Character Counts

It is graduation season, the absolute best time of the year as far as I’m concerned.

I want to congratulate everyone who has earned a UT degree. I am proud beyond words, and I hope you are too. I also want to thank you. Every single student, on every UT campus, makes his or her institution a smarter, more interesting, simply better place. We were lucky to have you, and your future triumphs are going to reflect well on your school, and all who support it.

So thank you.

Whether the field of study is botany or business, music or medicine, a degree from one of our institutions says a lot about what you know. 

But, it not only reflects what you know, it says just as much about who you are. It says you are a person who is ambitious and hard-working, who can overcome obstacles and follow through on a commitment.

This degree is a great credential – and make no mistake, every UT degree is a great credential – and that sheepskin will open a lot of doors. But what happens after that will be less about the credential than the character it took to earn it.

Unlike a degree that can be framed and hung on a wall, a person’s character is a work in progress that must be tended to, very carefully, all the time. Because it is put to the test every single day.

Our nation, and indeed the world, is crying out for men and women of great character.

Men and women who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, to speak truth to power, to stand up for what they believe in. 

Men and women who always seek to be moral, legal and ethical.

Women and men who respect everyone and who, as a consequence, are themselves respected.

You see…character knows no color, no gender, and no social status. It is universal in its appeal.

Above all else, more than your degree, more than your individual honors, more than your achievement or athletic awards—your character will be what people recognize first…and last. It will be what defines you.

As you head into the “real world,” take the character traits you have learned at your great universities and set the example for others to follow.

Where there is ignorance, challenge it. 

Where there is injustice, stand against it. 

Where there is inequality, confront it.

Where there is hatred and bigotry, overcome it.
 
Take on the difficult challenges of the day.

Do not run from issues because they are controversial. Address them head on. 

Because if you don’t, what kind of example will you be setting for the next generation of students?

How will your character be defined if you get weak-kneed in the midst of challenging times?

Great character is bold and unafraid. My hope for our UT institutions is that we will be known as fearless purveyors of good character, pushing the limits of comfortable discourse, exploration, and conventional wisdom.

If we lead the way, others across the state and the nation will follow and the world will be stronger as a result.

Congratulations, again, to all our graduates – and to all who love and support them.

Thanks for reading, I’ll write again soon.