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A speech to graduating CS majors (and a few near-majors) in the class of 2018

Topics/tags: Speeches, Grinnell, Grinnell CS

On Monday, 15 May 2018, we had our annual Celebration of CS Seniors in Relish. A few years ago, I realized after ad-libbing a speech that it might be good to (a) record what I had written and perhaps (b) try writing the future ones in advance. I have no memory of what I did last year. But this year, I’m trying to write things out in advance. It’s unlikely that I’ll read it exactly [1].

Good afternoon. Thank you so much for coming to this celebration and for the four years you have shared with us (or the three years you’ve shared with us, in some cases). It is hard to see this group of CS majors graduate. You are the last group of majors to have entered Grinnell when we were a comparatively small major (we had twelve or thirteen seniors in the class of 2015 when you arrived) and you are the largest group of majors so far (37 in the class of 2016, 38 in the class of 2017, 42 in your class plus 5 mid-year graduates). But don’t worry; next year’s class will easily surpass yours. They were at 58 when last I checked (or 59, if you count the two entries for the SGA President Elect in the campus directory).

You have contributed to this department in so many ways. Many 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. Some of you started, built, or led organizations, such as AppDev and WGMC. Many of you have helped with CS Table; [one of you] helped lead it. 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 know that my colleagues do, too.

You’ve also watched other parts of the department grow. Both Charlie and PM started while you were here. You’ve had Titus for the two years he was here and may have even participated in his search. Many of you contributed to the expansion search that brought us Anya. That reminds me: It’s stupid survey time. How many of you have taken a class from all of the eight current CS faculty? (That’s Weinman, Walker, Vostinar, Stone, Rebelsky, Osera, Klinge, Curtsinger.) How many took a class from at least six faculty members, if we throw Janet into the mix [2,3]?

Speaking of faculty lines, I have something happy to tell you. If you haven’t heard already, you’ll be pleased to hear that we have been approved to do another tenure-track search next year.

There’s also one important non-faculty addition to the department. You’ve seen us add an awesome peer education coordinator in Sarah.

I appreciate that so many of you are double majors and that you have brought concepts from those other majors to our department [4].
If I count correctly, your class includes double majors with twelve other disciplines: Biological Chemistry, Classics, Economics, GWSS, Mathematics, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Physics, Psychology, Studio Art, and Theatre and Dance. I hope that most of you have not made the same decision as Kumail Nanjiani ’01, who said something like I majored in CS for my parents. I majored in Philosophy for myself. I hope that’s not the case for this year’s dual Philosophy and CS major. We also have a few folks here who are not quite CS majors. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that in at least two of the cases, the one class they are missing from the major is mine.

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, 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 [5].) 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 and that we very much appreciate those contributions.

However, starting this year the department is now able to award two real awards to graduating seniors. Jerod Weinman will present those awards.

[Sam pauses for Jerod to present the awards.]

I also have a present for each of you, or at least each of you who wants a present. When I graduated college (more accurately, The College at The University of Chicago), my favorite gift was a cookbook. One of my mother’s students gave me The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, a vegetarian cookbook by Molly Katzen. You are all special to me, so I would like to give you a similar gift. Unfortunately, I have not yet received the copies I ordered. You can stop by my office in the next few days to get a vegetarian cookbook from me. I’ll even inscribe it if you’d like. Why a vegetarian cookbook? Two reasons: Because that’s what I received and because the odds are good that you are either vegetarian or close friends with a vegetarian.

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 [6], physicians, fund raisers, and professional comedians. Please do not feel constrained by your major.

Our office of Development and Alumni Relations, (DAR in Grinnell-speak, even though DAR might also stand for Daughters of the American Revolution or my third son), as well as [name elided], who serves 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. You can also give of your time. The CLS externship program can always use more hosts. And, at some point, we’ll find a way for alums to help current students with technical interviews.

As a special added bonus, if you donate to the department there is a reasonably good chance that you will get a signed thank you letter from the legendary Jerod Weinman. That’s much better than the chance you had then when I was chair. As Rachel will attest, I had lots of not-yet-signed letters get lost in my office.

I will also say once more that computing technology has great power, power to change the world. As technologists, you have responsibility [7] 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.

On that note, I will remind you that the department is hosting a Pledge of the Computing Professional ceremony on Sunday, 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 afterward. If, for some strange reason, you really want one, talk to Jerod or John and we can probably let you purchase one.)

We also have a breakfast before graduation on Monday morning in JRC 101. We had hoped to have it on Noyce 3rd but, well, there are just too many of you. At about 9 a.m., we will take a group photo to hang on Noyce 3rd.

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.

Postscript: I thought about working something in about the new marketing campaign. Then I decided it wasn’t worth it. Maybe next year. Maybe five years from now: You are the first class that came under the new noun phrase campaign. I’m glad to see it was a success.

[1] Nope, I did not read it exactly. I flubbed a few bits. I ad-libbed a few parts. I’ve added some notes about those issues.

[2] Janet Davis was here their first year.

[3] I didn’t get an exact count, but it looked like we had about five students who had at least six different faculty members.

[4] I ad-libbed here, saying something like the following.

You have made us more economical. No, that’s not right. You have made us more classicist. That’s not right, either. But you know what I mean.

A few people laughed. That’s about par for my jokes.

[5] There was much too much agreement at this point.

[6] I flubbed. I said helicopters. I failed to recover.

[7] I was good. I did not say with great power comes great responsibility.

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-14.