Recalling a eulogy he heard at a memorial service for first responders killed in the tragic explosion in West last month, Congressman Bill Flores urged Texas A&M University degree candidates when planning their lives after graduation to consider the “dash” that will be on their tombstones — the part between the dates of their births and their deaths.
“When, at some date in the future, someone looks at your tombstone, they will obviously see your date of birth and the date of your death,” Cong. Flores, a 1976 Texas A&M graduate, told his fellow Aggies and their families attending the university’s commencement convocation. “More importantly, however, what will they see in between . . ., in your dash?”
In essence, he asked, what will they have accomplished in life — after birth, and particularly after graduation?
“I want all of your dashes to be bold and rich and meaningful,” he said, adding, “by the way, when I use the term ‘rich,’ I am not talking about money — I’m talking about rich with texture.”
The congressman, whose District 17 includes Aggieland, offered some advice to the soon-to-be graduates about building their dashes: “Make a plan for your future, live or execute that plan, strive to become a leader and serve others.”
Cong. Flores himself has a long record of service. Before entering public life, he worked for more than three decades in the energy field, most recently as president and CEO of Phoenix Exploration Co. Also, he has a long record of service to his alma mater, including a term as the volunteer leader of The Association of Former Students. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor bestowed on a former student by the university and its alumni association.
The convocation at which he spoke Thursday evening was an informal event that serves as the prelude for six commencement ceremonies that continue at Reed Arena through Saturday night.
By that time, diplomas will have been presented to a record 7,175 new Texas A&M graduates, including Cong. Flores’ son, Will, and six Aggies who either worked or interned in his congressional office or served as volunteers in his election campaign.
The congressman took the occasion to share with the audience a letter he received from another soon-to-be Texas A&M graduate:
”I am a 38 year old African American woman, who grew up in the deep south. Soon, I will be a first-generation college graduate. My mother spent her entire childhood on government assistance, and did not even finish high school; she did, however receive a GED. Fortunately, the past is not always prologue….and demography is not destiny.
“Through hard work as a single parent, she kept her two children clothed, fed, and secure such that we might have the opportunity to use our own sweat and tears to shape our futures.
“Now, having left full-time employment 2 ½ years ago to finish my bachelor’s degree, I have maintained a 4.0 GPR. Moreover, I will be starting a Ph.D. program this fall, having received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
“I am the American Dream.
“(signed) Cherish Vance”
Her degree is in biological and agricultural engineering.
“This story,” Cong. Flores emphasized, “is a perfect example of the life change that comes from higher education!”
He also took the occasion to give the Aggies his “bad news/good news” assessment of the world they will be entering.
“You are entering a troubled time in the history of the world and in our nation. We are besieged by threats to our national security and to our economic security,” he declared. “ Some countries in the European Union are perilously close to economic meltdown, and no one knows what will happen if they fail.
“Even our own country has seen its national debt skyrocket over the past five years to just under 17 trillion dollars; the point where it exceeds the value of our national output or GDP (gross domestic product). In addition, our federal government has made another over 100+ trillion dollars of financial promises in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs.”
He told the Aggies those are financial promises that cannot be kept unless their funding is taken from their generation or unless the programs are repaired soon.
“You are entering an economic environment where about one of every seven Americans is either unemployed, underemployed, or has given up looking for work. You are entering an economy where you are competing, not only against your peers in this room and across the nation; but, also against your peers all over the world. The competition for jobs in our new economy has never been tougher.
“The good news,” he said, “is that most of you are well prepared to take on these challenges! For 137 years, Texas A&M University has been educating, mentoring, and molding the best and brightest, here in Texas, and from around the world. The combination of the education and experiences you have had here at A&M, both in the classroom and out of the classroom has uniquely prepared you for the world you are about to enter.”
He concluded by encouraging the soon-to-be graduates to build their dashes. ”When I look at this crowd, I see a bunch of potential for bold, rich and meaningful dashes.
“Will you build those dashes?”