North Texas Daily

Army Sgt. Davidson to speak at commencement for free

Army Sgt. Davidson to speak at commencement for free

March 03
03:51 2016

Evan McAlister | Staff Writer


Army Sgt. Steven Davidson will not be paid for giving this year’s mass commencement address because, as UNT president Neal Smatresk said, the university doesn’t want to pay large amounts of school money for the graduation speaker.

Though UNT does pay some speakers in the Distinguished Lecture Series, Smatresk said he wants the university to avoid paying the $50,000 to $150,000 in fees some universities are known to spend on commencement speakers.

Smatresk said bringing in a commencement speaker has evolved into a commencement business where speakers have agents to handle schedules and events.

“Several other institutions around the country were criticized last year for spending large amounts of money on commencement speakers,” Smatresk said. “We’re simply not going down that road.”

The UNT commencement committee and Student Government Association were asked to nominate people for commencement speaker, but Smatresk said everyone named was either unavailable or too expensive.

As part of UNT’s 125th anniversary, commencement will look different this year. In past years, the commencement ceremony took place on the last day after all the individual college ceremonies. But this year, the commencement speech will happen before anyone walks the stage.

So far, students have not spoken out against Davidson’s speech, unlike last year when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke, also free of charge.

As both a UNT alumnus and the 2012 “Army Times” Soldier of the Year, Davidson will deliver his speech at the beginning of the three-day university-wide commencement celebration this May.


Army Sgt. Steven Davidson Courtesy | UNT

The speech

As the keynote speaker, Davidson said his speech will focus on the hidden value of being a UNT graduate and the lessons he’s learned from his time in the U.S. Army, to becoming a hero and finally to his time at UNT.

“I’m a young guy and I just graduated in December so I want to highlight the things about UNT I think students kind of shrug off,” Davidson said.

Davidson was deployed to East Africa two years after joining the army in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. While serving in human resources, Davidson saved a fellow soldier’s life on the last day of a 10-day French-run desert warfare course. He said he was able to do so because of the sports medicine training he received from Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.

When his tour ended in 2012, Davidson applied to UNT. Despite his military record, the veteran struggled academically at a past community college and was admitted to UNT on a provisional basis.

“I was sitting in a meeting in Washington when grades posted,” Davidson said. “Like many students I didn’t want to get too excited about graduation, but I was able to finish with a 4.0 GPA.”


Davidson never imagined he would be chosen to speak at this year’s commencement ceremony, and is excited to attend graduation for the first time. He missed the opportunity to walk the stage in his own commencement as he went straight from an internship into the job market.

“I was very surprised honestly,” Davidson said. “I had talked to the president a couple of months earlier about doing a short speech at during commencement, but I never dreamed that I would give the big speech.”

Davidson said he’s looking forward to being back in Denton to see all the changes to campus as well as the town.

“I’m a big fan of Beth Marie’s on the Square,” Davidson said. “The Union had just opened last time I was on campus, too. I’m just excited to be back.”

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1 Comment

  1. Becky Ann
    Becky Ann March 03, 10:47

    Oh good. I never wanted anyone actually worth listening to to speak at my graduation anyway. I didn’t want good advice from Chris Hayes or Jon Stewart.

    Reply to this comment

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