I was incredibly honored to be asked to deliver the fall 2016 commencement address for the College of Natural Sciences at Colorado State University, December 17.
Here is the text of the speech (the full ceremony webcast is here):
College of Natural Sciences
Colorado State University
December 17, 2016
Moby Arena, 1 p.m.
Thank you so much. It is great privilege to be part of this university and this college. And it a tremendous honor to be asked to speak with you all today—and celebrate your achievements! So thank you!
I promise to keep my remarks brief, as I know I am now standing between you all, the class of 2016, and the rest of your lives.
First, I want to say, hats off to you (but not literally yet!). You all truly amaze me. I know the journey to get here hasn’t always been easy. You’ve mustered through the labs and lectures, and papers and pop quizzes. But this is a journey many people do not take. So congratulations to all of you for undertaking it!
I know that today, many of you are looking forward, some with perhaps a little bit more trepidation than others. Above you, though, I can guarantee, most of those gathered here today are not looking ahead, but looking back. Amazed and so proud of all that you have accomplished to be here, about to become a graduate of Colorado State University and the College of Natural Sciences. So as you sit here now, take a moment to take a deep breath, look around, and soak it all in. And remember this feeling.
Today, I will not regale you with swashbuckling stories of octopus adventures. Or tell you to wear sunscreen. (Although, if you stay in Colorado, you really should.) Today I want to leave you with just two pieces of advice:
And stay engaged.
First: Stay curious. What I love about being a science writer is that I get to talk with amazing people, like you, every day. Scientists. I’ve gotten to interview people who are developing vaccines to fight cancer. People who put teeny-tiny hats onto beetles to study how they navigate. And people who are building soft-bodied octopus robots (which is harder than you might think).
These people are curious to know: Can we enlist the body’s immune system to outsmart cancer cells? Can I make a really small cap for this beetle to prevent it from navigating by starlight? Will this octopus robot scale in size? Will it scale underwater turbines? Can it do that, while holding a screwdriver? (Will they take over the world?)
In short: these are people who find that the world is full of so many more questions than answers.
As natural sciences, soon-to-be graduates, you know that questions are the foundation of science. And of a dynamic society. Now, it is up to you to ask them.
When you do, when you keep asking questions—whether it’s at your job, or in graduate school, or at home over dinner—you will find, well, okay, you won’t often find all the answers. But you will find yourself living in a far richer and much more interesting world. And that world you create, will fill itself with engaging people. And much more exciting opportunities.
Which leads me to my other piece of advice. Okay, it’s a plea. They’re both pleas.
As a student it is easy to stay engaged. In fact, our faculty require it of you. I think they’re called assignments, and tests, and…oh, yeah, class participation?
But tomorrow, those requirements are gone. You are now free to disengage as much as you want.
I ask you, instead, to keep at it. (I mean, don’t keep turning in homework assignments to your professors. That might get weird.) But keep engaging. Because once you find yourself at a job, it is very easy, seductively easy, to stay parked at your desk or bench. Answering emails or plugging away at formulas. (Maybe looking at Snapchat every now and then?) But there is always something more out there, no matter what your day-to-day involves. So: Keep reading. Write a blog. Launch a project. Join a group. Start a group. Keep participating—even though no one is grading you for it. Why? Because the world will be a better place if you do.
So what do these two pieces of advice, or pleas to say curious and stay engaged, have in common? Connections. Connections of ideas. And connections of people. As you’ve learned here at CSU, connections are what move the sciences forward. Whether that’s connecting new concepts or connecting new groups of people. These connections—that you’ve made, and that you’re going to make—will help shape the world we live in.
Yes, a lot of these connections are made online. And I don’t discount those. I mean, I am also a millennial (I know, it’s hard to believe; I but I am, just by, like, eight months.) I’ve gotten freelance assignments over Twitter. And my first book contract actually came by way of a LinkedIn message (see, apparently sometimes LinkedIn can, be useful). This is where we do business, connect with friends, and learn about what’s going on in the world.
But I challenge you, now as full-fledged adult millennials, to also make some of those connections offline, IRL. Sometimes get together with people in person. Build something with your hands. Take a hike, without taking any Snaps. I know it’s hard. And I could take my own advice.
But it’s really important. Because doing these things will help you keep an open mind. And an open mind is one primed for curiosity and engagement.
Thank you very much, and congratulations, class of 2016! Keep up the great work! And keep discovering!