Graduates Hear Heartfelt, Inspirational Message from Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall

May 15, 2024

Growing up in a public housing complex in Richmond, CA, Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall attended a Pentecostal church where worshippers spoke, sang, and prayed with each other. Marshall brought that same kind of energy and enthusiasm to UNT Dallas’ Spring Commencement ceremonies on May 14, 2024 at the Texas Trust CU Theatre in Grand Prairie. She not only delivered an inspirational message, but she expected the audience to respond loudly, clearly, and immediately.

cynthia "cynt" marshall

Marshall’s heartfelt remarks resonated with everyone who was listening. At times, she grabbed their attention, and at other times, she released them to laugh and smile. Her words, so authentic and genuine, served as an example for students to follow, along with her sage advice.

As the President and CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, Cynthia "Cynt" Marshall has made history as the first black female to lead an NBA franchise. Her leadership and business acumen are evident in the team's success on and off the court, a testament to her ability to inspire and drive change. She is Trailblazer in the truest sense of the word.

Marshall and former UNT Dallas president Bob Mong served together on the Mavericks’ Community Advisory Board. While introducing Marshall, Mong called her “inventive and intuitive” and the type of person who can “stop us in our tracks” and whom we would “never forget.” Her “wonderful innovations” at the team, Mong said, “took it to a place it had never been before and transformed it into a place everyone wanted to work.”

spring 2024 commencement

Her life, Marshall told the crowds at the morning and afternoon ceremonies, is based on four pillars: Dream, Focus, Pray, and Act. She said she has relied on those pillars through the ups and downs of childhood and adulthood.

As a youngster, she witnessed her father kill a man in self-defense (of her) and was the victim of domestic violence (by him). Later in life, she survived Stage 3 colon cancer. Between those times, she graduated from The University of California at Berkeley, where she became the university’s first black cheerleader and rose through the ranks of AT&T over 36 years with the company.

For Marshall, motherhood did not come easy. She and her husband adopted four children. She had miscarried three times and they had lost a newborn.

Marshall said that through the tragedies and triumphs, she never lost faith or hope. She has written a book about her experiences titled You've Been Chosen. She wants students about to embark on (or continue) their careers to learn from her lessons.

spring 2024 commencement

With grace, vigor and a sense of humor, Marshall used basketball analogies to lay out her suggested game plan for graduates. She called it the last lesson of their UNT Dallas journey. It contained six things to consider:

  • Who are you doing life with? Run with good people.
  • You have a distinct role. Use your position to make a difference.
  • Tip-off. Pick up the ball and make good decisions.
  • Ball handling. Character is important. Your integrity is not for sale. Always do the right thing.
  • People make bad decisions. They miss shots. Bad things happen to good people. Rebound with grace.
  • Play this game of life like a grown-up.

spring 2024 commencement

Then, Marshall removed the “up” and summarized her speech. She boiled it all down five-letter acronym for graduates to remember: G-R-O-W-N.

Be Grateful. Take time to thank people in your village who have been outstanding coaches, trainers and supporters. Always display an attitude of gratitude and keep “thank you” in your vocabulary.

Be Ready. The Game of Life has some new rules. You need to be in good physical, mental and spiritual health to win. Keep your mind, body and soul in good shape.

Be Open. You are part of a master plan that is bigger than you and not about you. Be open to all opportunities and possibilities. Open you mind and thoughts to beliefs that differ from your own.

Be Willing. Stay alert to injustices in society. You are equipped and able to stand up to hate and evil. Be willing to do your part to create a more just, equal, inclusive and equitable world.

Be Nice. People don’t know how much you know until they know how much you care. Be caring, be kind. Never underestimate the power of nice. You will conquer the world with kindness and compassion.

In closing, Marshall told graduates, “You’re at center court and it’s time for tip-off. The game is about to begin. The ball is in your hands.”

Watch the 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Ceremonies and See the Commencement Program Here

More than 450 undergraduate and graduate students walked the stage to receive their diplomas from the UNT Dallas Schools of Business, Education, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Behavioral Health and Human Services and the Graduate School. Hundreds more relatives, friends, colleagues and supporters filled the audience.

dr warren von eschenbach

UNT Dallas Interim President Dr. Warren von Eschenbach told them, “Your Commencement is a moment in time that you and your families will remember for the rest of your lives.” 

The UNT Dallas College of Law Commencement ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 18, at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas. The speaker will be U.S. Circuit Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez, who, like Marshall, has broken barriers throughout her career and has served as an inspiration to minority legal professionals for decades.