My charge to the 2012 CS graduating class

May 20, 2012

Closing Time

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

I've always liked this song by Semisonic and it rings especially true to me this year, as it should to you as well. Four years ago (three for 12 of you), you were embarking on the new beginning that was Carnegie Mellon, putting behind your high school experiences to do so. Some of you may remember me talking to you and your parents the Sunday before orientation. I've always enjoyed that talk - it's been a great way to help set expectations (yours and, more importantly, your parents :-)). And, as promised, the vast majority of you are now graduating today, about to close this beginning down and embark on your next new beginning. Me, too!

As this is the last senior class I will officially graduate from this campus, I feel particularly reflective. This class was supposed to be advised by Scott McElfresh, but that didn't quite work out, and so you ended up with me. I think, in the end, it worked out OK. You will be the last class I advise at Carnegie Mellon (depending on what happens five years from now). It is a bittersweet moment, a moment in time on which we all will reflect with (hopefully) fond memories. In words oft attributed to Dr. Seuss, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

This is the beginning of your lives as Carnegie Mellon alumni and so is a day to both look forward to what lies ahead as well as back, at what has brought you here. Remember how your academic career began? The first time all 139 of you were together as a class was Thursday of Orientation Week listening to Jacobo in Wean 7500 wondering if you should be registering for Elementary Spanish I. Forty-five of you stayed on with Jacobo in 15-100 (still working on that accent :-)), forty-three of you were in 15-111 with Scott McElfresh, and fifty-one experienced 15-123 with Greg Kesden or Tim Hoffman. One of you led yourself with a cane, and taught us all that you don't need to be sighted to be a computer scientist.

So what really matters to you? What will you remember from your days at Carnegie Mellon? And, more importantly, what will you take forward from here? Looking back, how have you arrived at this point, to be part of one of the best Computer Science graduating classes in the world? What made you succeed in 15-251 when you just couldn't figure out that proof? Or 15-212, when your code just wouldn't type-check? Or that pointer error or race condition in 410 that just wouldn't admit to a solution? A lot of late nights, a lot of hard work, and, I'll bet, a lot of help (academic and otherwise) from family, friends, faculty. That order is important. We honor you today on your accomplishments, but we also honor those that helped you get here, those that supported you in so many ways while you were here, and those that will continue to do so as you move away. They are truly deserving of your, and our, thanks.

As this is my last chance to offer you advice, I can't resist the urge to do so; after all, that's what I do. The world is a different place than it was in the Fall of 2008. Facebook just bought Instagram for $1 billion! As you leave this nominally sheltered environment to experience the realities of that world first hand, I encourage you to look back from time to time and recollect your experiences here, both good and bad. Realize that the Carnegie Mellon community is very special, that it has been enriched by your presence, and that it has helped shape and mold the adult you are becoming.

Remember that first, and foremost, people count. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter how many lines of code you wrote or how small your constant factor is (unless it's a really heavily used social-media game). What will matter is how you interacted with the people you worked with, your colleagues, your friends, your family. How much did you give back to those who gave so much to you? It is this that will mark your success in life, not your salary, stock options, or vesting scheme. Measure success by amount of enjoyment and degree of challenge; you'll be a lot better off. Realize also that the only person you can really measure yourself against is yourself. There will always be someone who isn't as smart or doesn't work as hard who seems to be getting more notice. If you concern yourself with these things, you'll become old before your time.

I opened this passage with a lyric and so I will close with one as well. It's a song that I often listen to and, perhaps, is a fitting metaphor for Carnegie Mellon. From Under Pressure by David Bowie & Queen:

That's the terror of knowing what this world is about,
Watching some good friend scream, "Let me out!"
Pray tomorrow gets me higher
Insanity laughs, under pressure we're breaking
Can't we give ourselves one more chance
Why can't we give love that one more chance
Why can't we give love give love give love give love
give love give love give love give love
'Cause love's such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the light
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance...

Continue to strive, to learn, to achieve, to care, to love! I encourage you to listen - to each other, to the world. And please stay in touch, whether by email, by visiting (I will try to be back for Carnival and you are ALWAYS welcome to visit me in Doha). You have been so much a part of our lives for the past four years, and your imprint is deeply woven into the fabric that is this undergraduate program.