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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Campus

Despite weather, McConaughey imparts wisdom on graduates


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Despite the rainy weather, Matthew McConaughey gave a rousing speech to graduates on Friday. | Esteban Portillo/The Cougar

Matthew McConaughey’s face, his brown beard rushing from his chin, glows with a warm smile. He starts toward the podium then foregoes it, propping himself instead on the wooden stool to the right. He takes off his black sports coat for the informality of his plain white button-up. He leans off the stage, staring into the faces of the hundreds of graduates and, rolling up his sleeves to his elbows, begins to preach.

“Short and sweet or long and salty — a sugar donut or some oatmeal. Out of respect for you and your efforts to get your degree, I thought long and hard about what I could share with you tonight,” McConaughey said, obscurely. “I thought about what you would want; I thought about what you might need.”

McConaughey, a household-name actor currently filming the civil war drama “The Free State of Jones” in New Orleans, delivered what he thought the class of 2015 wanted and needed as the speaker of the first University-wide commencement ceremony held at TDECU Stadium. After an introduction by President and Chancellor Renu Khator, he began by recounting his brothers’ graduations, in which their respective certificates seemed to matter less as time passed, and pondering the value of the degree in today’s time.

“So I ask the question: What does your college degree really mean? For most of you, the future’s probably still pretty fuzzy,” McConaughey said, emphasizing how students don’t gain much clarity about the future, even though they have gone to school since age five. “And I say that’s okay – ‘cause that’s how it is.”

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Rainy weather threatened to mar the graduation festivities. | Alvin Ng/The Cougar

Preceding the ceremony, torrential rain threatened to disband the event. UH Media Relations insisted, however, that, barring violent storms, McConaughey would continue his plan to speak to the crowd in TDECU stadium. Still, students initially kept a concerned eye on the weather during the event.

“I was worried that, because of the rain, I would miss the important things—marching in with my friends, seeing my family,” said broadcast journalism graduate Christina Caballero. “It was alright, though.”

And, as he related his 13 nuggets of wisdom, displayed curiously in different fonts on the JumboTron screen, to the audience, the sky’s impenetrable gray started to thin, allaying the fears of the students and their families.

His phrases ranged from “Define success for yourself” to “Process of elimination is the first step to your identity (a.k.a. ‘where you are NOT is as important as where you are’)” and from “Make voluntary obligations” to “Happiness is different than joy.” In his second McConaughey-ism, he related his stupor at the existence of the word “unbelievable” to the graduates on the field.

The Oscar-winning actor, who is donating almost all of the proceeds from the event to his Just Keep Living Foundation that helps more than 2,000 students across the nation, logically plowed through strange anecdotes of hypothetical love affairs, friends and their drug addictions, a visit to a voodoo shop and even his own rejection of pleated pants.

Salwa Khan, an optometry graduate, found McConaughey’s stories inspiring.

“That was great,” Khan said after the speech. “It was really relevant.”

In the graduate procession, Khan bore the banner for the School of Optometry. She strode ahead of the 4,598 graduates—who hail from 37 states and 67 countries. Khan positioned the wavering flag on the stage behind where honorables like McConaughey, Khator and even Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee would take their seats. Now about to begin residency at the Michael E. Debakey VA Medical Center, Khan is no stranger to the ceremony.

“I think that choosing him as a speaker was wonderful,” Khan said. “Everything that he spoke about was relevant to the future.”

He encouraged the graduates to place themselves in positions to see truth, personalizing the phenomena and steadying the patience to internalize it once discovered. For McConaughey, this can create a “Heaven on Earth” or kind of paradise for the graduates, if they choose to accept the challenge of seeking truth.

“And that’s a place where what we want is also just what we need…think about it! I know that’s how I want to live,” McConaughey said. “So, while we’re here … let’s make it a place where we break a sweat; where we believe…traveling toward the moral finish line, we write our own book; Overcoming our fears, we make friends with ourselves. And that’s the place that I’m coming from.”

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