Franci Neely graduated with high honors from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, and the former trial lawyer says she looks back on her university days with immense pride. The grandmother of five and godmother of eight says she has some advice to offer all the 2022 grads.
The Houston philanthropist’s first tip for America’s most recent college diploma recipients is to get involved in political decisions sooner rather than later.
“Get engaged,” Neely advises. “Go out and vote and make a difference. Do not stay home because you don’t like what’s happening. Express yourselves and vote. Encourage others to vote. Don’t be discouraged if your viewpoint is not being expressed the way you want it, either statewide or locally. Vote locally, too. It matters.”
Making a difference through civic engagement has been an integral part of Franci Neely’s life. The University of Texas Law School selected her for its 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award for Community Service. On the boards of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and The Menil Foundation, she also co-chairs the Art of the Islamic Worlds and Film of Islamic Worlds subcommittees at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
She’s a member of the board of advisers of the Baker Institute of Public Policy and The Moody Center for the Arts. In New York City, she serves on the board of the Metropolitan Opera. The arts patron was also the founding chair of the Houston Cinema Arts Society, which hosted A-listers at its Houston Cinema Arts Festival including Shirley MacLaine, Isabella Rossellini, Robert Redford, Ethan Hawke, and Tilda Swinton.
Franci Neely Reveals Why Travel Matters
Franci Neely encourages recent grads to pack their bags and head to a new destination.
“Travel is the best education you can have,” says Neely, who recommends packing lightly and never leaving home without a camera to capture priceless travel moments. “If you go into it with an open mind, learning about the world and about differences, there’s nothing that’s a better education.”
An avid traveler herself, Franci Neely has visited more than 180 countries, including United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, India, the Andalusian region of Spain, Istanbul, England, and Cuba, and is planning to visit every country in the world. With each country she sees, Neely makes a point to take in the local culture, eat local meals and experience things that are unique to that region.
“Over the next two years and with COVID permitting, I’m going to accomplish this goal of visiting every country in the world,” she says. “I’ve got to forge ahead. My goal is within the next two years to accomplish this. What I have remaining, for the most part, is about 10 countries in Africa; the other main areas I have yet to explore are some of the small and remote island countries in the South Pacific.”
Franci Neely Tells Grads: ‘Learn a New Language’
Franci Neely recommends that all college graduates learn a new language and step outside of their comfort zone.
“Even just learning rudimentary parts of a language will help you dive into a culture better,” Franci Neely says. “The language of a particular culture tells you so much about the way that culture thinks. So go travel the world.”
Neely has studied French and Italian. “I took Italian in college and I’ve studied it since then,” she adds. “I took French in high school and I can understand French often better than I can understand Italian, I guess because I was that much younger when I studied it, but I also think French speakers often speak more slowly than Italian speakers. I’ve taken those two languages and someday, when I finish this goal of visiting every country in the world, maybe I’ll go live in Italy for a while, and then I will speak Italian.”
The adventure-seeking Houstonian says she believes being totally immersed in a culture and speaking the language daily is the best way to truly learn it.
Time Is Precious
In addition to traveling and learning new languages, Neely suggests that all college graduates take the time to absorb how precious time is.
“When you’re young, you always think that you have infinite time ahead of you,” Franci Neely says. “But no, you don’t. It really goes by very quickly sometimes. Make something of every day of your life. You don’t know how much time you have, so set goals, alter your goals as circumstances change, as you change, as you age and mature, but don’t fritter your time away. Establish goals and keep moving them as you see fit. But realize time is actually pretty short.”