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2014 Spring Convocation Wrap-up

The merriment began before the ceremony started as iSchool graduates assembled in the hallway outside the amphitheater at the AT&T Conference Center on May 17.

The order of the procession would be alphabetical, one of the organizers announced.

"We have to alphabetize ourselves?" a student responded with mock incredulity.

Amid peals of laughter and the strains of the bagpipe - a convocation tradition upheld for many years by piper Wade Harper - graduates made last minute adjustments to each other's stoles and tassels. It was time.

Later they would participate in the massive UT-wide graduation ceremony. But for now, this was their moment, a ceremony to celebrate what makes the iSchool unique and to honor master's and doctoral students about to embark on their careers.

They listened as Dean Andrew Dillon blended clever quips with stirring maxims and practical advice.

Part of the reason I'm here today is I believe you guys are the future of the world.
Tom Serres, Rally.org

Graduates also took in a poignant story from Tom Serres, the founder and CEO of the crowd-funding website Rally.org. Serres talked about how he overcame challenges, including childhood heartbreak, took some big chances and finally achieved his dream. He urged the graduates to pursue their passions, too, even if they encounter failure along the way.

"Part of the reason I'm here today is I believe you guys are the future of the world," he said.

Serres, who pursued an MBA at UT's McCoombs School of Business but did not complete his degree, said he appreciates the worth of an MBA. But, he stressed, iSchool graduates bring something uniquely valuable to the business development process. They are the creators, he said, the ones who will brainstorm an idea, test the data and determine "which button people are going to push."

"You will be some of the most heavily recruited students going into the next economy," Serres said.

Those were encouraging words for graduates, some of whom are still on the job hunt and all of whom have found themselves at some point explaining what a degree in Information Studies is.

Dillon reminded graduates that just by earning master's and doctoral degrees, they have set themselves apart. Only about 5 percent of the population obtains a master's; less than 1 percent earns a PhD.

He teasingly drew comparisons between other elite groups, namely the wealthiest 5 percent and 1 percent in the world, and urged graduates, if they do find themselves in those financial percentages, to donate generously to the iSchool. But, Dillon added soberly, "You have a form of riches that can't be bought."

The education they acquired at the iSchool, he said, prepared them to think "in the absence of rules," to apply theory learned in the classroom, to explore possibilities that other people might not consider.

"Keep standing out," he told them. "Aspire to greatness."

As Dillon handed out diplomas, he paused with each student long enough for a family member to snap a photo, even turning to face those seated to the left and right of the stage.

That impressed Cathleen Bartoli who was happy she could capture her daughter Genevieve Haggard's big moment.

"This is something the kids will remember forever," Bartoli said.