On May 23, bestselling author and speaker Brené Brown will deliver UT’s universitywide commencement speech. When she first agreed to speak, she thought she’d stand in front of thousands of students inside of the Frank Erwin Center. Now, she’ll be speaking to her laptop camera from her office in Houston.
A UT alumna and visiting professor herself, Brown will speak at UT’s first virtual commencement ceremony. The Daily Texan talked with Brown about how graduating students should approach vulnerability and uncertainty during what is normally a time of celebration.
The Daily Texan: What was your immediate reaction when you heard that commencement would now be online? Why did you decide to still give the commencement speech?
Brené Brown: Like most people, my first reaction to the news about commencement was a flood of different emotions. I was relieved that there will still be a celebration to mark this big moment for students and that the new plan will keep students and their families safe. At the same time, I was sad that students won’t have the moment they’ve been picturing during their time at the Forty Acres. One piece that contributes to feeling weary in this pandemic is the energy it takes to hold space for many competing emotions. I think we’re all juggling lots of mixed feelings.
DT: How did your approach to this ceremony change? What is your plan now?
BB: The core of my intentions haven’t changed: Celebrate the students’ hard work, share what I believe is important about how we show up in the world and keep it real.
DT: What have you turned to for comfort or reassurance during this time?
BB: I was almost a history major at UT. Had I not walked through the social work building by accident and fallen in love with a profession I didn’t know existed by just reading the bulletin boards, I would have studied history. I’m reading and listening to a lot of history books right now. I’m especially focused on courageous leadership during times of crisis. What these brave leaders all seem to share in common is the willingness to make hard decisions even when they’re not liked and a deep sense of service — of being in service of others rather than entitlement and the expectation of being served by others.
DT: What has been your routine during quarantine? Do you have any tips for ways to stay sane while practicing social distancing?
BB: Move your body, don’t consume too much news or hatefulness and be extra kind to yourself and others. We hold anxiety in our bodies; we need to move every single day. Even if it’s just a walk around the house or some stretching. The 24-hour news cycle and fights on social media are gasoline on our anxiety fires. Watch what you pour into your mind.
DT: You graduated from UT in 1995 and are now a visiting professor at McCombs. Has anything about UT changed for the better or worse since you were a student?
BB: You can’t achieve true greatness without diversity, equity and inclusion. We’re getting better at making sure we reflect the state we serve. And, it’s still too hot when football season starts. I’m looking for scarves-and-blankets weather at the first game — like the movies.
DT: You emphasize the importance of discussing topics that are often avoided in society, like shame and vulnerability. Why is this important to you? How can college students relate to this, especially as they graduate and move into the world?
BB: We all grow up with the mythology that vulnerability is weakness, yet vulnerability is actually our greatest measure of courage. The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome? These conversations are important to me because we are facing complex problems that need innovative solutions — solutions from people who are willing to lean into uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. What starts at UT can and will change the world, but it requires choosing courage over comfort.