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A Speech to Graduating CS Majors in the Class of 2016

On Monday, 16 May 2016, we had our annual Celebration of CS Seniors in Relish. I had not prepared a speech, and so I ad-libbed some remarks. Henry Walker said that it was one of the better speeches that I’ve given, which I think is a compliment, but I’m not sure. In any case, I thought it would be useful to actually write out the speech that I should have given. (If I drop this note, perhaps I can even pretend that I gave the speech.) At the very least, it gives me a starting point for next year’s speech.

Good afternoon. Thank you so much for coming to this celebration and for the four years you have shared with us. It is strange to see this group of CS majors graduate. You are by far the largest group of majors we’ve graduated (37, if I count right; the next largest group was 26 in the class of 2004; we had 12 in 2003 and 15 in 2005; I don’t think we’ve broken 20 any other time). And you seem to have started a trend.

You have contributed to this department in so many ways. Some of you have served as department assistants, doing everything from filing to making the cool map of 3813 to plotting where our graduates go. Some of you have served as peer educators, helping your fellow students learn through your work as mentors, evening tutors, individual tutors, and graders. Some of you have served on the SEPC, building the social life of the department and providing representation for student voices in various departmental decisions. And all of you have contributed by your presence and (often) your enthusiasm for the material. I feel lucky to have such excellent students in our department.

I used to give every student a humorous award. (E.g., we had one student get an Alan Funt award for always making me feel like I was on candid camera; another got the feather pillow award for an apparent ability to sleep anywhere and everywhere in the department). However, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to come up with one for each of you; it’s much easier to do a dozen than three dozen. My colleagues have suggested that we would be better off without them. (You know my sense of humor, so you also know that they are probably right.) I don’t think I should call you out individually, so I’ll just say once again that each of you has contributed to the department in your own special way.

I appreciate that so many of you are double majors and that you have brought concepts from those other majors to our department. Because of you, we are more theatrical, mathematical, chemical, biological, philosophical, Germanic, artistic, psychological, physical, and economical. Or maybe it doesn’t work that way.

Even as the department has grown, you have made the department welcoming to future classes. The large numbers of majors in the classes of 2017 and 2018 are a partial testament to your success.

We wish you the best in the many careers you choose. I’ll remind you that there are many things you can do with a CS degree. While we have many graduates in the computing industry, we also have graduates who are helicopter pilots, physicians, fund raisers, and professional comedians.

I will also remind you that computing technology has great power, power to change the world. As technologists, you have responsibility to think about the software you build or contribute to. I hope that our conversations at CS table, in our classes, and in the hallway have gotten you to think more about the risks of computing and your own relationship to those risks.

Shane Jacobson, our Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations (DAR in Grinnell-speak, even though DAR might also stand for Daughters of the American Revolution or my third son) would consider me remiss if I did not talk to you about the ways in which you can support the College and the department. We are able to celebrate you at this lunch because alums and faculty have donated to the department’s restricted fund. We hope that as you go off to your awesome careers, you will consider giving to the department, to the College, or to other entities at the College that have special meaning to you. If you give to the department, you can also choose particular projects and I will do my best to support those projects. For example, because some of you donated at Scarlet and Give Back Day, I think we’ll have a coffee fund next year for either French press or cold brew coffee.

As a special added bonus, if you donate to the department there is at least a five-percent chance that you will get a signed thank you letter from me if you donate to the department. (The 5% is based on historical data, and so is likely to be accurate.) However, I think that there is a 100% chance that you will get a thank you letter from Jerod once he takes over as chair.

As you know, the department is hosting a [Pledge of the Computing Professional[( ceremony on Sunday, immediately after baccalaureate. (The nice thing about speeches is that I don’t have to worry about spelling that word.) I hope that many of you will take that pledge, which I think reflects the Grinnell CS department’s perspective. Your parents may certainly attend, too. Everyone who takes the pledge gets a pin, a certificate, and a stole to wear at graduation. (The stoles were expensive, and our budget is limited, so we’ll need them back afterwards. If, for some strange reason, you really want one, talk to me and we can probably let you purchase one.) I appreciate that Charlie reminded me that I should have brought one. You can see one in my office or at the ceremony.

We also have a breakfast on Monday morning on Noyce 3rd. There are enough of you and your parents that we will probably use many spaces on the floor. The Commons and 3821 are probably the best spaces, and we’ll try to shift things around to support that. At about 9am, we will take a group photo.

Because the department (or at least the chair) believes in tangible (but affordable) rewards for your hard work, each of you will receive a This is what a Grinnell Computer Scientist t-shirt, as soon as I get them from our supplier. This shirt is in addition to the awesome 2016 shirt that the SEPC made.

I’ve been rambling enough. I’ll let you get back to your conversations. Know that we are proud of you, that we will enjoy seeing you march across the stage on Monday, and that we will miss you.

Upon reflection, that’s pretty close to what I did say. I said a few more things (e.g., about staffing, cookbooks, and students who managed to take classes from all seven of the CS faculty). I forgot to talk about ethical responsibility (and maybe about the t-shirts). I guess I’m not feeling particularly creative today, even though this was an awesome group of seniors. Maybe I’ll do better next year.

Version 1.0 released 2016-05-17.

Version 1.0.1 of 2018-04-17.