What Starts Here

I moved to Austin, a little bit hesitantly, in  August of 2012 to pursue a Masters degree in Sports Science and Nutrition.  This past Saturday, I got what I came for,  joining a small group of classmates turned friends at our Masters Hooding Ceremony in the morning, and and participating in the evening processional.  I’m officially Jessica Sprenkel, MS!

Our morning started early, with more prep and dressing than I’m used to.  This once in a lifetime occasion called for a dress, light makeup and even heels.  Erin and I picked up the other girls, Tiffany and Lauren to head to campus.  Our first ceremony was the more formal of the two and included all the students of the graduate school.   Our speaker was Dean Terry Kahn, the UT Associate Dean of Graduate Student Services.  I’d never seen or heard of him before but a big man with a lovely Texas drawl took the mic.  After opening with an A&M joke (rivalries run deep here), he left us with four pieces of advice.

  1. Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know
  2. Tell it like it is
  3. Understand no opportunity to assist humanity is too small to warrant your attention
  4. Have reverence for what you’ve accomplished

I loved it.  A concise and practical list.  Number 3 especially struck a chord with me.  That’s what is great about this field I’m in because I get to assist people everyday.  Provide encouragement and motivation.  Write plans to help them get stronger.  Faster.  And I understand that no high five is ever too small or unwanted during a training session.

After he finished giving all the grads his best advice, the hooding began.  College of education was the very last to be presented but soon enough it was my turn.  Never a performer, being on stage made me surprisingly nervous.  Not sure how anyone can get things done or think straight with bright lights in their face.  But I smiled.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  I smiled as they placed the hood over my head, smiled as I shook the hands of the deans, smiled as I gave a big hug to my advisor, smiled as I waited for everyone on the other side of the stage.  I couldn’t help it!  For the first time in the two years at UT, I did feel proud.  I did work for this.  I worked to get accepted (1 of 1600 graduating, out of 26,000 applicants annually to the graduate school).  I worked to make the grades.  I worked to absorb knowledge and experiences outside of the classroom.  I worked to reduce my tuition and have a little spending money.  I earned this.

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I was so glad to share this celebratory experience with the people who were by my side at coffee shops in the last minutes of business for the day.  People who quizzed and quizzed on dry erase boards over the physiology of various types of exercise.  People who made the time outside of class fun and adventurous.  We’ve shared a lot in four semesters and this was a great ending.

The morning ceremony felt very similar to my graduation from Rhodes four years ago – formal and traditional.  All week people had been talking about the evening processional, noting that if I went to only one ceremony it should be that one.  So, we went.

Boy does Texas know how to throw a party!  This ceremony involved all the students.  Undergraduates, graduates, doctors, business, law, engineering.  We lined up close to the fountain and got to walk through the rows of big oak trees with faculty standing beneath them.  Our walk ended at the base of the Main Building or Tower and we filed into our seats.  There were cameras floating through the air on the ends of long mechanical arms, zooming over the audience of excited students hoping to get on the big screen at the front.  It was very much like a sporting event.  We had great seats too.  The tower stood proudly over us and a pedestal was set up at it’s base for the speakers.

The atmosphere was much different than the morning ceremony and both of my previous graduations.  Students were dancing on the chairs, had decorated their caps, were carrying light sabers, blowing whistles and air horns and chanting various fight songs (including “OU sucks”, another deep rivalry here).  President Powers took the stage and introduced the student body president to speak and our commencement speaker, Admiral William H. McRaven.  He was quite eloquent and poised but stuck some funnies in throughout his speech.  He also had a list of advice for us:

  1. Make your bed
  2. Find a mentor
  3. Measure people by the size of their hearts
  4. Get over discomfort and move forward
  5. Don’t be afraid of the circuses (extra work or hardship), it will make you stronger
  6. Slide down the obstacles head first
  7. Don’t back down from the sharks (punch them in the face)
  8. Stay calm in the darkness, you must be your very best here
  9. There is power in hope
  10. Don’t ever ring the bell (surrender)

When he finished, the students erupted into a standing ovation and the conferring of the degrees began.  Each school’s dean was called to the podium and while the tower glowed with the color of their college, the dean certified his or her students to receive their degrees.  Some colleges were much louder than others – Moody College of Communication and McCombs Business school were quite rowdy.  We stood up with the Graduate School and I gave an appropriate yell of excitement for us.

There were a few final remarks, a dozen “Hook em Horns” and a communal singing of “The Eyes of Texas” before we got to the part everyone had been waiting for – fireworks.

Austin, over the past two years you’ve given me challenges, knowledge, novel experiences, a new set of friends, a puppy and now a Masters Degree.  I’ll always be grateful of my time here and what it has given me but after this summer I’ll be on to the next chapter.  Watch out Tulsa, you’re next on my trail to change the world!

Hook ’em horns!


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