Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Remain a Heretic

Dr. Redig
There I am, as you can tell by my face, mid-commencement address. The follow is a transcript of that address. 

"  At first, when I learned I was going to give this speech I was excited. But then quickly I realized I had no idea what I was going to be doing. So I did what I always do when I need to figure out how to do something. I went to the internet. 
When in the internet!
(Except I know better than to use Internet Explorer)
More specifically, I went to my Facebook page and found that little box of “favorite quotations”, which I had been adding to over my time in graduate school. And in reading these quotes I realized that my struggles in graduate school are the same struggles I will have going forward. Thus, today I want to share with you some of the quotes that helped get me through

I went to my Facebook "favorite quotations" for inspiration.

But before I share with you the first quote, I need to tell you about my first year of graduate school. It was exhausting and terrifying. 

In graduate school, I found myself surrounded by all of you: bright, highly motivated and hardworking students.  And you scared me. I found myself fearing complete failure by comparison. Later, I learned that this is not an uncommon experience in graduate school. But I did not know that at the time.

Obviously, since all of you are here today, you either got over your fear of failure during school to accomplish great things, or you are just a fearless rockstar. So to all the rockstars out there: no one wants to hear from you. But for the rest of us mere mortals, we had to find a way to work through our fear. And I believe fear of failure is something we will continue to battle throughout life.

I would like to share the quote that helped get me through my first year: By George Bernard Shaw, 

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” 

The lesson being, do not let your fear-of-failure prevent you from trying to accomplish difficult things.

How could you not quote GBS, just look at him.
After my bout of imposter syndrome, I settled in and was able to notice what my friends were doing. What they were doing varied greatly.  But what they were not doing was almost universal. They were not still in school and they were not as strapped for cash and time as I was. They travelled, they went out and they appeared to do more living than me.

And frankly I was jealous. I feared I was missing out on my youth.  But I do not have to tell all of you that the long road towards an advanced degree can feel restrictive. But then I found solace.  Solace in the fact that, this is always going to be the case.

…Wait that did not make you feel better?

Let me explain. Most of us are now trained to embark upon challenging careers, careers that while being worthwhile and rewarding, are blessings. But like all jobs, our careers will also be filled with the mundane, the inglorious and the frustrating. And I guarantee they will be time consuming.  So how do we deal with this? 

Well, I found help in this second quote by Marcel Proust, 

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

This is really just a fancier version of “wherever you go, there you are.” After all, there is no guarantee that traveling to exotic locations will make you grow, learn and become a better, more interesting person. Instead, it is, and always will be your day-to-day responsibility, no matter where you are, to make the effort to see the novel and the opportunities before you. And only then are you guaranteed to grow and take full advantage of this lifetime.

Marcel Proust
Speaking of grasping opportunities, I do not know about you but I entered science because I liked learning how things work. Accordingly, I spent the first 16+ years of school doing just that, learning how things work, memorizing truths, memorizing facts, memorizing dates and standards. 

Then I entered graduate school. And I learned about probabilities and how to formulate hypotheses. I stopped “proving things” and now merely “support ideas.” And I love this new world of the unknown. But I am wary.

We are still young.  Right now we are the fresh eyes. We have few presumptions, few political alliances. We are still mostly unfettered free agents, able to explore, question and conjecture with relative immunity.  But I am wary that this will not always be the case.

And this brings me to my last quote, this time from Thomas Henry Huxley.  (You might have learned about him in school as “Darwin’s bulldog.”)  He said,

“It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.”

I like this quote because it reminds me, as I develop into an established investigator, that I must ferociously guard this newly acquired freedom of thought. And I urge you all to do the same and to always remain the heretics.

Huxley (Darwin's Bulldog) with some rockin' mutton chops.
In conclusion, everyone here should be proud of all the hard work and dedication put in.  I want to take this moment to acknowledge the sacrifices you made to get here.

That being said, I do not think we should be proud of ours skills – for they were taught.  Nor can we be proud of our talents – because they were simply inborn. None of us arrived here without substantial investment from others. Therefore, I would also like to take this time to thank all the parents, spouses, teachers and friends who supported and grew us along the way. Thank you. We are in your debt.

Lastly, as you walk out this door dreaming big dreams about your future, I am going to be the bearer of bad news: there is no “there.”  There is no dream job waiting, no dream house, no finally “making it”, or perfect state of living – only living. That being said, do not ever stop chasing all of those “theres”, just remember to also enjoy the journey along the way.

And with that, I would like to say: Congratulations class of 2011 on a job well done! Keep up all the hard work. "

You agree? You think this speech is bull? Love to hear from you either way.

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