Thank you, Dean Gilligan.
It’s an honor to participate in the 2012 MPA Commencement Ceremony. I’d like to thank Dean Gilligan, members of the faculty, board of trustees, distinguished guests, parents and especially the graduates for being here today.
You know, I remember sitting where you are. I had taken all four parts of the CPA exam and I had a job lined up with a big-4 accounting firm. That was about a decade ago. Today, I am a television news reporter and news anchor.
Just for kicks and giggles I posted a message on Facebook asking my Facebook friends – which include people who actually know me personally and viewers who have only watched me on television – to respond to the following question: “Why is Rosa not an accountant?” The responses helped me put together this top ten list:
#10 Start with the number nine to show that you can’t count.
#9 Macroeconomics and cost analysis put you to sleep.
#8 What starts at UT can go not just anywhere but everywhere.
#7 As an accountant, you wouldn’t be able to say “RRRRRRosa Florrrresss Reporting.”
#6 You wanted a life.
#5 You convinced your intellectual property law professor at UT that your final technical paper could be in novel form and you got an “A” on the paper.
#4 You were part of a comedy troupe.
#3 All your college roommates were broadcast journalists.
#2 You played jokes on a tax partner at a big four firm.
#1 You wanted to work nights, weekends, mornings and holidays for half the pay.
Which is true. I didn’t realize how little money journalists made until I was told, “You know when you get your first job you could qualify for food stamps.”
But you know I wasn’t focused on the money because I was following the wise words of one accounting professor. He told our class, “Go for the sexy accounting assignments.” I’m curious…graduates, did you receive the same advice?
So how did I go from being an accountant to a broadcaster? I followed that advice. I’ll share with you three quotes and three stories that will explain it all.
First quote: “Go for the sexy accounting assignments.” I didn’t know what that meant; but I did know that if I wanted to get anywhere in the accounting world, I needed to be a CPA. Before graduation – like most of you – I was ready to sit for the CPA exam. So, I did some research and found out that the national passing rate was something like 11%. I thought to myself, “What?” So, here’s what I did. I made a promise that if I passed the test, I’d deliver food and clothing to indigent people in Mexico.
I studied, and studied, and studied and saved money to buy food and clothing for indigent families. I studied so much that after sitting for the 16-hour test I was sick for a week. About a month later, I received my scores. And what do you think happened? I passed the test – all four parts – on the first try. I packed my bags, and drove to Rio Grande Valley, that’s where I grew up, in a tiny town called Progreso, home of the Mighty Red Ants. I bought food, clothing and toys with the money I saved. Together with my family I drove into Mexico to deliver the food. That’s when everything changed for me.
I met men, women and children who hadn’t eaten for days. Some had walked through Mexico from Guatemala and they believed they had a shot at the American Dream because they could see the United States from across the Rio Grande River. But it was the story of a little boy that changed my life forever. I was passing out toys to kids and groceries to mothers, and I reached out to give this little boy a bag of toys. He said, “I don’t want the toys. I’d like the food. My mother is bedridden so she can’t walk here to get the food.” That broke my heart and it changed my life forever. It changed my career path. I knew that I couldn’t work in an office all day. I needed to be a voice for those who didn’t have one. So, I worked for KPMG’s Austin office for two years, seeking direction, but I couldn’t figure it out. I applied for dozens of jobs at schools, non-profit organizations and the doors closed. I volunteered so much; I was awarded the KPMG’s National Award for Community Service. One day I realized it was the stories of people that impacted me so much. I quit my job, followed my heart and now I tell stories for a living. And I always look for opportunities to cover stories where I can give a voice to the voiceless. Now the quote, “Go for the sexy accounting assignments” is very clear. For me, it means go for your dreams. Don’t settle for less.
Second quote: “Honey, it’s too complicated.” Here’s the story. My first television news reporting job was at KWTV in Oklahoma City. I started covering snow storms, tornadoes, fires, murders – you name it – but I never forgot the advice my wise accounting professor, “Go for the sexy accounting assignments.” And I did. I requested electronic copy of the state budget from the legislative budget office. At first, I didn’t get a response. Then, when I did get a response it was something that sounded like this: “Oh honey, it’s too complicated.” So, I said, “No, I’d really like an electronic copy of the state budget.” You know, public officials assume that journalists don’t know how to add and subtract let alone, look at a budget. And here I am bugging them for an electronic copy. Let’s just say that I bugged them so much they gave me a paper copy of the budget.
Guess what I did? On the way to and from covering a major snow storm in Northwest Oklahoma, I entered the entire state budget in Excel – Line by line—and found that it didn’t balance by $5 million. So I picked up the phone, dialed and said “This is Rosa Flores from KWTV, Channel 9.”
And they said, “Oh, honey, it’s you again.” That’s when I said, “Don’t honey me. The budget is off balance by $5 million.” What they didn’t know was that I had graduated from the number one accounting program in the nation, at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin. Although, I’ll let you in on a little secret, all I needed to know how to do was add and subtract to find the error. So remember: “Go for the sexy accounting assignments” and don’t let anyone tell you “Honey, it’s too complicated” because this program has prepared you to reach your dreams.
And the last quote is “You’re this close.” This quote is from one of my high school teachers. It taught me so much. I attended Progreso High School in the Rio Grande Valley, and when I was a sophomore, the school was experimenting with a gifted and talented curriculum that no one had tested before. At first, it looked typical; a few dozen students were tested. We were asked questions like, “You’re stuck on an island waiting to get rescued. What do you do?” or “You’re responsible for an entire country and you find out that a plane full of sick people – with a deadly disease – are headed to your country. What would you do?”
I was one of about 10 students selected for this program. Here’s how it worked. We taught ourselves. Teachers didn’t teach us. We didn’t have classes with the rest of the students. We were given topics to research and then we decided on a final project, and our teachers graded us on that presentation. It was great! It allowed us to be very creative. For our tests we wrote plays, transformed classrooms into ancient civilizations, but when it came to math, that was difficult. How do you teach yourself, and then tell the teacher, “Here are the questions I would like for you to ask me on the test.” So pre-calculus was a little more traditional. Our teacher supervised our math lessons. I remember showing my teacher my work and he would say, “You’re this close. Keep working because you’re this close.” There I am working and re-working the problem. I’d show him my work again and he’d say, “You’re this close.” By the time I got the answer correctly, I realized that initially I was way off, but it was those encouraging words, “You’re this close,” that kept me going. I apply that to everything I do. I have a lot of goals. Sometimes I have very little direction. But I always tell myself, “You’re this close.” How did you learn the ABC’s? By starting at A. How did you finish your MPA degree? By taking one class. Keep setting goals and you’ll always be, “this close.”
So remember graduates:
“Go for the sexy accounting assignments,” go for your dreams.
Don’t let anyone tell you, “Honey, it’s too complicated,” because you’re equipped with what you need to go for your dreams.
And no matter what, remember that if you keep trying you’ll always be “This close” to reaching your dreams.
Hook ’em Horns!
Good bye and good luck.