Michael L. Williams has lived a public life in Texas for decades, and given numerous commencement speeches for universities across the state and the nation. He says he follows a well-worn rule for graduation speakers: ‘Inspire them, and if you can’t, at least be brief, because they came to see their loved ones get their degrees.’

But Friday’s University of North Texas at Dallas Commencement is a particularly special honor. He is giving the keynote address with his wife of over 32 years, Donna N. Williams – who is his match for a life full of remarkable accomplishments – and Michael Williams gave few clues on the eve of the big day when it comes to their speech. He did share he won’t have any notes while his wife will be well prepared as always. He will start the speech off, and it will be conversational between the two.

“This is a milestone for us because it may be the first time we’ve been together on stage,” he said. “Speaking is my thing and Donna is great at it, but this is unique, especially because the university was willing to recognize her accomplishments. People often think of me because of my public life, but she’s probably achieved more in her career. It’s special for us both to be recognized this way at the same time. I don’t write speeches, so what you hear is what I thought of as we’re doing it. Her part will be written. There will be a part in the middle where we just share our thoughts, and she will end it. I also have strong feelings about this university, it’s mission and the students.”

Williams serves as the inaugural Distinguished Leader-In-Residence at UNT Dallas, and is a fixture on campus. UNT Dallas Fall 2017 Commencement is at 5 p.m. on Friday at Inspiring Body of Christ Church, and it is always a celebration of spirit, pride and support. Commencement will include the celebration of 441 graduates in both bachelor’s and post-graduate studies.

“There’s nothing we’re going to say that’s going to be earth-shattering, but we hope to remind the graduates and their families of the kinds of things, the values of being true trailblazers that come out of our life experiences,” Williams said. “How do you envision that positive future for life? How do you overcome the challenges of disappointment and adversity? Where do you find the strength to make a commitment to give back to your community? It will be those kinds of things.

“The thing that makes this one different than the ones that I’ve done in the past is that I’m older, and I’m a little more mature. I can give the address with the sense of confidence that these things that I speak about are real and they work. They cover the time span. Today’s challenges may be different, the audience may be different than other universities, but the principles are the same. The student body may be different than at Texas A&M or Texas Tech, but the principles are enduring. We are going to have fun.”

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