2020 Computer Science Graduate Student Mini Celebration

Descriptive Transcript

On a blue background, the Brandeis seal is shown above white text that reads:
Brandeis University
Computer Science Program
Celebrating the Class of 2020]

[A slideshow plays. A small portion of Brandeis' seal is shown. White text reads:
Brandeis Memories 2020.

[Nianwen Xue in a suit and tie is seated in front a Zoom virtual background of a park.]

Nianwen Xue: So should we get started? Welcome to the mini commencement of the graduate students in the Computer Science Department of Brandeis University. My name's Nianwen Xue, Director of Graduate Studies of Computer Science. Today we gather virtually to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2020. You're graduating under extraordinary circumstances, so that's a testament to your resilience and hard work.

I have a brief overview of today's program. We will start with our student speaker, Jade Garisch, and then our faculty representative, Professor Pito Salas, who will speak on behalf of the faculty. After that, Professor Hongfu Liu will read the names of the graduates. The program will conclude with the Brandeis Chamber Music Chorus singing the Brandeis Alma Mater. So without further ado, let me introduce Ms. Jade Garisch.

Jade Garisch appears in front of a Zoom virtual background of a blue slide with the Brandeis insignia and logo with the words "Congratulations CS Graduates of 2020!"

Jade Garisch: Good morning to those of you in the same time zone as me. Good afternoon and evening to everyone else. Giving a graduation speech over zoom is not something I had ever thought that I would do. In fact, obtaining a master's degree in Computer Science was not something I had imagined either until recently. But as we have all learned through this pandemic, life is unpredictable and we need to approach it with openness and the flexibility to adapt to our circumstances.

Like many of you, my undergraduate degree is not in Computer Science. My background is in theater and the performing arts. I came into this program knowing I wanted to improve my coding and technical abilities in order to make art and tell stories in new and interesting ways. I know the faculty took a chance in letting me into this program, but I'm really thankful that they did.

In my application letter, I brought forward the idea of creating a system that would be used on stage as lights, sound, and essentially a robotic actor. This system's name was Robot Downey Jr. I was able to bring this vision to fruition last year during my independent study, where Professor Susan Dibble, a dancer and theater practitioner from Brandeis' Theater Department, agreed to dance with a group of robots that were programmed to be her lights, sound, and scene partners.

In addition to exploring the idea of Robot Downey Jr., I've been able to explore many other passions and ideas through my graduate studies in Computer Science. Just this semester alone, I was allowed incredible opportunities to create collaborations between coding and my love for theater, storytelling, and people. I was given a job designing and teaching a course in 3D animation, VR and game design for Brandeis' Precollege program. I created an app with a group of fellow Brandeisian coders that allows for organizing protests in a safe and effective manner. I was even able to explore 19th and 20th century poetry, when writing a research paper on named entity recognition in poetry.

If you had asked me last year if I could do any of these things, I would have said no. I'm not being ironic when I say that all of us will walk away or sign off from this virtual ceremony with a degree that will allow us to work in any field in the world, including theater. We have all been equipped with powers, powers that allow us to build anything from scratch, from any location in the world. While coding is a super power, it can also be frustrating. But so can life. In fact, coding and life have a lot of similarities. Firstly, no code is perfect. As Pito Salas has said more than once, there will always be bugs. What we can do is try fix as many bugs as possible and build a system that does not crash or fall apart from a single bug. In the same way, life will always have it's imperfections, but we still need to keep trying to improve upon the bugs. The way we can do this is by working consistently, and never giving up.

I've also learned during my time here, just like many of you have, that the smallest change in code, a change of a single character can improve a program beyond comprehension. In life, the smallest new habit or act of kindness can alter your life drastically. Code is not always easy, but we can choose to either look at it with frustration and despair or we can look at it with excitement, curiosity, and wonder. The same is true for life. In a field that is analytical, I encourage you all to stay curious and creative. Start a side project that seems crazy just because it interests you. Don't stop learning, exploring, and playing.

Before I end, I absolutely must say thank you to our amazing faculty and staff for helping us get here. Your support, tremendous strength, guidance, flexibility and innovation during this time has been brilliant. On behalf of my class, thank you so much. I also must take this opportunity to thank my support system. My mom, my step dad, my family, my friends and my partner. I'm sure everyone here was not alone throughout the completion of this degree. I'm sure many family members and friends were here for this class in times of stress. Thank you so much to all of you.

Lastly, to my fellow classmates, you are here today despite all the challenges thrown at you. You have overcome so much to be here. Gaining a degree like this has taken hours of working, debugging, and knocking your head against the wall. But you did it. You have the spirit to overcome anything life throws at you, including a global pandemic. No matter where life takes you, please do not lose that spirit. Congratulations. I hope you will continue to use your coding powers to build a life that is satisfying, and makes your soul come alive. Thank you.

Nianwen Xue: Thank you, Jade. So now let's have our faculty representative, Professor Pito Salas speak.

[Pito Salas in a suit and tie is seated in front of a Zoom virtual background of a blue slide. The text on the slide reads: "We're standing on their shoulders. What goes around, comes around. Stress shows you are challenging yourself." Under the text, a small black and white photo of a boy is captioned: "Pito Salas '76."]

Pito Salas: Good morning. Thank you, Jade. I can tell you're a theater person 'cause you delivered it beautifully, better than I will be able to. Good morning, graduates' family members, friends, other Brandeis community members. I do appreciate and welcome the opportunity to say a few words today of recognition in celebration of this. Let me start with the obvious. It's been a very weird semester for all of us. You may not be able to tell, but for example my hair is just way too long — I really need a haircut. Seriously, just from my own perspective, it's been quite something to watch you respond and cope with the sudden and radical change in your day to day life. Just two short months ago, it seems like practically from one day to the next, you all had to move off campus, stop coming to classes, and then pick up things as if nothing changed, over zoom. But of course, everything had changed. We suddenly were teaching and learning remotely over zoom.

That's an obvious dramatic change and challenge in and of itself, but it took me a little longer to realize the impact of being away from your classmates and the campus must have had on your ability to learn. I didn't quite understand initially the power of working alongside classmates, whether it's in class or outside of class. That that community brings mutual support and encouragement and motivation and support. And suddenly, you're home, maybe with siblings, parents, other family members. As one student said to me, it's like being on some weird combination of being in school while being on break. It's been hard, but wow, you did it, you made it. You found a way to manage and kept your side of the bargain. And so here we are at your graduation.

I want to congratulate all of you, students and also family members and loved ones, who are all impacted and still kept things going. There are a few simple ideas I want to share with you today based on my own personal experience that I've applied to my own life and continue to do so. Maybe there'll be a nugget here that might mean something to you.

You've worked hard, you've studied, you've learned, you did a ton of homework. You've gotten a lot of grades, and we're celebrating your actual graduation. Now what? It's very easy to be influenced by what you think you are supposed to do, what you always were expected to do from yourself or from others. It's smart to listen to the wisdom of others but, you know, in the end I believe that only you know what in your heart of hearts is right for you.

As you can see from the little picture on the right there, I'm actually a Brandeis alum, a few years ago. There's my picture. I came in as a pre-med student, believe it or not. And when I got that D- for organic chemistry I switched to Computer Science, which was of course a smart move. I suggest that you think hard and listen closely to what your inner thoughts or your subconscious is telling you, and try to block out some of the noise. And then when you're deciding on your next step, remember, it's just one step; it's not the rest of your life. Choose carefully and think but remember that this is just the first step, a very important one, but it's not forever. In fact, statistically, and on average you'll change jobs two or three times in the next ten years.

My second point. No one has achieved anything on their own. You are where you are today as I am where I am today because of what my parents and even my ancestors did before me. I'm standing and you are standing on their shoulders. The decisions they made, the choices, the sacrifices — think about it. Thank them. Appreciate them. And be ready to support and help the ones that come after you.

Along those lines, reach out and make connections. Lend a hand, give some advice. Share some experiences with others in your field. Do it as a gift to them. Others will do it for you as a gift to you. It means taking the time to make connections and stay in touch with the people you feel a connection to. Classmates, certainly. My two best friends today I met at Brandeis 40 years ago. But also others you meet at a conference, at a presentation, at a course, at a family gathering. Take the time to stay in touch with them, answer their emails, introduce them to each other. You will be amazed in what surprising ways this will impact you in the future.

Finally, remember, and this I believe. When you start a new chapter and are worrying about the impression you will make, bring it. Show up, be present. Whatever's expected, do a little more. Under promise and over deliver as they say. And when you feel a little stress, a little anxiety related to the commitments you've taken on, the projects you are trying to complete, the work you have to do, take that as a reminder that you're growing, that you've chosen to challenge yourself to see how far you can go. Don't choose the easy path, the easy course, the easy job. You're selling yourself short. Challenge yourself because I believe if you don't feel a little tense, like I do now, a little stress, it means you're not making the most of what you can do and how far you can go.

So to the graduating students and your loved ones, what a year it's been! Really. I wish you all the best in whatever comes next for you, and again congratulate you for this important achievement and milestone in your life. It's a year none of us will forget. Thank you.

Nianwen Xue: Thank you, Pito. So, now comes the most important part. Professor Hongfu Liu will read the names of the graduates.

[Hongfu Liu in a suit and tie is seated in front of a Zoom virtual background of Shapiro Science Center. As he reads the name of each graduate, they are shown briefly on screen. The professors all applaud after each name.]

Hongfu Liu: Hello, everyone. It's my honor to read the names of the graduate students in the class of 2020. Okay, let's start.

Okay, congratulations again to all the graduate students included in the Class of 2020.

Nianwen Xue: Congratulations, class of 2020. So when the ceremony is over, the faculty will, you have a chance to talk with the faculty members who will be waiting in their virtual rooms. So the ceremony will end with the singing of the Brandeis Alma Mater sung by the Brandeis chamber music chorus, which has two of our graduate students.

An opaque blue slide shows the Brandeis University logo with the insignia on its left, centered on the slide. The text below it reads:
The Brandeis Alma Mater
performed by the
Brandeis Chamber Singers
Dr. Robert Duff, conductor

A Zoom video call shows each singer in a collage view. As they sing, a video of campus landmarks feature:
The Brandeis University entrance sign
Shapiro Campus Center behind the statue of Louis Brandeis
An overhead view of the Shapiro Science Center]

"To thee, Alma Mater
We'll always be true
All hail to thy standard
The white and the blue
Proclaiming thy future
Recalling thy past
Our hopes spring from mem'ries eternally cast
With sorrows we'll leave thee
New worlds to create
May deeds of thy children
Make thee forever great
May deeds of thy children
Make thee forever great!"

[Fade to black]