Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,
This week, I am thinking what to tell our students in the College of Science Commencement Ceremony next Tuesday evening. Thank you to everyone participating! Thank You Enormously to Assistant Dean Amber Watson and Associate Director for Graduate Administration Melissa Rubock for their huge and expert work in organizing this.
Writing a talk is always interesting. There should be a thread, and one take home message. The beginning is key. If you lose your audience then, you’ve lost them for good. There should be an arc and a return to the beginning to give a polished finish. I love to build talks out loud and to try lots of beginnings. Most get thrown out. But I don’t worry, because there’s so much possibility, so many stories to tell. At some point ideas coalesce and there’s the thread.
You have to think about the audience. For Commencement, excited students, families and friends. And maybe, the students are open at that moment to welcome inspirational advice, because they’re worrying about what comes next. I’ve enjoyed many Commencement speeches, with the most unusual by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the car guys Click and Clack. Tom holds a Northeastern MBA, and the brothers are both MIT alumni who built a car repair business and NPR show Car Talk. They diagnosed problems on air, giving hilarious but real advice. The advice they gave the MIT graduates was to be “unencumbered by the thought process” and to have some fun. The laughter throughout made it clear that those graduating students were soaking in perspective for the long term.
Maybe I’ll start with Long Ago, I received an undergraduate degree but had learned no physical chemistry. And it didn’t matter because I learned it later. Or Long Ago, I was given a project to discover how ants sang, and with the electron microscope found a series of parallel ridges that was the musical instrument. And that did matter because I learned how research was fantastic. Maybe I’ll encourage the students to walk through life, rather than running or flying or thinking it’s all a race. I could point out that walking is the most natural human movement and when you find your pace you can walk for hours untired. That walking is fast enough to get you somewhere, slow enough to savor great days, fast enough to walk out of bad ones. How walking gives you time for fun and adventures or to learn physical chemistry at last. I’m not worried, there’s a story for our graduates about to coalesce.
Amber Watson asked for my last sentences, so they could be added to the script. I gave her: “I’m so proud of each one of you! Hold tight to your magical Northeastern degree that will open doors forever, and enjoy this wonderful time of celebration!” Because after so much hard work, Commencement is a truly deserved party, that comes with a bonus morsel of inspiration.
Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science