Every year, as the wildflowers are blooming and the air begins to feel more and more like summer, it's graduation season in Texas. Students across the state will receive their diplomas and degrees, signifying the culmination of many years of hard work and the investment of time and energy to achieve long-sought goals.
With the closing of one chapter, the start of a new journey begins for these recent graduates, who are destined to be the state's next generation of teachers, doctors, engineers, journalists, lawyers, business leaders, and more.
I am pleased to participate in this year's graduation season by giving the University of Texas commencement address and speaking at the Texas Tech Law School hooding ceremony. While graduation is certainly a time for celebration in the life of each student, it also helps to remind us all of the importance of higher education and the impact it has on our state's strength and prosperity.
Our state's forefathers had a vision that education would be our most important priority. The goal of the founders of our state university system was simple. In their words, it was "to place within the reach of our people, whether rich or poor, the opportunity of a thorough education."
They set aside 42 million acres of vast potential wealth - a Permanent University Fund - for one purpose: to assure that a top quality university education would be available to Texas students. This objective has been achieved, protected and passed down through our state's history.
Each chapter in the history of higher education in Texas bears its own challenges, and it is vital that we adapt and overcome new obstacles. When I spoke to the 1998 graduating class of the University of Texas, the autonomy and authority of our state's education system was under attack by federal bureaucrats in Washington attempting to regulate research and exert control over our academics.
Today, 13 years later, the assault against higher education in Texas is coming from within - not without. Our Texas state leaders are struggling with internal contention over the direction and focus of education at our state's flagship universities, UT and A&M.
No matter what challenge Texas faces - be it fiscal or philosophical - there should be no debate over the simple truth that a vibrant academic research community is critical to the success and stature of universities. Attracting the best faculty through research opportunities will give our students access to the highest quality programs and contribute to the success of our state.
During my career in the Senate, one of my greatest passions has been to strengthen higher education in Texas, and to bolster science and research at our state's institutions by strengthening their scientific centers of excellence. In the state of Texas, the faculty and students at our research universities have achieved remarkable breakthroughs. And these accomplishments not only enrich the learning experiences of the students but have improved the quality of life of all Texans.
Innovative work and cutting-edge research will help draw the best companies, the most innovative entrepreneurs and good jobs to Texas. For our state to continue to thrive, we must be committed to maintaining and advancing the stature of our state's research universities. This cannot merely be an aspiration; it is an imperative.
I am confident that this May our universities in Texas will turn out graduates who are prepared to contribute talent to our state and our world.
Congratulations to the class of 2011!