Celebrations all around as 400 graduates fulfill a dream at commencement ceremony

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UNT Dallas graduates celebrate at commencement ceremony

The University of North Texas at Dallas sent another 400 career-ready graduates onto their next journey during the Fall 2019 Commencement ceremony on Friday, Dec. 13. A packed house of some 5,000 family, friends and special guests cheered, clapped and dabbed tears of joy inside the overflowing Inspiring Body of Christ Church.

It was truly a night to remember, starting with emcee T.J. Vaughns, a 2019 UNT Dallas graduate and now an employee, who added a dash of high-energy charisma to the proceedings. Texas State Senator Royce West, the father of UNT Dallas, provided his familiar inspirational words and keynote speaker Rebecca Acuña, a Mexican-born success story who works as the Director of Government Affairs for PepsiCo. She is a shining example of everything UNT Dallas students can aspire to become. 

And to be sure, this night is all about UNT Dallas students. Commencement speaker Caleb Simmons addressed his fellow classmates with a speech that detailed his perseverance from growing up in a broken home to having no home to call his own. Yet he never gave up, or gave in, instead choosing to live by the mantra, he said, "keep moving forward." With the aid of caring faculty and staff, two in particular who opened their homes and their hearts to him -- Luis Franco, Director Undergraduate Admissions & Recruitment; and JoAnn Chapin in the Student Solutions Center -- Simmons graduated Friday with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

His story was documented by CBS 11 the day before graduation, and also by NBC5 on the night of graduation, which included footage of his speech as well as Simmons receiving his diploma.

In his speech, he told the audience:

Now, homelessness isn’t always defined as living on the streets. In my case, it was defined as moving from place to place with whoever would let me stay for a while. ... There has never been a time where not having a roof over my head hasn’t crossed my mind. I catch myself thinking about it every single day. Even when I had someone to stay with, the thought would bother me, it bothered me so much it began to affect my mental health, my confidence and even my relationships. ... 

...We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we're curious, and that curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. If you fail, keep moving forward. If you are stressed about something, keep moving forward. If you are uncertain of your future like I know some of us are, myself included, keep moving forward. It’s OK to have these thoughts, issues and concerns.

 And, it’s OK to address them. The issue comes when we let these obstacles hinder our growth. Keep moving forward. Keep working on your success. Keep working on what it is you value. The more you decide to keep moving forward, the more doors will open for you, and new paths for you to pursue as you continue to Blaze Your Trail. 

Now a college graduate, Simmons will likely never forget those words of wisdom he shared with his fellow graduates. Congratulations to the Class of 2019.