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Texas Woman’s University
December 2013 Commencement Address
Ann Stuart, Ph.D.

 Thank you Regent Bancroft and congratulations to the graduates. 

I have worked in education for over fifty years as a faculty member or administrator – all requiring I attend and listen – or pretend to listen – to commencement addresses.  That means I know all the normal introductions, the promises to be brief, and the numerous metaphors used to frame the speeches.

Some talk about “passages” or doors opening and closing or anything that represents change – that concept seems appropriate. 

You and I are sharing a similar experience – we are moving on.  We have completed what we set out to do –

                  You, a degree, undergraduate or graduate…
                  I, a plan of work for the University.

Some of us know what is next – you have a position to go on or return to. Others – like myself – have absolutely no clue what is next.

But we have in common time spent at Texas Woman’s University and that time and our experiences have taught us, toughened us, added to our knowledge; so we are prepared for what is ahead.

I have come to love and appreciate this University.  I particularly love the history appearing in the book Marking a Trail: The Quest Continues produced in 2001 as part of our Centennial Celebration by Phyllis Bridges, Ph.D., Professor of English, TWU Department of English. 

You and I are now part of TWU’s history.  Yet we may know little about its beginning or hallmarks.   

It is common to accept a position at some company, or to attend a certain University and become so focused on succeeding or managing our lives that we could not tell you anything about the place or how it came to be.  I want us both to know or remember a bit about TWU’s founding, its vision, and its consistency of mission.

Here is the first recruitment piece…

…so simply stated.  Contrast this with today’s ambitious campaigns to recruit – high school open houses, campus visitations, view books, websites, mailings, etc.

The announcement and whatever else existed produced the first class of 186 members…

…compare that to our current enrollment of over 15,000 students and over 100,000 degrees awarded.

Students paid $5 per semester to attend.  That cost could rise to $250 for a full year if one included room, board, books, and incidentals.

Do not compare that to current costs ---

To open, the University needed a place…


With a small greenhouse and one building of three stories – the building we now call Old Main – opened for classes on September 23, 1903. The equipment purchased for the first building included churns, cream testers, ironing boards, a starcher, drawing tables, typewriters, microscopes, sewing machines, a lathe, a scroll saw, tools and a piano, among other items. 

The emphasis was on the blending of a literary and cultural education with the practical skills of the day. 

Remember the tools, a scroll-saw, etc. ordered for class?  Well, the girls really did learn by doing.

Here, a horticulture class in 1910 tends the gardens… 

Beekeeping was offered as part of the curriculum…

A group of CIA students gained knowledge of foods and nutrition in the cooking laboratory…

Students and staff also harvested hay on the grounds of the college in the early years to help pay expenses…

Having fun was different than today.  There were no cars, ipads, movies, certainly not bars and dancing.  How about a wagon ride? 

This is from 1910 and was explained as a “break from study.”  Do they seem very delighted to you?

From this simple beginning, TWU grew and among other features, two iconic images will always remind us of our time at TWU. 

One is the Pioneer Woman statue, located in the Pioneer Circle — between the music and the visual arts buildings.  She stands fifteen feet tall and was a gift to the campus in celebration of the Centennial of Texas Independence.  The statue of pure Georgia white marble by Leo Friedlander was unveiled before a large crowd on December 5, 1938.  The statue quickly became a symbol of the pioneer spirit and an emblem of the College.

Another icon is the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods, which is perhaps the most distinctive and beloved building on the Denton campus. 

Built in 1939, the Little Chapel has been the site of thousands of weddings, initiations, memorial services, lectures and performances, as well as a place of individual meditation. 

The Chapel was designed by O’Neil Ford – the most prominent architect to have come from Texas – and constructed by workers under the Roosevelt administration from the National Youth Administration, but the interior was the work of TWU students and faculty:

The stained glass window designs…

The hand carving of the woodwork on the pews…


The design and making of the light fixtures…

The creation and installation of the mosaics…

All of these were envisioned and created by our students and faculty.

The Little Chapel was not quite finished when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the campus and participated in the dedication ceremonies for the building on November 1, 1939.

In all that it did, TWU was ahead of its time. 

It has always recognized the relationship between theory and practice – the TWU motto ‘learn to do by doing’ has given you – the graduate – the theoretical understanding of your discipline matched by experiential learning. It has given me the opportunity to learn and do at an educational enterprise I admire and respect.

So we are off to a new phase of our life’s journey.  It will, in part, be influenced by our time at TWU. 

Given the privilege I have to speak to you today and having lived and learned from an already long life, I just cannot pass up the chance to add my advice to that already given to you by parents – friends – relatives – and others – all of us telling you what to do or not to do – and knowing you probably are going to do just exactly as you want to…                           

But please indulge me.

My first hope for you is be strong enough to do what you know is right for yourself. 

In my own life at a certain time – I had finished a Ph.D. – risen to the rank of Full Professor – been awarded tenure – and was well set for a profession and life of teaching, if that was my final goal.

It was not.  I wanted to be an administrator in an educational setting. To apply and succeed, however, I had to go against my mother’s wishes.  We had recently lost her husband – my father.  I was an only child, and my stable life was comforting to mother and a safe refuge.

Going off to try something new represented risk; that tenured position would not be held for me – I would probably need to move to another university, another city. 

Mother was not a risk taker, and she fought hard to keep me from being one – to keep life as it was. I held out – pursued my goal – succeeded, and mother rejoiced in my successes.  She explained many times how her fear of change should not have been imposed on me.

Yet it was, and it was hard to go against the opinion of someone I loved.

You must be true to yourself.  Do what you want – if it is well thought out and has a reasonable chance of success.

Some of my saddest conversations are when students tell me they wanted to go abroad – or accept work in another place – or change work altogether, but others – parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, children, cherished friends, whoever – did not want them to, and they did not.

If it truly is ok with you – fine – but if it is bending your soul and diminishing who you dream to be, have strength.  Be your own person. Boyfriends and girlfriends and even husbands and wives can leave; parents live their own lives, and your children grow up and go away.  Do not shrink to their deciding for you.

You may not realize it now, but life is short; time flies.  There are not a lot of second chances to do what you want to do.  Make the most of your dreams, and go as far as you can towards your goals.

My second piece of advice is work hard and well at what you have chosen to do.

I have never understood people who talk about how they hate their job – yet they do not hate cashing their paycheck when it comes due. A large amount of your time – your life – is spent working.  Find something you like – where you can contribute – where you can learn and take more responsibility – where you can be proud and interested in what you do.

You are well prepared – TWU does that.

I probably am not as excited as you about “moving on,” but it is time for us both.

My best to you.  It has been my honor and privilege to work with this faculty, staff, administrators, and Regents, for you the students and alumni.

Congratulations and let’s get you graduated.

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