Letter From the Executive Director: The Big Show

Planning an outdoor event in Austin in the month of May is like performing a high-wire act with no safety net—and this year the forecast for UT’s universitywide commencement ceremony looked especially dicey.   

In a shocking twist after all the storms we’d had the preceding weeks, after the sun set on May 22, 2021, the sky was clear. It wasn’t even particularly sweltering. The temperature was comfortable for wearing a sports coat and, I imagine, a cap and gown. For one beautiful night at Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, the Class of 2021, their family and friends, and the entire UT Austin community got the reprieve we didn’t know we needed so badly. 

A lot should be said for how hard university staff worked behind the scenes to pull the day off. The stage, the crowd, the fireworks, the pageantry—it all went smoothly. I was struck by the sheer force of optimism and determination the event represented in a year like this. After all the cancellations, postponements, and virtual re-imaginings since this time last year, The University of Texas was going to give these graduates the big finale they so deserved, no matter what.  

In their regalia and cleverly decorated mortarboards, with their biggest fans surrounding them and looking on from all the way in the upper deck, I saw Longhorns embracing and high-fiving friends they probably hadn’t seen in person for far too long. As the fireworks exploded and thousands of hats soared into the air … the only way I can describe what it was like to attend Commencement 2021 is that it was a moment of unbridled awesomeness. We all experienced this together and it had even more meaning and promise than a typical graduation ceremony. After hiding out like everyone else for so long, I was reminded just how big an influence our school has and that its size and scale are points of pride.   

After it was over, the unique location of the stadium created a mad dash to the Tower to get those photos every Longhorn must have. That moment was cool and something I didn’t predict: a second procession to the front gates of the Forty Acres. There was something in the air and it may have been specific to this moment in time. It was the excitement of the end of a chapter unlike any other and finally getting to turn the page of history. 

Hook ’em, 

Chuck Harris
BBA ’86, Life Member

Credit: Brendan Maloney


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