Donning UTD’s new doctoral garb, President Franklyn Jenifer addressed graduates at the spring commencement for his first time May 8 as the formal speaker, but possibly the last time as university president.
“We felt it was appropriate for him to be the commencement speaker and not just give his state of the university speech,” said Judi Hensley, administrative coordinator for the president and Student Ambassador adviser. “This may be his last year and first year to speak at a spring commencement.”
UTD first initiated the tradition of inviting a formal speaker to the spring commencement last year – which included astronaut James Riley, who received three degrees from UTD.
The decision to choose Jenifer give the formal address, rather than his usual state-of-the-university address, was made out of respect.
“This was a way for us to honor him for his 10 years of service,” Hensley said. “Sometimes you look over the expert in your own backyard.”
Jenifer’s speech focused on the disparity of wealth and education opportunities and charged the graduates with providing everyone the opportunity for a higher education.
“It is our responsibility to make sure others in society, that haven’t done so well, to give them a hand,” Jenifer said. “(The speech) was about responsibility.”
Jenifer joked in his speech that after spending 15 days with his grandchildren over Christmas, he was ready to come back to UTD. In reality, he said, he is ready to pass the torch.
“I will truly miss (UTD), but it’s time for me to move on and for the university to take a different direction,” Jenifer said.
This spring commencement also featured another first – the debut of UTD’s alma mater.
“The (commencement) committee worked very hard to be able to premiere (the alma mater),” Hensley said. “It was a project that was very near and dear to President Jenifer.”
Proud to finally have an alma mater, Jenifer said the song creates a bond between past and UTD present students.
“It’s very important for us to begin building traditions for current students and alumni,” Jenifer said. “Nothing does moreso than a common song they associate themselves to.”
In addition to the administration speeches, Kunal Khara, Michael Giambalvo and Douglas Martin were selected by the commencement committee to speak at the 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. commencements respectively.
The student speakers were chosen for their contributions while at UTD and the strength of their auditions tapes, Hensley said.
More than 1,600 students graduated this spring, bringing the total number of UTD graduates to more than 49,000 since 1969.