Fall 2023 Commencement Speech: The Razorback Flow

December 16, 2023

Good afternoon and congratulations to each of you. This is another great day on the hill. A day when we get to celebrate the accomplishments of proud members of our Razorback family. To paraphrase the immortal Drake, “you started from the bottom, now you’re here.” Although we rightfully place most of our focus on you, the graduates, we also salute and recognize the faculty and staff who taught you and facilitated the experiences that helped you get to this day. Parents and significant others, we love you, too. You provided invaluable advice and emotional encouragement to your students that contributed meaningfully to their personal development and academic success. Also, thank you for paying the bills.    

Inherently, this day makes graduates nostalgic. It is hard not to go back to when it all began and to reflect on those personal experiences that shaped the journey to this day. Some of you will go back to orientation, move-in day, welcome weeks and the first days of class. Remember how green you were? Some of you got lost trying to find classes. You will remember that first social outing with new college friends or that first real date while in college. You got all dressed up and were so excited because you wanted to have a very special dinner. So, you met for dinner at Fulbright Dining; Okay 1021; how about Chick-fil-A? (I sense that some of you are now moving down memory lane with me.  Hopefully, you won’t get stuck in traffic on regrets boulevard).  You will remember when you went through recruitment for Greek life or joined some other RSO, or studied abroad, or attended an outstanding, fun, sanctioned campus event. Some of you will happily reflect on that professor that just knew how to make the class or lab better than anything that you could have ever imagined it being.  

You will also remember those not so fun campus experiences where you struggled to attend a class, or when you attended one that was super hard or unbearably boring. Collectively, we all remember the COVID days-Oh yes, that time when we had masking, testing, remote delivery of courses, remote programming, take out dining, discovering Zoom and then hating Zoom, etc. We all remember.  I was Provost for much of that time, I remember that nobody seemed happy. Students were upset. Faculty and staff were upset. Parents were mad. People complained about every message I sent-even the message that just said welcome back to campus! It was a hard time. 

But thankfully, things got much better, and we were able to celebrate the university’s 150 anniversary, the Sesquicentennial.  We had sanctioned Sesquicentennial parties. In September 2021, our football team beat Texas, and you stormed Razorback field. (Cost-100K) In February 2022, our basketball team defeated the number one ranked Auburn team right here in Bud Walton arena, and you stormed the court. (Cost -250K) Just last month our basketball team defeated the number seven ranked Duke team, and you stormed the court, again, (100K) and you had a grand time and took lots of selfies.  

In your time at the university, you learned that personal growth and achievement is best accomplished by developing a strategy that combines self-awareness, hard work, networking, and negotiation. You chose a major that hopefully reflected what you knew about your interests and the type of work that you wanted to pursue after graduation. You took a series of courses that were tied to that major from faculty in various fields. You learned how to effectively navigate your professors and their classroom expectations. You attended class regularly- (what a novel approach). You consistently sat at the front of the classes, actively engaging in the teaching/learning dynamic. You even took time to visit with faculty during office hours. You studied hard for each class. I would bet that those who adopted this approach achieved higher grades. But more than that - You built a foundation for success that will continue benefitting you as you move forward personally and professionally.          

Always remember that life moves much like a river. It has a beginning, and it has an ending. It is subject to the pull of gravity and meanders along a course that influences the speed and direction of its flow. It shapes and is shaped by the environment, eroding spaces while redepositing sediment to create new surfaces. Life, like the river, moves in the direction of the flow.  That’s why for you today at this junction of your journey, one of the most salient questions that you will have to grapple with is how will you continue managing your flow? How will you continue making decisions that best shape not only your life but the lives of others? Will you have a flow that fertilizes and refreshens those around you, nurturing hope, and the belief in a better tomorrow? Will you have a flow that unites and strengthens the bonds between people, underscoring our shared humanity and reviving the sense that all things are possible if we are willing to work together? Will you have a flow that preserves, conserves, calms, elevates, heals, and sustains?

Or will you have a flow that causes people to seek hazard insurance when they deal with you? Will you have the type of flow that overruns its banks and drowns the thoughts, ideas, and hopes of others? Will you have the type of flow that pollutes and poisons? Will you have the type of flow that destroys, denigrates, and displaces?

Surely not. You did not come this far, work this hard, achieve this much just to make yourself and the world more miserable. I am just hopeful enough to believe that each of you have accomplished this much to be better positioned to do so much more. Each of you have ascended to this this height for the purpose of moving higher. Each of you have achieved this dream with the intention of improving your flow to future dreams. 

You know there is something special about how the University of Arkansas graduates’ flow. I have met so many that are doing exceptional things.The bar is high.The expectations are elevated. Arkansas graduates are making great things happen. They have what I like to call “that Razorback Flow.”  Let me end my remarks today by briefly describing it:

You don’t move too fast or too slow.

You keep a do it right pace with that Razorback flow.

You don’t get too high nor too low.

You keep a healthy perspective with that Razorback flow.

No river’s too wide that can break your stride.

You keep a positive vibe with that Razorback flow.

You don’t cry me a river or chase waterfalls.

Your rivers don’t run dry.

Your bridges are always tall.

When troubled waters come

The winds of strife may blow.

But you will keep it all together with that Razorback flow. 

Congratulations, graduates!  Keep dreaming your dreams! Keep doing what you know! Keep achieving greatness (and of course) with that Razorback flow.