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Matthew Salm

Bachelor of Science, Mathematics

Hello, everyone. I want to start off by giving a huge thank you to all of the faculty and staff at UTD who challenged and guided us along our journeys to get here today. Please join me in giving them all a round of applause.

I also want to say thank you to all of you, my fellow Comets. I have learned more from you than any other group of people in my life. By the numbers, our Comet family coached me in one new sport; taught me two types of dancing — including the Texas two-step; took me on my first three overnight camping trips; educated me on seven different religions; forced me to reconsider over a dozen deeply held political beliefs; introduced me to at least 60 musical artists — including the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose semi-accurate Broadway representation of Hamilton’s life blew my mind; and lastly, you exposed me to what feels like 18,000 new delicious foods (and I’ve grown from enjoying Thai food that’s spice level 1 to loving Thai food that’s spice level 3). Our Comet family made my time at UTD phenomenal. This fills me with immense gratitude, so thank you.

Leaving UTD, we will all enter more niche environments where we’re likely not to be surrounded by as many different people. But when this happens, I encourage you to continue surrounding yourself with varied perspectives, continue exploring the roots of other people’s worldviews, and continue exchanging ideas with people unlike yourself. If you build eclectic communities like this one everywhere you go in the future, you will personally benefit in at least three concrete ways.

One: It will make you smarter.
Two: It will add some pizzazz to your life.
Three: It will help you become more professionally successful.

Smarter, more pizzazz and more success.

Let’s start with making you smarter, because most UTD students probably value that. If you regularly talk to people who know different things than you, you’ll constantly increase your knowledge of the world. If, on the other hand, you mostly talk to people who have similar life experiences, who watch the same TV shows, read the same books, or who don’t read any books at all, then the rate at which you acquire new knowledge or perspectives about the world will certainly be slower. Discussions with countless students at UTD — particularly with those of you who saw things differently than me — forced me to grow and filled my brain with myriad new ideas and perspectives.

So what about more pizzazz? Being part of a diverse family like ours isn’t just about exchanging political, religious and intellectual ideas: It’s about sharing the stuff that really adds spice and flavor to life. It’s about food, dancing, art, sports, music and outdoor adventures. Engaging with various groups means experiencing the exciting parts of other lifestyles and cultures and sharing the fun parts of your own. It’s about going on new adventures, whether to a museum or a national park. And it adds some serious pizzazz to life!

Switching gears here… In about 30 minutes most of us will be on the job market, and professional success will be kind of important. On that note, “collaboration” isn’t just a buzzword that you see way too many times while scrolling through LinkedIn. Collaboration is a key to achieving prominence in your field. Bringing together different skillsets and knowledge bases can spark brilliant ideas.

World-famous economist Jeffrey Sachs developed one of his most important analytical techniques not by talking with other economists, but by listening to a medical doctor diagnose hundreds of patients. He observed and discussed the doctor’s problem-solving framework with her. When he applied her techniques to economics, Sachs had revolutionary insights that have made him one of the most famous economists alive today.

Stories like this can be found in any field. People who connect the dots and have cross-disciplinary insights are usually the most successful. Engaging with diverse groups regularly is perhaps the best way to gain a new perspective with which to look at the information around you and connect the dots in a way that just might lead to immense professional success.

“People who connect the dots and have cross-disciplinary insights are usually the most successful.”

So stay connected with our Comet family, and try to build diverse communities like this wherever you go in life. Never stop exchanging ideas with people whose backgrounds, professions, beliefs and visions for the future differ from yours. If you’re confused on where to start, try cooking cuisine you haven’t had before with new friends; read a book by an author whose viewpoint bothers you; attend a religious service you haven’t been to before; or go to a public lecture with a speaker outside of your field. And if you haven’t yet, definitely try two-stepping, because it’s quite simple and very fun.

This will all make you smarter, add pizzazz to your life and help you become more successful. I look forward to embarking on this new journey with all of you — separately in our own lives, but together as one UTD family.

Thank you very much.

Matthew Salm, a McDermott Scholar, an Archer Fellow and a member of Phi Kappa Phi, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He is a Truman Scholar, a Udall Scholar and the University’s first Schwarzman Scholar. As an undergraduate, he studied in the Himalayan Mountains of Bhutan and interned at the headquarters of the World Bank in Washington, D.C. He plans to pursue a master’s degree at Tsinghua University in China.