Bush School Graduation Celebration Fall 2018
Welcome all of you to Texas A&M University to the George Bush School and to the graduation celebration for our candidates for graduation from the Executive Master of Public Service and Administration program. Congratulations of being here gang, it’s great to see ya. Thanks for all the hard work that got you here.
For the guests that are here today, we’re pretty proud of this class of 2018 and we are really excited that you’re here with us this morning to celebrate them because it just wouldn’t be the same without you.
I am Mark A. Welsh III, the underqualified and overfed Dean of the Bush School. It is a tremendous privilege to join you today for this tremendous event but I’m not the only one feeling this way today let me introduce you to a few people. Joining me on stage today is Dr. Lori Taylor. Lori is the department head for Public Service and Administration she’s also the holder of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long chair in business and government. She’s a great, great professor and a great person and she kind of oversees everything related to this particular degree program. Lori, thanks for joining us this morning.
Everyone at the Bush School is dedicated to making sure our students reach this particular moment in time. Every member of our faculty, every member of our staff really is dedicated to student success and student achievement and some of those folks are here with us this morning as well. For the faculty that are with us this morning can you please go ahead and stand? Ladies and gentlemen these are scholars and professionals, experts in their field and are completely dedicated to learning. It’s what they’ve devote their life to and they’re committed the success of the students that are sitting in the front row. Help me thank them for their work.
We also have a number of Bush School staff members who are with us this morning, would you all please stand? Each staff member plays a really important role in everything from admissions to registration to making sure students turn in their degree plans on time. They’re also our students biggest fans, their most ardent supporters and they follow them religiously as they begin to move on with the rest of their life. And I would like to thank them for all their work because they’re magic but will you join me in all of that?
Of course most central to this event, we need to welcome our guests of honor, our candidates for the Executive Masters of Public Service and Administrations degree. They have earned the right to be here today, this has not been an easy program and one of the things that struck me first when I came into this job a few years ago as I got to know the faculty and I sat in on classes, was that I would struggle to get through this place. This is not a gentleman’s or gentlewoman’s course, it is, you’re here to learn and doing it while you’re doing full time work, while you’re working in your communities, while you’re dedicated to your families is not easy. And I think all of us know that so if you could just stand up and let all of us thank you for the privilege of us joining you to celebrate your accomplishments today.
You might as well just stay standing for just one minute because there’s one final group we need to recognize, the families, friends, and loved ones who are here today. We are just so lucky to have them with us today, we don’t get this opportunity daily and it wouldn’t be the same without them as I mentioned before. But no one else is more responsible for your success, you guys in the back have supported them wholeheartedly throughout this entire effort, you’ve encouraged them tirelessly and have sacrificed on their behalf while they’ve tackled these challenges just like you’ve made sacrifices on their behalf just like you have when they’ve faced challenges in their personal and professional lives. I think the rest of us can join the candidates as they turn around and thank you for what you’ve done for them.
Thank you folks, you can have a seat – you do look good standing though. This is the 21st year of the Bush School of Government and Public Service. 21 years of sending men and women out to serve their fellow citizens but this is the first Bush School graduation since we lost our namesake and I know most of you saw the celebration last week because that’s what it was, it was a celebration. A couple of days ago someone mentioned to me that it must have been a sad time here at the Bush School and I told her that, that really wasn’t the case. It was sad but the entire week felt more like a celebration instead of a wake. A celebration of a wonderful man, a meaningful life. I tell you George H. W. Bush is embedded deeply into the DNA of his namesake school. He spoke often of our graduates being a living legacy of public service and if he were here today he would be incredibly proud of you. He would be looking out among the people – and the group is already filled with proven professional public servants who will soon walk across this stage and significantly strengthen the ranks of our already great former student network. He’d be very excited about that and if you look at the quote on the back of the program today that’s exactly what he was talking about when he said those words. The good news for the school, the state of Texas, and I think our nation is that while this is just our second EMPSA class, there are generations of them still to come. The good news for you sitting in the front row is that today’s celebration won’t be your last and it certainly won’t be your most significant celebration. We know there’s huge success waiting for you, thank you for living up to the standards that President Bush set, thank you for living up to the words that he repeatedly emphasized “a successful life by definition must include service to others.”
At this time, I invite Dr. Lori Taylor, Department Head of the Public Service and Administration department, to the podium to present the candidates for the Master of Public Service and Administration degree.
Thank you all. I am a brand new department head – I’ve been in the role since July so this is my first graduation and I am having a ball, I hope you are as well. It’s wonderful to get to celebrate the accomplishments of the students we have cheered for and supported, encouraged, and frustrated for the last few years. I’d like to tell you a little bit about what they’ve been going through.
The Master of Public Service and Administration degree candidates with us today are in the executive program—the Executive Master of Public Service and Administration Program—also referred to as the EMPSA program. The EMPSA program prepares principled leaders who have the critical skills, knowledge, and expertise to excel and lead in the public service field, specifically in homeland security, nonprofit enterprises, or public management. The EMPSA program develops in-depth, advanced skills in public service leadership, decision making, and evaluative methods within the public sector. Degree program applicants must have at least five years of professional experience even to apply and the average experience level in the program for this graduating class of students is 16 years of professional experience.
The Executive Master of Public Service and Administration Program is a non-thesis executive degree program offered online. It is a rigorous 39 graduate credit hour degree, in other words 13 intensive online graduate courses. Admitted students choose between the three tracks of Homeland Security, Nonprofit Management, or Public Management.
As a part of the program requirement, students must attend two separate one-week residency sessions for a total of two required weeks in residence at Texas A&M University in College Station. And those sessions are intense!! A week of academic courses along with orientation to Bush School processes and procedures, EMPSA homework and assignments each evening, and of course we introduce our students to Aggieland and its traditions as well.
Today, we celebrate our EMPSA candidates who have worked extremely hard to meet all master’s degree requirements, as well as track specific requirements. We honor these candidates who have further developed the in-depth and advanced knowledge, skills, and expertise to earn a Master of Public Service and Administration Degree from the Bush School at Texas A&M University. “Dean Welsh, faculty and guests: I have the honor of presenting the following students who are candidates for graduating with the Master of Public Service & Administration degree.”
Mark Christopher Black Christopher J. Coleman
Adeline Spencer Fox
Josefa Gonzalez Mariscal
Harry C. Goodman
Leslie Marie Krueger
James Paul Rowin
Miranda Elayne Vahle
Jennifer D White
Brian Clifford Williams
Andrew Wilson Schedir Nefertiti Illoldi Wong
Congratulations to all of you who have completed the requirements for the Master of Public Service & Administration degree. Now, I invite MPSA candidate, Ms. Adeline Spencer Fox to the podium for the presentation of the Faculty Award.
Thank you, Dr. Taylor. We now have a special award to introduce – the Silver Star Award. The students here at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, for every graduation class, identifies a faculty member who has gone above and beyond in the call of service to helping the students become better scholars and to be principled public servants. The EMPSA students have voted on such a faculty member who they feel is deserving of recognition for his or her expertise, dedication to students, and commitment to developing the principled public leadership. I had the pleasure of taking Quantitative Methods my first semester in this program and wow, that was a wakeup call for me. This particular professor did an outstanding job at bridging an online class and making it feel very much like an in person class which is difficult. I think taking an online class is hard, but teaching an online class is harder. This professor would spend hours on video chats with us, telephone calls, texts messages, I actually felt bad for how much we were demanding of him but quantitative methods is really not that easy. So he went above and beyond and I am just thrilled to present this award to someone who is very deserving. Congratulations to Dr. Bullock for winning the Silver Star Award this year.
Each year, students select one individual to serve as the class speaker. The student selected demonstrates outstanding academics and leadership throughout their master’s program. This year, we are honored to recognize Executive Master of Public Service and Administration candidate, Schedir Nefertiti Illoldi Wong, as our Class of 2018 speaker.
Ms. Illoldi Wong graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering with a focus in rocket propulsion in 2004 and later in 2007 obtained a graduate certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service.
Schedir is a Senior Safety Inspector at the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in the Federal Aviation Administration. She is currently in a six month assignment as the Acting Deputy Manager of the Safety Inspection division. The mission of AST is to ensure protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch or reentry activities, and to encourage, facilitate, and promote U.S. commercial space transportation. AST issues licenses and permits for commercial launches of orbital and suborbital rockets.
Ms. Illoldi Wong has inspected launch sites and launch operations from Florida to Alaska including SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, and Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket as well as spacecraft reentries like the SpaceX Dragon Capsule. Recently she inspected Rocket Lab’s Electron launches from New Zealand. Ms. Illoldi Wong also represents the Safety Inspection Division in initial discussions with license applicants and international government partnerships.
Beyond her inspection duties, as a member of the Safety Inspection Division, Standardization and Evaluation Team, Ms. Illoldi Wong works to steer the quality control and operating procedures of the division including oversight of inspection schedule management. Prior to her appointment as a safety inspector in the Safety Inspection Division in 2011, Ms. Illoldi Wong began her time in AST as part of the Licensing, Evaluation, and Safety Division in 2007 evaluating several licenses for launch sites including Spaceport America and Cecil Airport, reusable and expendable launch vehicles like the Falcon 9 rocket, conducted flight safety analysis for launch vehicles, and conducted safety inspections.
Prior to joining AST, Ms. Illoldi Wong worked for the National Science Foundation as a science assistant at the Division of Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems in the Directorate for Engineering in 2006 and 2007 after completing an internship with The World Bank in 2005. In 2004, she was one of two Americans admitted to the traineeship program at the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium. She volunteers and services production at her church and we are so very proud to invite her to the stage to present to you the class speech.
[OPENING] Howdy! Thank you, Dr Taylor.
Welcome to our special guests, professors, Bush School administrative staff, fellow students and family members and perhaps future aggies.
I’m truly honored to be the class speaker.
PERSONAL ACKWNOLEDGEMENT I would also like to acknowledge those who could not be here in person, but who are with us in spirit. I would like to recognize two people that were inspirational figures in public service for me. First, I recognize my mom, who had a lifelong career in public service in Mexico right until her passing in 2012. And I am so happy two of her siblings can be here today, Idalia y Sergio, gracias por acompanarme. My mom began her career as an elementary school teacher in rural areas. During the summers she would continue studying, earning certifications and degrees until she became a college professor in Mexico. She motivated those around her to choose continuing their education as a pathway to financial security.
I remember saying goodbye to my nanny, when following my mother’s encouragement, she decided to finish high school by enrolling full time. At the same time, when the governor’s office called my mom, she would agree to serve as an administrative manager. And then later, she moved up to being appointed the head of the Population State Council which advises the state government in demographic policies. It also creates inclusive economic and social development programs. My mom devoted her life to public service with kindness, passion, and grit. She showed me that when you want to do something and you have passion for it, you make the time and put forth the effort. The demonstration of this passion and grit was shown to me at my mom’s graduation. My mom earned her graduate degree in public service and administration the same year I graduated from high school While I admired her, I didn’t necessarily see myself following her path, yet here I am. I guess it’s true we become our parents.
I like the sciences and that would lead me here, to Texas A&M’s undergraduate program in Aerospace engineering. Back then the Bush School of Government & Public Service had just begun and from the Bright and Zachary buildings, it was all the way on the other side of campus, past the train tracks. Yet President Bush was a frequent sight around the Bush School and the rest of campus. I remember how excited I was to be able to attend a speaking engagement with Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Rudder Auditorium. It was an amazing opportunity!
I’ve always had an interest in international affairs, and the more I studied engineering I realized my two interests didn’t have to live apart. After all, space exploration had become a truly global effort with the construction of the International Space Station. Such ambitious projects would require large budgets that the US alone probably could not undertake alone. So I decided to apply to the Master in International Affairs. On my first official visit as a prospective student, l will never forget, I had the chance to meet President Bush. I recall seeing a dog coming up the stairs of the Allen building. Having Reveille on campus somehow normalized seeing a dog in the building, so at the time it did not seem odd. Then I realized more people were coming up, and I needed to wait before heading downstairs. I assumed it was some dignitary and his security detail on a speaking engagement. So, I waited… then, I realized it was President Bush. For a twenty something, it was a big deal. There were no smartphones then, so I do not have a selfie to prove it. He saw me standing there waiting and instead of going his way, he came to where I was standing, shook my hand, greeted me and apologized for stopping progress…he meant Me?… I let it sink in, I represented progress. And my fellow graduates, we are progress.
The Bush School was his living legacy of men and women dedicated to their communities through public service. Prominently displayed throughout the school is his statement that “Public Service is a noble calling and we need men and women of character to believe that they can make a difference in their communities, in their states and in their country.” And why not, the world.
According to the Bush School admission criteria, individuals who have a predisposition for leadership are prime candidates for its programs. Graduates, if you ever wondered through the sleepless nights of papers to write, YOU are those individuals with the predisposition for leadership; even further, by completing this program you have shown commitment to develop your problem solving and decision-making skills to the next level. As the program website says to perform effectively and ethically in a time when public servants face new and increased challenges. And what can be equally challenging? The Executive Master of Public Service and Administration program, also called the EMPSA program.
During the last 2 years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and collaborating with a group of passionate people about public service in all of its forms – from cops, to firefighters, veterans, government employees from the local to the federal level, nonprofit workers. When we started the program, we had the passion, the drive and now we have the tools and the connections with each other. The EMPSA program is a transformative and rich experience. Through the length of the program we have shared, collaborated, discussed, helped and disagreed with each other as we come from different backgrounds – academic, interests, age groups, life and work experience. I’ve seen highly competitive classmates rally together to become effective teams especially while working on the capstone project. Looking back at the differences from the Certificate in International Affairs right after undergraduate (yes I said certificate, I did not make the final selection round for the master’s then–that is how competitive the admission process is), is the real life experience each of us bring to the classroom, to our assignments and projects. The blind-fold is off if you will. We might be a little more tired and not be as naive, but we are definitely opinionated, strong willed, and with a sense of resourcefulness. Otherwise, how could we have survived a challenging program like this and work full time, have a family life, and hobbies.
The Bush School and the EMPSA not only have given us the tools, the words to express and validate what our heart and gut told us, but pushed us to also expect more from ourselves, and the places we work for. To be critical in assessing what is good performance, demand more from the government institutions and also be better citizens that have a deeper understanding of how government and policy is done.
This program has challenged my capacity to process information, explain my points, and backup my assertions with good source, as Dr. Davis would constantly remind us. Just when I knew I couldn’t go any further, the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the musical Hamilton would come to mind “I’m not throwing away my shot.” Also. my Engineering fraternity Theta Tau motto would come to mind as well, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes (9:10) and those quotes would drive me to reach in and pull the extra effort and grit that I needed. I’ve got to admit, after some particularly hard semesters, I could barely speak English. I used it all in my writing between discussion points, projects, and finals. I will remember sharing the misery together with my classmates via Google Hangouts and phone calls as we were swamped with life, work, and our academic commitments–and the occasional Blackboard outage.
At the end of the road is the capstone project that takes two semesters and epitomizes the call to public service. As a team in each of our focus areas we had the opportunity to work on a real-world project for a real-world client guided by a faculty advisor. This year the Homeland Security track completed a capstone project entitled “Analysis and Recommended Practices for Emergency Evacuations: Places of Immediate Refuge, Transportation and Legal Risks for Harris County, Texas” for the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. While my cohorts in the non-profit track worked on “Meeting the Healthcare Needs of the United States Veteran”, for the Texas 8th Congressional District.
In closing I will leave you with the words of President George H. W. Bush “Public Service is a noble calling and we need men and women of character to believe that they can make a difference in their communities, in their states and in their country.” He also said “any definition of a successful life must include serving others”. I encourage you graduating class, to be men and women of character that drive progress in their communities. Much has been given to you, and much is expected (Luke 12:48).
Finally thank you to the professors and staff at the Bush School, for all the knowledge, attention and kindness poured into us. And to those that supported us: supervisors and co-workers that didn’t say anything when they saw the dark circles and the third cup coffee an hour in the work day. Family and friends that heard the “I have a paper, a discussion post or a test to turn in” a lot and still were patient, understanding and loving. Congratulations to all my fellow graduates!
Thank you all and gig’em Aggies!
We completely understand about things blurring together, we’re afraid that graduation might start to blur a bit as well and we don’t want you forgetting so we give you a piece of bling to go in your office for you to remember when you were our class speaker.
I now invite Dean Welsh to the podium to share concluding remarks.
What the Bush School is all about isn’t really about the rolled up piece of paper that each of our graduates is carrying – it’s about the people sitting in the front row, it’s about the ideas Schedir was referring too, it’s about the things that President Bush said and lived in terms of the way you treat people, the respectful and respected approach that you take into your communities, it’s about people not just who are young and just out of college who are looking for a direction in life, but people who have a direction, who have a life, who already serve their communities, state, and nation, who come back to learn more so they can serve better. These particular graduations, the EMPSA one’s, this is only the second one, are special. Thank you so much for all the hard work that got you here. You are already public servants, you already know the impact and the value of principled leadership, having core values, and living the core values. You do demonstrate daily that public service is a noble calling, so Schedir thank you for remind us all of that.
Thank you also for your commitment to others, for making your corner of the world a little better to live and work as you’ve been doing that for a while. Please never underestimate the impact you personally have on the environment around you and never question whether or not you personally can make a difference – you already have and you will do it more and more and more in the future. And in my view now your city, your state, your country, your world, your families, need your commitment, your dedication, your leadership, and you just need to know how proud we are of you because we know what it takes for you to get here. There isn’t a single person sitting over there that would let you get here by accident, not one. They don’t carry students, they challenge them and the ones who can meet that challenge get to this point. We’re really, really proud of you.
Please stay connected to us. We want to see you at alumni events, at lectures, at conferences – don’t hesitate to ever reconnect with us. If you’re ever in College Station let me know, let me set up lunch with one of our current students and let you talk to them about what you’re doing in life, they’d love to meet you and you’ll be excited about meeting them – I think you know that. Let us know how you’re doing and let us know how we’re doing and if there’s things we need to change, tell us. You see the world from a different perspective than we do here. As we close our celebration, we ask the audience to remain seated until all the EMPSA students and faculty have exited the auditorium to 1011 B. EMPSA graduates, faculty, and staff will immediately take pictures in 1011 B. Family and friends of our graduates, you are invited to join us for celebration and refreshments outside in the foyer area immediately following this ceremony.
Again, congratulations graduates, and thank you for attending this celebration. As our graduates stand and depart, please join me in giving them one more round of applause for this great achievement in life.