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From the College of Natural Sciences
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The Speaker: Fall Graduation 2009

The Speaker: Fall Graduation 2009
Erica RubinErica Rubin, who was selected as the student speaker for the college’s fall graduation ceremonies, was born in Dallas and graduated from Westwood High School in Austin. As a biology major in the college, she researched bacterial virus evolution, spent a semester in the Australian rainforest studying the indigenous flora, and completed a research project on the impact of seasonal frost on plant survival. She also conducted public health research in Brownsville, Texas on the bacteria that causes pneumonia.

She hopes to intern next year at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and then plans to seek a PhD in biology.

Her speech:

Good afternoon. Welcome and thank you for joining us for the fall 2009 Natural Sciences commencement. I would like to thank Dr. Laude and the science faculty for giving me the opportunity to speak this afternoon, on behalf of the academic achievements of our graduating class.

When I first came to UT, I spent too much time worrying that I did not know what to do with my future. I envied the people who could see their path lit up in front of them, and all they had to do was keep moving forward. I felt afraid of the unknown and frequently wondered, how could anyone be so sure about what to do next?

Dr. Laude told me in my freshman year something that has stuck with me throughout my time at UT. He said that the uncertainty of the future should be exciting, not terrifying. A simple enough piece of advice, but nevertheless this phrase comes back to me every time I have fears about the future.

I have learned that if you let fear prevent you from making a choice, you will simply stagnate.

I was sitting in an empty hallway of ESB, stewing over various options for how to spend my next semester, when I noticed a flier for the School for Field Studies. I had been thinking about studying abroad in Australia, and lo and behold they offered a program in the Australian rain forest. This program seemed like a fantasy and not something I could actually see myself doing. It had nothing to do with my major; I studied the small things, bacteria and viruses, not the big things, like giant prehistoric trees and spiders the size of dinner plates. But I felt a strange draw to the program nevertheless and decided to take the chance and go.

Sometimes veering off the trail you had planned leads you back to the path that is right for you. I will admit that when multiple people were sampled like fine cuisine by land leeches, and I discovered that my $5 flashlight wasn’t going to cut it if I planned on making it back to my cabin alive at night – I thought to myself, what have I done? But my time in Australia affirmed my loyalty to science and helped me realize that I had the patience and passion to do important research. I did not so much appreciate the 5-foot goanna monitor lizard that left its calling card on my sleeping bag, or the huntsman spiders that trapped me in the study shack after a long night of memorizing native birdcalls. But these things are just par for the course in the rainforest.

But you do not necessarily have to go away to learn about yourself. Of course you don’t realize it at the time, but given the chance you should really reflect on moments around campus over the last few years, and things will stand out in your memory. Even simple things like taking a nap at the steps between Welch and Waggoner, which is a little too easy to do. Or spending long hours in the stacks at the life sciences library, looking out the narrow windows at the turtle pond.  You learn to appreciate the silent and unacknowledged companionship of others learning near by. Even if you don’t know each other, you become partners in the battle against distraction. Listening for the deep, familiar tone of the tower bells, reliably ticking away the day in fifteen-minute intervals. You learn to manage your time properly under the tower’s consistent toll.

Or walking into your 500-student Chem 301 class, which is a sobering experience I’m sure many of you can identify with. This enormous, heterogeneous mob of people talking and shuffling, like its own living, breathing, learning organism. Somehow you have to become a part of this entity and learn along with it. Luckily, UT has some of the finest educators in the world to make this process easier. And they are fine educators in all aspects of life, not just within the walls of a Welch auditorium.

The faculty at UT has helped us realize the importance of forming networks, both personal and professional, to be productive in life. We have all formed webs of mentors and leaders who are invested in our goals and want to help us move forward.

Dr. Leanne Field, my closest mentor, single-handedly arranged a public health internship for eleven of us, who spent the summer in Brownsville researching swine flu and pneumonia. Eric Miller, soon to be Eric Miller, PhD, has guided me in viral evolution research over the last three years. I am deeply indebted to him for always being there for me both in and out of lab. Dr. Elizabeth Weiss was my favorite professor in my favorite subject (immunology) and is still my good friend. She has been a source of sound advice, scientific insight, and entertaining dog stories. These people have helped illuminate the path ahead by telling me about their own, lending a reassuring ear and voice, and instilling me with a drive to succeed.

Here at UT, I’ve learned to accept uncertainty as opportunity. I’ve learned to work with faculty to help me progress. I can measure the ways in which I have matured, as has UT. Over the course of our college careers, campus has gone through a series of metabolic changes, building up and tearing down. UT has built the Blanton Art Museum, the biomedical engineering building, the JGB geology building, and a state-of-the-art conference center and hotel. We have expanded our stadium to fit 90,000 plus people, and renovated the student union and Bass Concert Hall. On the other hand, UT has torn down poor old ESB to replace it with a new building in honor of a former president emeritus. And last but not least, we won the national championship.

I’m still not exactly sure what I will do with my life, but I’ve figured out the next step. And UT has given me the tools to succeed no matter what the future holds. I’ve learned to deal with my fears to look ahead and be excited about the future. In the words of one of my personal heroes, George Harrison, “when you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there.”

Congratulations to you all. Hook ‘em.

Fish-Watchers Wanted
Texas Rose Bowl

Comments 1

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