As of Saturday, May 21, I officially graduated from UT Austin with a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a B.A. in Plan II Honors.
After all the rushing around in New York and Niagara Falls, I must say graduation felt a bit of an anticlimax. Excitement also tends to ebb away when you’ve spent three shopping sessions looking for suitable formal attire and only find what you need the day of the first graduation ceremony (most of the time, I despise shopping).
Even getting to Frank Erwin was a disaster. Roads tend to clog up when hundreds of graduates and all their families pile into cars and drive near the highway, so I ended up getting out and half-running to Frank Erwin. When I threw on my robes and balanced my cap precariously on my head (one size does not fit all) in the presence of the other graduates, squashed into the holding area, the annoyance began to ebb away. As we filed out into the huge hall, I started feeling some actual excitement.
The commencement speaker was really rather good; he held our interest for most of his speech and he was pretty funny. Can’t ask for much more, really. But my god, the names. I knew there were quite a few graduates but this was a bit much. When our turn finally came, though, there it was again — that excitement and a little nervousness, the latter mainly engendered by the fear that my cap would fall off the stage and embarrass me. Not that it wouldn’t enliven the proceedings a little.
Everything went off well, though. Possibly the best part of the night was that both Z and V showed up to see me and my family 🙂
We ended up going to bed at about midnight, with the Plan II graduation set for 9 am tomorrow. Except graduates had to be there by 8. Same process all over again — herding people into a big holding room, waiting around for everything to start, proceeding into Hogg Auditorium (I saw my parents clearly this time, but didn’t dare look up for fear that, yes, my cap would fall off).
My one regret throughout these five years of Plan II education was that I never made any close, lasting friends in the program. I’ve more good friends in the UWC, for heaven’s sake. I think the problem was that a) I was always over at the engineering buildings, and b) it’s genuinely hard to break into a group of cliques which are all composed of kids from the same overachieving high schools. Everyone seemed to know everyone else even in freshman year, so I spent quite a miserable first semester. I have to say, though, that with the exception of about two or three classes, I’ve managed to get an excellently well-rounded education these past five years, as well as getting to know some fantastic professors. Friendlessness or no, I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
Most of the ceremony was composed of my mouth hanging open every three seconds when each student’s honors and achievements (which we had the option of writing down) were read out as they walked across the stage. It occasionally took an entire minute for the Director to read out the cards — Dedman scholars, Google new hires, Harvard business students, medical school students… it was a humbling experience in that regard.
The thing, though, is that it’s nice to be acknowledged for your hard work. Apparently the award I won for my thesis was a pretty big deal, which is always a pleasant surprise. And it hit me after the reception that, really, I’ve just graduated from two of the most demanding majors at UT. Not too bad.
I almost didn’t make it for the university-wide commencement. Thank goodness I decided to go.
The speaker was somehow a little obsessed with a patriotic message to all citizens, and while I’m all for good-of-society type messages, I thought this was a bit over the top. Still, she was engaging, reminding us about the UT system of schools that had produced things like the lithium ion battery and the stent. I think it was she who reminded us all of the importance of research (big applause from faculty) in private institutions.
Mainly, though, it was a huge feeling of university solidarity and a sense of accomplishment. I think this is a little like what football games might have been like if I’d managed to get to any of them, but this academically focused gathering was more my type of thing, I think 🙂
Best of all was hearing the dean of each college read out the standard words that officially, finally, irrevocably conferred degrees upon all of us. Most of them personalized their messages and some were pretty comical. College of Communication got a shout out for their “hootin’ and hollerin'”, although I am still confused as to what that has to do with their fields of expertise.
The college of engineering seating area exploded into cheers when the Dean asked us all to rise and remain standing. I think that at that point of time, it occurred to many of us that the overnight programming, sleeping over at ENS, failing exams and then somehow passing classes, all of that rubbish finally, somehow, made sense. Even better — it was all recognized now.
I did have some regrets — I do, right now. I wish I’d made more out of my college career, the way so many others seem to have. I know that it’s good to pick one area of expertise and devote myself to it, the way I did wholeheartedly with Nazar, but still I wonder if I could’ve made more connections, more friends, learned more, with these five years. There’s a feeling that I could’ve contributed something more lasting to this community or to engineering as a whole, somehow. Listening to some of the Distinguished Texas Exes being introduced — three out of those four were Plan II, just saying — made me feel both… somehow anticipatory and sad. Anticipatory, because there still might be time for me to do something. To Do Something. But sad, because college is really the best breeding ground for ideas, for developing something new and exciting. I’m not talking about pure research, although that’s undoubtedly crucial; I mean simply the environment of novelty, the meetings and the ideas, the incubation of the future. There certainly won’t be much of that for a code monkey starting this July.
But I don’t intend to give up on dreaming. Our commencement speakers all alluded to the current financial troubles as well as to the hope that we would thrive despite them. Creativity is, after all, not born from an abundance of resources — you evolve creative solutions to bad situations that don’t have easy answers. I hope I can still be a part of something creative and helpful in the future.
And at the end of the day, there were fireworks. Nothing really beats fireworks for a celebration. But you know what? The real hootin’ and hollerin’ was reserved for when the Tower was lit orange. Because this time, it was lit for us.
Congratulations, class of 2011! Now let’s go out there and change the world.