History Department
History Department

UT History Alumna LeeAnn Stack delivers Convocation Keynote: "The seeds for success have been sown through your time here and will be cultivated for the remainder of your life"

Tue, May 28, 2019
UT History Alumna LeeAnn Stack delivers Convocation Keynote:

On May 24, 2019, at the Hogg Memorial Auditorium, the Department of History hosted Convocation Speaker and History Alumna LeeAnn Stack. LeeAnn earned her B.A. with Departmental Honors in History and French in 2008, and went on to earn a J.D. in the UT School of Law in 2012. LeeAnn served as Law Clerk at the Texas Attorney General's Office following graduation. And now, with over 5 years experience working at Facebook, she is Program Manager of Intellectual Property Operations at there. Below is a transcript of her commencement speech.


"Congratulations, class of 2019 graduates!

I'm sure you've heard the congrats many times already, but I hope you'll take the time to let it really sink in how far you've come since you first stepped onto campus. What a different person you were and how much you can do now that you could not have done then. Give yourself credit for the growth that you've achieved and think forward to the person that you'll be in one, five, ten years.

Like many of you, I chose History as a major because I fell in love with the stories and had brilliant teachers and peers who inspired me along the way. I loved the perspective that it shed on human nature and seeing the evolution of peoples and cultures over time. One of my most treasured experiences is working on my senior thesis with Professor Hardwick. I became interested in the gender studies aspect of history when I took her course and decided to write my thesis about cross-dressing women in early modern England. As an immigrant, I've always been fascinated by the concept of identity and the different weights that each person assigns to each facet of who they are. The idea that the gender binary was not yet firmly established at the time and that there was more room for self-definition through performance drew me in.

The research itself was eye-opening coming from someone more accustomed to secondary sources; historiography for me was learning that there was no one “truth,” any more than there is today, in the conflicting accounts we see regarding current events in the media. History was volatile because it was subject to interpretation through the lenses of the particular historian, but one could strive for objectivity through awareness of one's own biases.

But I won't lie; college wasn't an easy time for me. In fact, it was probably one of the hardest times of my life so far.

Before college, your life plan was laid out in front of you. You go to elementary, middle, high school, college, possibly graduate school, then get a job. It felt simple and structured. You didn't have to do any soul-searching about it. But when I got to college and left the nest where all my choices had been made for me, suddenly all the hard questions bubbled up about what I really wanted to do and what really made me happy. It was tough seeing most of my high school friends go into engineering and hard sciences while I felt lesser than, walking around with a chip on my shoulder. It was even tougher trying to explore those questions of identity and meaning while wondering if I was making the right decision for my yet-to-be-defined life. Ever the stubborn one, I stood by the belief that following my passions and dreams was the answer.

And you know what? Even with the benefit of hindsight, I stand by that belief.

In my brief post-academic life thus far, I've worked with people from a multitude of educational backgrounds, and what has jumped out to me is that what's set apart the successful ones and the leaders has never been whether they were in a technical discipline or came from a prestigious institution or even IQ. Rather, the keys have been growth mindset, staying true to your passion, and emotional intelligence.

Before I explore a bit about what each of these mean to me, let me also provide a disclaimer. Although I have advice to share here, I'm imperfect and still a novice when it comes to fine-tuning these skills. We're all works in progress, in a continuous state of self-improvement. The reason that I feel qualified to speak at all is due to the fact that I have struggled and know what it's like in the absence of these three keys. Ok, end disclaimer.

Firstly, having a growth mindset is the willingness to fail and get up again, learning a lesson each time. Contrast that with a fixed mindset, which is embodied by statements like “I am not good at writing” or “I am not someone who has artistic talents.” The fixed mindset is a cop-out, a way to make excuses and cut yourself off before you even give yourself a chance to develop expertise. Even though we all say that we're willing to take on challenges, it can be terrifying because so many of us place our self-worth on our academic or workplace success. I was not willing to fail or to be self-reflective about staying in my comfort zone for a number of years and thus experienced minimal growth as a person. I'm afraid that losing all these precious years was the biggest failure of all.

For example, when I started trying to manage projects when I was brand new at my job, I screwed up badly, and instead of practicing dusting myself off, I internalized the failures and tried to avoid responsibility. This cycled until I hit rock bottom and realized there was nothing to do but to get used to being uncomfortable because discomfort was where growth was. The best thing to do is to get used to the idea that failure is not an option; it's inevitable, so better to get really good at it.

Secondly, we can all relate to passion as it is largely the reason why most of us chose History as a major. When we enjoy a certain kind of pursuit, it no longer feels like work to us. It drives us, brings us energy, and we're willing to sink as much time and effort into it as needed. With the ability to be true to yourself and to delve into problems on the basis of intellectual curiosity, you'll find within yourself the motivation to untangle the most complex problems. So as you embark upon your career or the next step of your journey, whatever it may be, always make sure that you are working for yourself, a purpose, interest, something within you. I've known people with Liberal Arts backgrounds who were deeply passionate about solving certain problems, like nation-state conflict on the internet, for example, so they learned skills like SQL, Python, PHP, etc. on the side to help them address those problems more efficiently. No skill is out of your reach if you have passion as a driver.

Lastly, contrary to popular belief, emotional intelligence is not static. It can be developed. So much of what we do as historians is to observe others and to understand people's motivations so that we can better understand the meta behind our own lives. The communication skills, both written and oral, that are necessary to become a History department graduate will serve you well in any career that you choose for yourself. Because what is speech or writing but a way to connect to another, hoping that you can achieve a meeting of the minds?

Furthermore, when applied introspectively, emotional intelligence equals self-awareness, which is so vital to framing and telling your story in a way that's authentic to yourself. I didn't realize until after years of self-work that the reason my search for identity was so difficult was that I was giving too much power to others in dictating my narrative. I had to write my own story and in it discover my power.

So, the seeds for success have been sown through your time here and will be cultivated for the remainder of your life. You're the author of your memoirs, the only one who can determine what success means to you and control whether you reach it. Don't hide who you are and pursue goals that others set for you. Show the world what you have. Your value lies in harnessing your inherent strengths and using them toward what brings you joy, while bringing others along for the ride.

Again, I won't lie. This is hard. There will be challenges along the way. There may not be immediate payoff. But don't downplay the boss that you are. If you ever find yourself troubled by self-doubt, remember again how far you've come and how much further you can go."

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