Dean Hazel Sive delivered a commencement address at the 2022 College of Science Graduation Celebration event held at Matthews Arena on May 10. Read the address in its entirety below:
Good evening, everyone!
Good evening to graduates, to your families and your friends!
What a happy evening! What a brilliant week! How much to celebrate!
I’m Hazel Sive, Dean of the College of Science. And I’m thrilled to congratulate each of you on graduating, whether with a Bachelors degree, a Masters or a PhD. I’m even more thrilled that you chose to follow a degree in Science, and a Northeastern degree in Science, that makes you among the most employable people on earth.
Very well done!
I thought tonight I’d tell you two stories from Long Ago, that you may connect with, and then I’d like to give you each a gift.
Long Ago (the first story), I received an undergraduate degree in Chemistry. I loved Organic, but I have to tell you that I learned no Physical Chemistry at all. It seemed not so interesting as social aspects of my university education, and I simply ignored the subject.
Of course, my resulting Chemistry grade was not great, but I want to tell you that it did not matter. It didn’t matter because grades are often not important, and later, when I needed Physical Chemistry, actually when I had to teach Physical Chemistry, I learned it, no problem.
So, if you have gaps in your education, and feel a bit regretful, I want you to have no worries. You’ve learned how to learn, and you’ll fill in the blanks, and keep learning for always.
Long Ago (the second story), while an undergraduate, I was given a project to discover how a certain type of ant sang to communicate with others. They were a big ant about an inch long, called Odontomachus. It was known that the ants moved one of their front legs over their head to make a sound, but that was all.
I set about finding out, using the scanning electron microscope to explore their heads. Some ants had to be fixed, and then coated with silver, so the electrons could reflect off the sample
The electron microscope was huge, a tall column in a darkened, cool room. It was incredibly exciting that I was entrusted to use it. You put the sample on a platform in a chamber, applied a vacuum, and then the sample was bombarded with an electron beam.
With a joystick I could rotate the sample in the beam and look at the highly magnified image on a little screen.
And as I looked, I came across a patch of ridges on the head of the ant – maybe ten ridges, exactly the same height and exactly parallel.
I had no idea what this meant, but thought it was amazing that such perfect geometry could be created in an ant.
So, I took some pictures and showed them to my professor. When he saw them, his face broke into a grin – you’ve discovered the musical instrument, he told me. The song was made because hairs on the front leg of the ant moved across the ridges on the head and the spacing between them gave the frequency of the song.
I still can feel the tingle that came with the excitement of that discovery, and I have those pictures to this day.
And this story does matter because I learned how research was fantastic, how discoveries could be made, that led me on my life’s path as a scientist.
It’s many years since these stories and I bet you have some of your own that you’re taking away with you from Northeastern.
Long Ago to Now has been a winding path for me, and I want to give you something I’ve found useful along the way. Actually, I have a big box that I’ll open here and toss out a gift to all of you.
Go ahead and catch.
Take a look. What do you think?
It’s a pair of walking shoes, that anyone can use, regardless of your physical ability, because they are walking shoes of the mind.
Take a look, that’s great – I see some of you trying them on. They fit anyone, and come in whatever style you choose – laceup, slipon, boots, sandals, heels in any color or pattern.
They will not wear out. You can fold them up and put them in your pocket. And you will never lose them, because they will walk right alongside you for whenever you would care to put them on.
Why am I giving you these? What do you do with shoes of the mind? Well, with them, you can take a WALK through life, and I’ve found that a great way to go.
You can walk fast enough to follow any opportunities you want to, slow enough to savor the great days when you have success and joy, and fast enough to walk through bad days that you know already, come to everyone.
You don’t have to stop in the bad days, keep walking and you will walk right out of them and get to try again the next day, which will probably be better.
Walking will be at a pace that lets you see exciting vistas you may choose to follow.
Walking gives you time to take care of your body and your mind. Please do that – your mental health just like your physical health, is something you can look after, and never hesitate to find some help when you need it.
Walking lets you spend time with family and friends, and best of all perhaps, walking gives time for fun and adventures.
Your walking shoes are important, because, and I’ll say this slowly at a walking pace for emphasis, life is not a race.
There is no finish line and there is no winner of life. There is no ‘best’ in life either – the best is a myth – an Olympic gold medalist might celebrate but soon enough someone else will run faster or jump higher.
You can try your best and that is great, but just as there are no winners of life, there are also no losers. There is simply the opportunity to decide where to put your talent and time, to do something interesting which I think is most important, and to do something useful.
As you walk through life, it’s good to try hard, but don’t be hard on yourself.
Be very kind to yourself, laugh a lot, congratulate yourself every day on walking through it, wearing your special shoes and at your own comfortable pace.
As I’ve walked, I’ve found time to learn physical chemistry, which is actually very interesting and lots more; I’ve found time to understand that those ridges on the ant’s head are just one part of the power of science.
The Power of Science has given us every medicine and every vaccine, it is giving us new energy sources, new understanding of the universe and new tools to look after our planet better than we’ve done in the past.
The Power of Science is what you are already part of and will continue to be with your wonderful Northeastern Science training.
I know many of you want to make a difference and I am quite sure you shall. With your talent, determination and a steady walk I am confident that you will contribute to solving the problems of our planet.
And along these lines, I want to conclude with a poem by Emily Dickinson that’s all about making a difference. It’s called “If I can stop one heart from breaking”
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
I am so proud of each one of you! Hold tight to your Northeastern degree that will open doors forever. Hold tight to your connection with the Power of Science. Walk forward with your new shoes as you decide where to put your wonderful talent and time. Forever you and your families are part of Northeastern. Congratulations, and please enjoy this wonderful time of celebration!