UT alumna Sara Tucker didn’t go to her own commencement ceremony for her undergraduate degree in journalism or her MBA.
“I was the first in my family to go to college,” Tucker said. “I was tired of being poor, so I raced through my undergraduate degree in three years, and then I graduated in the summer and couldn’t afford to come back to Austin for commencement.”
However, in May, Tucker will give a commencement address in front of thousands of UT graduates and their families. A member of the UT System Board of Regents and former undersecretary at the Department of Education, she said UT gave her the tools she needed to become a national leader in higher education.
“It really is humbling to be asked that when you care so much about an institution that gave you the foundation for a life that was beyond anything I could have ever dreamed for,” Tucker said. “If you have that energy and enthusiasm for what’s possible, it’s amazing what you can tackle.”
Tucker already gave a commencement speech to UT graduates in 2005, in which she reminded students that pure, inspired intentions lead to the right actions in an era of distrust toward public officials. She said she wasn’t sure if she should give another commencement speech, but said Fenves persuaded her after students reached out to her with the offer to speak.
“My first reaction was, ‘Oh no, I can’t do this [speech],’” Tucker said. “There are a lot more people these people want to hear from. [Fenves’] answer was ‘This is a whole new generation of students. Most of the administration is new, and I would love it, given everything you’ve done for UT-Austin, if you’d be our speaker.’”
Tucker said she isn’t sure what kind of speech she will give this May but said she was thinking about focusing her speech on finding one’s own way in the world.
“I think a lot of young students think that it’s best when you have a plan that you can just follow religiously, and one of the messages I’m toying with is, ‘Don’t put that pressure on yourself. There’s a lot of possibility out there that you’re not aware of,’” Tucker said.
Former Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky, who helped pick Tucker as the speaker, said her commitment to advocacy on behalf of UT as a regent stood out. Her speech will be especially meaningful to him, he said, because he and Tucker grew up in the same neighborhood in Laredo.
“She’s fought on behalf of UT, especially when higher education has been under attack,” Rotnofsky said. “It’ll be a nice timing for Laredo because there’ll be two Laredeans on the stage.”
UT President Gregory Fenves said he was “excited” Tucker would motivate students with her insights and wisdom.
“As a leader for excellence, access and diversity in higher education, Sara Martinez Tucker has been a supporter, adviser and now member of the governing board for the university. I am glad to have my good friend Regent Tucker join us at my first University commencement as president,” Fenves said in a statement.