TWU Commencement Address, May 2015 – Dr. Anne Utech

Dr. Anne Utech, Ph.D., RD, LD, holds two degrees from TWU, M.S 2005 and Ph. D. 2012, both in Nutrition and Food Science from the TWU Institute of Health Sciences – Houston Center.  She is Deputy national Director, Nutrition and Food Services, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Central Office.  She is a 2015 Hallmark Alumni Award honoree.   

“Good afternoon, and welcome everyone to this joyous and triumphant occasion. We are all celebrating a phenomenal achievement by these professionals here today. I would like to recognize the professors and mentors, as well as the students here today.   Thank you for your dedication to your students, and to the professions you represent. Please know that each of you will harbor a special place in the memories and hearts of those you have taught for all of time.

And before we begin, I know we have Veterans and active military service men and women in the audience today. Now, I know you are all here supporting these lovely individuals, but if you would please do us the honors, please stand for a moment while we recognize you, and thank you for your service.

Thank you very much for allowing us to take that moment to honor you, who have supported our country and your loved ones here today. Also a special welcome to all the mothers in the house, today on Mother’s Day. I also graduated on Mother’s Day, and I know it was the best Mother’s Day present I could give my mom. Even my mom, who’s actually here today, who thinks she should get the presents on my birthday. I mean, she did all the work! I don’t even remember being born, but she sure does.   So moms, maybe you can take that idea and run with it to recoup having your glory stolen today. Or just add it to the long list of sacrifices you’ve made for us over the years… But all jest aside, I know the mothers in attendance or looking on from afar are very happy to be giving up their fame today to celebrate you, our graduates.

Including moms who are Veterans and all enrolled Veterans, The Veterans Health Administration serves 8.9 million veterans, and numbers are growing. Over the last four years, figures in Houston have grown from 122,000 to over 130,000 Veterans served locally. In my field, the field of nutrition and food services, the VA is moving toward a model of prevention, health promotion, and self management, to assist veterans in being the healthiest veterans they choose to be.

In recent years, all of healthcare nationwide is moving toward a more patient-centric, patient-provider partnership model of healthcare. In the private sector, you may have heard the term Patient Centered Medical Home. In the VA, this team based approach to healthcare is known as the Patient Aligned Care Team, utilizing physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, health technicians, clerical staff, dietitians, social workers, mental health providers, pharmacists, chaplains, and other allied healthcare professionals in a whole person approach to health care. I want to tell you graduates today, welcome to the TEAM. Also, think Health CARE, not health CONTROL. It is a partnership between you and your patient. Do not forget this fundamental fact as you explore all the career opportunities open to you today.

Today we are all here to recognize and honor your late nights studying, your late nights awake with the baby, worried about tomorrow’s exam, the time spent away from your family and loved ones, your victories, your disappointments, your perseverance, your late nights NOT studying, with Jose, Jim, Tito… those are important too! Nothing a little Red Bull and Excedrin can’t fix, right?

Whatever your road to get here today, we are so proud of you, and I welcome you to the healthcare team, or the next journey before you. In a recent interview with TWU, I was asked “What is your favorite thing about being a dietitian?” I have a lot of favorite things about being a dietitian. First of all, the mere scope of nutrition is ripe with opportunities. Everyone needs nutrition to survive, just like air and water. But unlike air and water, human nutrition offers so many choices to the human spirit, multiple times a day. We use food to communicate, celebrate, show love, define our cultural identity, exert independence, and improve our bodies for wellness. What more powerful field is there that combines art, culture, emotion, science, health, and our environment? What other field has such potential and relevance to connect a daily human experience with our economy, our world, animals, plants, soil, and each other? The field of nutrition is big.   That’s what I like about it; all that potential. I hope as you all move forward in your careers, you incorporate the importance of your patient’s and loved one’s nutrition and well-being in their daily lives, as well as your own!

I challenge you to find similar relevance and passion for your chosen field today. This passion will ignite you to the next phase of your career and life experience.

Now, this wouldn’t be a proper commencement address without some words of advice. I have learned a lot in my years since sitting in those chairs, and I want to be sure I give you a sneak peek or fast forward view to save you some time, frustration and heartache. I still have a lot to learn, but these things I’m about to share, I’m 100% sure of.

  1. Make time to make and keep friends. I promise this is going to be your greatest buffer against anything life is going to throw at you. It is not enough to have your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, children, family to attenuate your life experiences. You are going to need girlfriends and guy friends to cushion the blows that you will undoubtedly encounter. In addition, these friends are going to keep you current with a side of life many of your contemporaries miss altogether. Plan group trips. Be the instigator to schedule monthly dinners, card games or bar nights. I can absolutely promise you, you are going to need these friendships to connect you to reality, center you, and keep you healthy.
  2. Have a goal, have a vision. Write it, or depict it in a picture that you revisit at least once a year. My personal vision map is a tree, with all the branches of my life such as profession, education, travel, personal health and family. Each year I redraw the tree and evaluate what branches need more leaves added for the coming year. As you do this, what is needed to rebalance your life experience? Where do you need more leaves? Where can you prune some areas for new growth?
  3. Evaluate yourself at least once a year. Feel your cycle. Are you most motivated and inspired at the beginning of January? How about when fall is in the air? Or when spring’s first buds break? Harness this personal power flow to propel you; you’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish when you’re “feelin’ it.”
  4. Get a financial advisor. Now. Like, Monday. This is the most important advice I wish I could go back in time and take myself. No matter your finances, find a financial advisor who you get to know and who will take the time to evaluate your whole wealth. This includes your debt and insurance and possessions. My financial advisor made changes to my insurance coverage, and two weeks later I was hit by another driver, and the small changes she made saved me thousands. You will know you’ve found the right advisor when you’re so comfortable with them that you’re having dinner together and considering them a friend.
  5. Don’t lose sight of you. Let the inspiration for QUIET time strike you.   Quiet yourself when you need it. You will know, because you will feel overwhelmed. You will feel as though you are going through the motions. You will feel despair. At these times, you need to find a quiet time to shake off the entire world and re-center. I’m not sure what your center will feel like for you, but you will know when you find it. You’ll know when you feel it. Some call it following your gut, your heart, or other vital organ, but you will feel firm, resolved, calm. THIS is the place from which you must make your decisions.  
  6. Visit one foreign country a year.
  7. Go everywhere and do everything. I did the shotgun approach at my first job. I volunteered for every project I could at work. Strategically place yourself in projects that your institution finds valuable. Put in the extra time. Those late nights or early mornings at work are going to pay off. People notice. Not all people, but the right people will. And believe in yourself. Being the newbie is a blessed and unique form of naiveté and enthusiasm that the RIGHT people are going to notice.
  8. Most importantly, find joy in every day. In every achievement, wiggle with pride and excitement. Don’t let humility fend off compliments; accept them and say thank you. Be truly amazed by the everyday joy we sometimes take for granted. But in all situations, say thank you, be grateful, and always lift others up. We are ALL in a position to brighten another’s day, and you never know what effects your kind words, encouragement, time or attention can bring. The smallest gesture can be the one that person talks about for years to come, remembering you as someone who changed the course of their life.

Graduates, you are about to set forth on the most exciting section of your life. Texas Woman’s University has prepared you well; you have a rich history and family of alumni to draw from. Nursing celebrates its 60th anniversary at TWU this year. Music Department celebrates its 100 year anniversary. The Nutrition PhD program is the oldest in Texas. As of today, you are now woven into this rich fabric of history, tradition and honor. Make us proud. Find other alumni in your adventures; I know I have found TWU alumna in the highest levels of the Department of Defense and Department of Agriculture.

No matter what we all have experienced in our past, today is the beginning of your next adventure. Find your center, shake off the world, wiggle with happiness, maintain your friends, and truly burst forth onto the scene of your own creation. I congratulate you on your accomplishments, and we all support you as we pursue a healthy and promoted life.

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About 4twualumni

Director of Alumni Relations, Texas Woman's University, Denton, Dallas and Houston Texas
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