May 17, 2022

Bright-eyed and ready to start their next journey, soon-to-be graduates listen to one last lecture at the event that ends it all: the graduation speech. 

To send these Aggies on their way, a plethora of significant individuals have graced the graduating classes with their best advice, life lessons and something to consider as they turn their Aggie rings to face the world beyond college. 

Browse through some of the notable speakers of graduations past, and maybe learn a few timeless lessons along the way. 

1950: Gen. Omar N. Bradley 

Photo provided by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives

Just months before his nomination as the ninth U.S. armed forces five-star general, Gen. Omar Bradley gave the commencement address to the Class of 1950. A war hero and friend of Gen. James Earl Rudder ’32, Bradley commanded the World War II D-Day invasion of Normandy, earning worldwide military acclaim. During the ceremony, Bradley was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his “distinguished accomplishments in the field of international affairs, both military and diplomatic.” 

“The men of Texas A&M can stand up to any men in the world and compare favorably their education and training for leadership—leadership in the pursuits of peace, and if it comes to war, leadership in battle.”
- Gen. Omar N. Bradley


1968: Henry “Pat” Zachry ’22 

Henry "Pat" Zachry '22 (second from right) stayed involved with Texas A&M throughout his life. (Photo: Cushing Memorial Library and Archives)

Founder of the H.B. Zachry Company, Henry “Pat” Zachry ’22 was one of Texas A&M University’s most successful former students. Aside from building one of the country’s foremost construction companies, Zachry stayed an active part of campus life in his later years, even serving on the Texas A&M Board of Directors (now the Board of Regents) and funding many scholarships. In his 1968 commencement address, Zachry advised graduates to live dangerously and take risks; otherwise, they might never achieve what is possible. 

“I want to live dangerously, to plan my procedure on the basis of calculated risks, to resolve the complications of everyday life into a degree of peace of mind.”
- Henry “Pat” Zachry ’22


1976: Leon Jaworski 

Photo provided by the Texas State Historical Association

A native Waco resident, Leon Jaworski was the youngest person to become a Texas lawyer at 19. He gained national notoriety when he was selected as an independent counsel for the Watergate prosecution. Given the fresh effects of the Watergate investigation, it is no surprise that when Jaworski gave his second graduation speech in Aggieland in 1976, he spoke at length about the tragedy that swept Capitol Hill from 1972 to 1974. He exhorted the seniors to pay attention to government action and demand accountability for missteps while being cognizant of their fellow Americans’ needs.

“I know of nothing more patriotic university graduates can do than to dedicate their future to public service. It may mean a sacrifice—there may be more compensatory ways of making a livelihood—but in terms of our country’s future, we must depend upon those who, by virtue of education and dedication, are best enabled to serve in positions of public trust.”
- Leon Jaworski

1989: George H.W. Bush 

Photo provided by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives

Former President George H.W. Bush fell in love with Texas A&M after first visiting campus in the 1980s. Enamored with the Corps of Cadets’ history and the Texas A&M core values, Bush’s relationship with the university grew stronger the more he learned.  

During his commencement address on May 12, 1989, Bush gave his first major foreign policy speech, touching on the Cold War and the Soviet Union. After his speech, the president was surprised with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and soon after accepted Texas A&M’s proposal to host his presidential library and museum. 

“In this ceremony, we celebrate nothing less than the commencement of the rest, and the best, of your life... You’re going to start careers and families, and you will become the leaders of America in the next century. And what kind of world will you know?”
- George H.W. Bush


2004: George J. Tenet 

As director of the CIA, George Tenet had plenty of advice for the eager graduates of the Class of 2004. During his tenure as the second-longest serving director of central intelligence, Tenet played a major role in the U.S. response to 9/11. While he admitted the agency’s faults, he also praised its values, stating that the American intelligence community’s spirit and focus are constant. He urged the seniors to stand firm in their values and “fight hatred and prejudice wherever you see it.” 

“If and when you reach the top, show a little humility. Why? Because there will come a day when the crash occurs. When failure comes. When you plummet down the ladder. The fall will be gentle if people remember you as a caring, considerate human being, and someone may even extend a helping hand.”
- George J. Tenet


2005: Barbara Bush

Photo by Gabe Chmielewski

The former First Lady Barbara Bush graced the stage in December 2005 to give her words of wisdom. A lifelong advocate for family literacy, Bush was granted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the ceremony for her decades of selfless service to the community. Her speech stressed the importance of family values, giving back to the community and enjoying life to the fullest. 

“The true joy of life is the trip, so stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, read a book for fun, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less. Your journey is well underway, and it's about ready to take off in an exciting new direction, so work hard, love one another, make a difference and make us proud.”
- Barbara Bush


2006: Martin Torrijos Espino ’87 

Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/Agência Brasil


After Martin Torrijos Espino ’87 graduated from Texas A&M with two bachelor’s degrees in political science and economics, he returned to his home country of Panama. He steadily rose through the political ranks, being elected president of the Republic of Panama from 2004 to 2009. During his 2006 commencement speech, he challenged the seniors to turn obstacles into new opportunities and keep looking forward.  

“Tomorrow, you may begin to feel nostalgic for friends, professors, for football games and midnight yells, for hamburgers and beer at the Dixie Chicken, for Silver Taps and Musters, for the best times of your life. But what will always be with you is the Spirit of Aggieland.”
- Martin Torrijos Espino ’87


2008: George W. Bush 

Photo by Chandler Arden

Following in his father’s footsteps, former President George W. Bush first accepted an invitation to give the graduation address in 1998 while serving as the governor of Texas. Unsurprisingly, after attending numerous other Aggie events, the younger Bush returned to campus to give a second commencement speech in 2008, this time as president of the United States. 

“This campus is home to solemn rituals that demonstrate the strength of your bonds. In playing of Silver Taps to honor fallen classmates, in the reunion of students and alumni to read the Roll Call at Muster, and in wearing of your timeless rings, you affirm a powerful truth: Once an Aggie, always an Aggie.”
- George W. Bush


2014: Dr. Temple Grandin 

Photo provided by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

For the summer graduation ceremony on Aug. 15, 2014, Aggies welcomed acclaimed animal handling and autism expert Dr. Temple Grandin. Sharing how people see and interact with the world differently, Grandin touched on her own experiences navigating life with autism as well as those of people she had met. To honor her contributions to animal and human behavior, Grandin was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree at the ceremony’s conclusion. 

“I want to emphasize that we can’t get locked into these labels... Autism is important to who I am, but it’s secondary... What matters is what we do—making things and making society a better place... So, graduates, let’s get out and do some real stuff that’s going to truly make a difference.”
- Dr. Temple Grandin