Faculty, family, friends, and fellow graduates, good evening.
I am honored to address you tonight. On behalf of the graduating masters and doctoral students of Washington University's School of Engineering and Applied Science, I would like to thank all the parents, spouses, families, and friends who encouraged and supported us as we worked towards our graduate degrees. I would especially like to thank my own family, eight members of which are in the audience today. I would also like to thank all of the department secretaries and other engineering school staff members who always seemed to be there when confused graduate students needed help. And finally I would like to thank the Washington University faculty members who served as our instructors, mentors, and friends.
As I think back on the seven-and-a-half years I spent at Washington University, my mind is filled with memories, happy, sad, frustrating, and even humorous.
Tonight I would like to share with you some of the memories that I take with me as I leave Washington University.
I take with me the memory of my office on the fourth floor of Lopata Hall – the room at the end of the hallway that was too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and always too far away from the women's restroom. The window was my office's best feature. Were it not for the physics building across the way, it would have afforded me a clear view of the arch. But instead I got a view of the roof of the physics building. I also had a view of one corner of the roof of Urbauer Hall, which seemed to be a favorite perch for various species of birds who alternately won perching rights for several weeks at a time. And I had a nice view of the physics courtyard, noteworthy as a good place for watching people run their dogs. It's amazing how fascinating these views became the longer I worked on my dissertation. But my favorite view was of a nearby oak tree. From my fourth-floor vantage point I had a rather intimate view of the tree and the various birds and squirrels that inhabit it. Occasionally a bird would land on my window sill, which usually had the effect of startling both of us.
I take with me the memory of two young professors who passed away while I was a graduate student. Anne Johnstone, the only female professor from whom I took a course in the engineering school, and Bob Durr, a political science professor and a member of my dissertation committee, both lost brave battles with cancer. I remember them fondly.
I take with me the memory of failing the first exam in one of the first engineering courses I took as an undergraduate. I remember thinking the course was just too hard for me and that I would never be able to pass it. So I went to talk to the professor, ready to drop the class. And he told me not to give up, he told me I could succeed in his class. For reasons that seemed completely ludicrous at the time, he said he had faith in me. And after that my grades in the class slowly improved, and I ended the semester with an A on the final exam. I remember how motivational it was to know that someone believed in me.
I take with me memories of the midwestern friendliness that so surprised me when I arrived in St. Louis 8 years ago. Since moving to New Jersey, I am sad to say, nobody has asked me where I went to high school.
I take with me the memory of the short-lived computer science graduate student social committee lunches. The idea was that groups of CS grad students were supposed to take turns cooking a monthly lunch. But after one grad student prepared a pot of chicken that poisoned almost the entire CS grad student population and one unlucky faculty member in one fell swoop, there wasn't much enthusiasm for having more lunches.
I take with me the memory of a more successful graduate student effort, the establishment of the Association of Graduate Engineering Students, known as AGES. Started by a handful of engineering graduate students because we needed a way to elect representatives to a campus-wide graduate student government, AGES soon grew into an organization that now sponsors a wide variety of activities and has been instrumental in addressing a number of engineering graduate student concerns.
I take with me the memory of an Engineering and Policy department that once had flourishing programs for full-time undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students.
I take with me memories of the 1992 U.S. Presidential debate. Eager to get involved in all the excitement I volunteered to help wherever needed. I remember spending several days in the makeshift debate HQ giving out-of-town reporters directions to the athletic complex. I remember being thrilled to get assigned the job of collecting film from the photographers in the debate hall during the debate. And I remember the disappointment of drawing the shortest straw among the student volunteers and being the one who had to take the film out of the debate hall and down to the dark room five minutes into the debate – with no chance to re-enter the debate hall after I left.
I take with me memories of university holidays which never seemed to apply to graduate students. I remember spending many a fall break and President's Day holiday with my fellow grad students in all day meetings brought to us by the computer science department.
I take with me memories of exams that seemed designed more to test endurance and perseverance than mastery of the subject matter. I managed to escape taking any classes that featured infamous 24-hour-take-home exams, but remember the suffering of my less fortunate colleagues. And what doctoral student could forget the pain and suffering one must endure to survive the qualifying exams?
I take with me the memory of the seven-minute rule, which always seemed to be an acceptable excuse for being ten minutes late for anything on campus, but which doesn't seem to apply anywhere else I go.
I take with me the memory of Friday afternoon ACM happy hours, known not for kegs of beer, but rather bowls of rainbow sherbet punch. Over the several years that I attended these happy hours they enjoyed varying degrees of popularity, often proportional to the quality and quantity of the accompanying refreshments – but there was always the rainbow sherbert punch.
I take with me memories of purple parking permits, the West Campus shuttle, checking my pendaflex, over-due library books, trying to print from cec, lunches on Delmar, friends who slept in their offices, miniature golf in Lopata Hall, The Greenway Talk, division III basketball, and trying to convince Dean Russel that yet another engineering school rule should be changed.
Finally, I would like to conclude, not with a memory, but with some advice. What would a graduation speech be without a little advice, right? Anyway, this advice comes in the form of a verse delivered to the 1977 graduating class of Lake Forest College by Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss – Here's how it goes:
My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant's bill of fare.
And when they were served,
he regarded them
with a penetrating stare . . .
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
"To eat these things,"
said my uncle,
"you must excercise great care.
You may swallow down what's solid . . .
BUT . . .
you must spit out the air!"
And . . .
as you partake of the world's bill of fare,
that's darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.