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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Photo Provided At the age of 15, Grandin visited her aunt’s ranch in Arizona where she was inspired to pursue a career in working with cattle.   

Temple Grandin’s speech is filled with staccato bursts of directness. A busy woman, she sometimes performs interviews between flights at airport terminals.
Last week, she had just finished a talk at the University of Arkansas on animal behavior and was en route to Baltimore, Maryland, for a meeting on autism. On Aug. 17, she’ll be in Uruguay.
However, Thursday, the animal scientist, author and autism advocate will be the guest speaker at Texas A&M commencement. An honorary degree will be awarded to her on Friday during the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences graduation ceremony.
Grandin has published hundreds of papers in her field of research. She was recognized in TIME’s “100 most influential people in the World” and in 2011 Claire Danes portrayed her in the Emmy Award winning HBO film, “Temple Grandin.”
Additionally, she has served on the board of directors for the Autism Society of America.
Jeffery Savelle, professor of meat science who nominated Grandin for the honorary degree, said she was an obvious “sell” because of her widespread credentials.
“It’s a big honor for her, but it’s a big honor for Texas A&M University to recognize someone who has overcome so much with her life, but also has made a difference in so many other’s lives,” Savelle said.
At graduation Grandin said she would give an updated version of her TED talk from 2010. She will speak about how she visualizes images differently, which helped her recognize her talent for cattle facility design.
“I’ll be talking about different kinds of minds — visual thinkers, mathematical pattern thinkers, word thinkers — and how the different kinds of minds can work together,” Grandin said.
Early life
As a child, Grandin’s speech was delayed, and at the age of 4 she was diagnosed with autism. It’s been a long progression of hard work to arrive where she is today, Grandin said.
Grandin grew up outside of Boston, Mass. Attributing much of her development and progress to the help she received over the years, Grandin said her mother worked to treat her like any other child.
“She kind of just had a good instinct on how much to push me,” Grandin said.
In high school, Grandin said she was bullied and teased for her differences. However, she could express her creativity in places like electronics lab and through activities like horseback riding.
First Look
When Grandin was 15, she visited her aunt’s ranch in Arizona — the place that catalyzed her career in working with cattle.
“If students don’t get exposed to things, then they don’t get interested in them,” Grandin said.
Grandin graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Franklin Pierce College in 1970 and became the livestock editor for the Arizona Farm Ranchman. While working on her master’s degree, she was asked at a cattle show to design a facility for a feed yard.
“It was a dipping vat facility and I probably had half the knowledge that I needed for this job,” Grandin said. “A lot of people probably would have been scared and turned this down, but I said, ‘Give me three weeks.’”
She would later earn her doctorate in animal science and become a world-renown designer of cattle facilities and a leading writer of animal handling guidlines.
Grandin said she faced a lot of anxiety attacks when she was younger, but one of her greatest challenges was not in fact her autism — it was being a woman in the male-dominated field of agriculture in the 1970s.
“That was my biggest problem,” Grandin said. “In the 70s, the only women that were at a feed lot were in the office. There were no women working out in the yards.”
Savelle and Hale said although her work has been acclaimed worldwide, her impact at A&M has been just as great. Grandin has spoken numerous times at A&M in classes and seminars, including the annual summer Beef Cattle Short course in 2011.
Savelle said he has used Grandin’s animal handling videos and practices while teaching abroad in both Ethiopia and Italy. He said he was also inspired to add Grandin’s words into his lecture notes for his introductory meat science course after attending a meeting where humane handling practices were discussed.
“I think I had not really thought about the fear part, that you can make an animal fearful,” Savelle said. “I added that to my lecture notes — I have a quote abut how it’s ‘freedom from fear, freedom from pain.’”
Dan Hale, animal science professor and Grandin’s commencement host, said Grandin will likely challenge graduating students to consider how obstacles could be used for the better.
“She will challenge them to work hard and take the gifts and talents that they have and dedicate those talents to a goal in life — to not only make money but that would also help the world,” Hale said.
Grandin said she became successful by discovering early on what she was good at and focusing on one project at a time.
“One of the things I really recommend when you are in college is take some internships that are relevant,” Grandin said. “You really need to start working on those working skills before you graduate. Also, I think it’s really important to try on a career. You don’t want to get a degree in a career and then find out you hate it, so try it on.”
For Grandin, there were no “magic turning points.”
“There are certain events — I call them doors that can open,” Grandin said. When you get an opportunity, you’ve got to jump through it otherwise a door will close.”
Commencement is open to the public and will begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Rudder Theatre. Graduation ceremonies will follow on Friday.

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