SMU Class of 2016 Dubbed ‘Next Greatest Generation of Heroes’ by Commencement Speaker, Retired Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown

On Saturday, Dec. 17, the all-University Commencement Convocation assembled candidates from all of SMU's schools and professional programs. The ceremony took place in Moody Coliseum at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016.

More than 530 students celebrated their academic accomplishments at the 2016 Commencement Convocation on Saturday, Dec. 17, in Moody Coliseum.

Keynote speaker for the ceremony was retired Dallas Police Department Chief David Brown, whom SMU President R. Gerald Turner praised for helping reduce both crime in Dallas and the DPD’s use of deadly force.

President Turner also commended Brown for his actions following “July 7, when Chief Brown’s strength and leadership were tested on one of the darkest days in the history of Dallas,” he said. That day, a lone gunman ambushed DPD and DART officers who had been protecting participants in a peaceful late-afternoon protest march downtown. Five officers were killed and 12 were wounded during the assault.

“Chief Brown took charge that night with the professionalism and calm demeanor of a true leader,” President Turner said, noting that the 33-year DPD veteran “helped maintain equilibrium in a wounded city.”

Brown’s address focused on his long-held fascination with heroes, especially Superman. Watching re-runs of “The Adventures of Superman” was a regular after-school pastime for the third-generation Dallasite.

As a young man, Brown said, “I wanted so much to join modern-day heroes of our society that I rushed to sign up for the Dallas Police Department” in 1983.

Others Brown called heroes are “the Greatest Generation” – soldiers who fought for freedom and democracy during World War II. Their efforts, he said, reminded him of one of his favorite songs, “Edelweiss,” a tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music – about love and commitment to one’s country in the face of adversity. Much to the crowd’s delight, Brown sang a verse from the song.

Brown then told the graduates, “You all may be the next greatest generation of heroes in this country. You all are global citizens much more than my generation.”

His closing statement rallied the crowd even further.

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! It’s a plane, it’s a train – no, it’s the 2016 graduating class of Southern Methodist University: My heroes. Now, go save the world!”

Also speaking at Commencement was SMU Engaged Learning Fellow José Manuel Santoyo, who earned bachelor of arts degrees in human rights and Spanish. The Mexican national and American citizen-hopeful, raised in Corsicana, spent much of his life as an undocumented immigrant before qualifying in 2012 to study and work legally in the U.S. thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program initiated by the Department of Homeland Security.

Santoyo thanked SMU’s “amazing faculty and staff,” including Embrey Human Rights Program Associate Director Bradley Klein, his Engaged Learning mentor. As part of his project, Santoyo voluntarily tested his DACA status via a study-abroad trip – risking not being able to return to his education and family in the U.S. – in order to document the experience and give courage to others wanting to follow in his footsteps.

Santoyo also recognized the Consul General of Mexico who was in attendance.

“This country continues to be built by immigrants,” Santoyo said, adding, "an educated populace benefits us all.”


More about Commencement:

Student Body Pres. Blake Rainey’s Farewell video icon

SMU Student Body Pres. Blake Rainey bid farewell to the December 2016 graduating class, expressing his thanks for “having given me the greatest honor to serve this year as your student body president” and telling them, “The experience I’ve had this year to grow as an individual in this role and try my hardest to make each of your experiences on this campus better means so much to me and I’ll never stop thanking you for it.”

DACA student committed to succeed despite uncertain road ahead for U.S. immigrants video icon

Jose SantoyoWhen José Manuel Santoyo addressed SMU’s Commencement audience Dec. 17, the Mexican national and U.S. citizen-hopeful accomplished his own “American experiment” – one that presented the 24-year-old human rights and Spanish major with a number of great risks. Most of his life has been spent as an undocumented immigrant, who moved to Texas from Mexico at age 8. His childhood memories from Michoacán are clouded by the trauma of losing his father and grandfather, who were caught in the crossfire during a drug cartel battle over control of the rural area in which he was raised. Read more.

Research into antebellum Supreme Court justice raises contemporary questions for SMU graduating senior 

A.J. JeffriesSenior A.J. Jeffries brings a new meaning to the phrase, “triple threat.” Already a dedicated student and accomplished athlete on the SMU soccer team, Jeffries managed to also add to his resume an honors project known as a directed thesis on Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney. Jeffries was the first Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar to graduate from the program at SMU Commencement Dec. 15. His directed research project as a Tower Scholar is focused on cross-border electricity trade between the United States and Mexico. Read more.

A dream, a high-performance computer and an audition

 Moez JanmohammadWhen Moez Janmohammad first enrolled at SMU, he had life all figured out. He’d picked a school that was close to home and the parents he cherished, and he would pursue a physics degree before applying to grad school. That path would lead to a coveted technology career he could enjoy. But things changed when Janmohammad spent his senior year building a super computer in his apartment – for less than $1,000. He snagged an audition spot for a TEDxSMU conference, Janmohammad named his super computer Parallel Pi, both for its parallel processers and for the first task he commanded it to complete. Read more.

Determined to live a life of significance

Libby ArterburnLibby Arterburn, whose early years included liver transplants and related medical complications, will graduate from SMU with degrees in health and society, psychology and a minor in biology. She has endured regular liver biopsies, multiple hospitalizations and the side effects of anti-rejection drugs. It has left her determined to speak out on the importance of organ donation and to improve the lives of children with chronic illnesses. She also has volunteered her time for Relay for Life, Donate Life, Girls on the Run, the Salvation Army and Children’s Medical Center. Read more.

SMU graduate directs feature-length film, "Elsewhere, TX"

McHenry TaylorMcHenry Taylor graduated from SMU on Dec. 17 with experience few film graduates list on their resumes. He wrote the script and directed a feature-length film, "Elsewhere, TX," which will debut in May 2017 at SMU. The post-apocalyptic western is a cross between Catcher in the Rye, a spaghetti western and a survival film, Taylor says. "I came to SMU knowing I wanted to study film," Taylor says. "I was determined to take advantage of every opportunity that walked by." Read more.