Kids' University Grads Get a Send-Off From a Cowboys Legend
Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith Stresses Importance of Education and Persistence in Quest for Dreams

Dallas Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith was the featured speaker at this years Kids' University graduation ceremony.

Dressed in colorful caps and gowns, 124 children eagerly awaited their graduation from Kids’ University. Whispers of excitement quickly spread as they learned that Emmitt Smith, former Dallas Cowboys running back and Football Hall of Famer, would be the guest speaker.

The children were from 24 homeless shelters across Dallas and Collin County. The goal of the four-day long camp was to make sure that this was not the last graduation in their lives.

Smith emphasized the importance of education, focus and persistence for realizing your dreams.

“It’s not always going to work out the way we wanted,” Smith said. “So what happens when things don’t work out? When you get knocked down, you learn how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get right back in the race. Because it’s not the end – the race is not given to the swiftest or the strongest – but it’s given to the one who endured it.”

Kid's University, UT Dallas

Kids' University is designed to give children an inspirational taste of college life.

Kids’ University Summer Day Camp was the result of a partnership between UT Dallas and Rainbow Days Inc., a non-profit organization charged with preparing children from challenging backgrounds for a hopeful future. Now in its 18th year, the camp brought together volunteers, professionals and organizations to teach more than 300 children about topics, such as health and nutrition, financial planning, algebra and computers.

“Summer days at homeless shelters are very long for most children because of the lack of organized activities,” said Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. “We founded Kids’ University to enrich the summer days for one week and to give these students a glimpse of what takes place on a university campus. Our hope is that this experience will help these children to set a goal of entering a university as a student in their future.”

In addition to promoting education, Rainbow Days helps children learn to cope with difficult life situations, set and achieve goals, make healthy choices and remain free from substance abuse.

Kid's University, UT Dallas

The children received dance lessons from Michele Hanlon, a senior lecturer in the School of Arts and Humanities.

“One of the biggest benefits of Kids’ University is that it addresses a serious need of homeless children living within the confines of homeless shelters: the lack of normal, safe, and fun summer activities,” said Kelly Wierzbinski, director of the Family Connection in Rainbow Days. “Kids’ University makes it possible for children to practice their life skills in a fun, child-appropriate setting away from the shelters. Another significant benefit of Kids’ University is that it exposes the children to higher education and encourages them to pursue the dream of college.” 

It’s not all classrooms for the children at Kids’ University. Dance lessons from Michele Hanlon, senior lecturer in the School of Arts and Humanities, and golf and baseball lessons kept kids moving throughout the day. Atlanta Braves draftee Tony Portugal gave one-on-one pointers on the perfect pitch. They even learned how to make potato chips from Frito Lay’s Partners in Education.

“Algebra was my favorite class. We got to build things to learn about math. I also liked Rosie, the therapy dog. She’s 25 in dog years,” said Bryan, who wants to be a professional basketball player.

Bryan pointed out that he was 75 in dog years, or nearly 11 by human standards.

A second Kids’ University class graduated the following week, June 24-28, with guest speaker Je’Mone Smith, former football player for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].