide a high quality education for all potential students.

The state's master plan for higher education, titled closing the Gaps, calls for the college education of 600,000 more students by the year 2015. To meet the needs of the growing Texas population, we must educate a larger portion of the state's residents in order to build a strong economy. An educated work force will attract businesses and provide greater employment opportunities for Texans. Thus, Texas will maintain its wealth and its residents will have a higher quality of living. As chancellor, l am assisting institutions in fulfilling this goal by supporting academic excellence and maximizing the use of this System's resources.

You are a part of my dream for this System and you are now part of a great Texas tradition, a graduate of Sam Houston State University. Our state's educational history is both interesting and unique. From your study of Texas history, you will remember that our state was once a nation.

During that period from 1836 to 1845, when Texas was an independent nation, the idea of public higher education was a much-discussed subject. That discussion and the ensuing actions by our state leaders are for me best summed up by a quote from President Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas, who previously had served as vice president under then-president Sam Houston. On December 20 th , 1838, one hundred and sixty-seven years ago, President Lamar in addressing the second congress of the republic, stated:

"A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy, and while guided and controlled by virtue is the noblest attribute of man, it is the only dictator that free men acknowledge and the only security that free men desire."

In explaining the need for public higher education, he went on to say:

"The present is a propitious moment to lay the foundation of a great moral and intellectual edifice, which will in after ages be hailed as the chief ornament and blessing of Texas."

You, the graduates of 2005, have now become the ornaments and blessings of Texas that president Lamar was describing. Your lives are shining brightly and we can see the future through you.

We are proud of each of you and look forward to seeing what you can do to make a difference in our world. As you begin this new chapter in your life, remember that you are a part of a proud heritage. You are not leaving us completely; Sam Houston State will always be a part of you and your life.

May God bless you and may God continue to bless the great state of Texas.

—END—

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Dec. 17, 2005
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