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2007 Commencement Address

Commencement Address

Dean Yannis C. Yortsos
The USC Viterbi School of Engineering
May 11, 2007

Commencement is a wonderful time of the year…

For all of us, it is the culmination of a year of relentless efforts in teaching and research…

Students graduate and carry with them all the rich experiences they have accumulated over all these years, from their interactions with our faculty in teaching and in research…

In the fall new students will join us, and this cycle will recommence… It is this renewal process- the farewell to the graduates and the welcome to the new ones - that we are celebrating every year…

I will begin by saying what a privilege it is to serve as the dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering…

And by telling our 2007 graduates what an honor it is to be standing before you and addressing you this morning…

You have accomplished a great deal, and we are all very proud of you.

You should also be proud… and more than a little excited.

The world – soon to be your world – grows more complex each day, and so do the challenges but also the opportunities that unfold before you.

But don’t worry… You have studied the right disciplines for your times… and you have been equipped with the best toolkit for the 21st century…

The Viterbi School of Engineering is now 101 years old- but more dynamic and energetic than ever- and you are the first graduating class of its second century. Yours is a special class! Thousands of engineering graduates before you stood at this very place to receive their degrees, like you do today. Then, they moved on with to build, transform and innovate, and made a better world.

Today, thanks in no small part to your predecessors, we are witnessing the triumph of the human mind, as expressed in the marvel of engineering and technological accomplishments… Science, engineering and technology are transforming the world in ways never before seen or imagined- and they engage humankind in an exhilarating dance…

But the advancements made in the previous decades, the pace of change and innovation is now accelerating at an exponential rate.

The landscape is breathtaking… The possibilities boundless… And yours will be the generation that will paint the canvas of the future and steer this evolution.

It will be you who will devise the new alternative energy sources, who will solve vexing climate problems, who will help lift millions from poverty, by lighting the engine of economic development, who will master the miracles of biology to eradicate diseases, who will educate and enlighten…

In the new century engineering will flourish in exciting new areas: nanotechnology, quantum computing, and molecular electronics… which promise unprecedented new materials and devices; in biomedical, biochemical technologies and nanomedicine that will give us the knowledge required to cure diseases; in the development of energy and alternative energy sources; and in the management of natural resources and the environmental quality; all of immense importance in the global world we live.

Engineering will also emerge as an enabling technology throughout the arts and sciences. It will help solve up-to-now intractable problems in cognitive sciences, the science of learning… even social and political sciences.

Let me congratulate you, because you picked the right major for these unprecedented times, stayed with it, despite moments of frustration, and mastered it…

You also came to the right place. Did I mention that the USNWR earlier last month ranked us again at the top 10 in the nation- tied for 7th place with Caltech?

Indeed, because you were educated at this wonderful School your toolkit contains more than the advanced technical skills you need to face the future…

Your education is balanced – your right- and left- brain skills (analysis and synthesis, dissection and creation) were challenged and nourished. We provided room for your personal creativity (assuming you had some free time…), and encouraged you to use it.

Innovative team activities, community involvement, service learning, all parts of the Viterbi student experience, gave you the opportunity to connect with the world outside the ivy tower, a world where understanding the human factor is as important as solving the Laplace equation.

You have experienced leadership opportunities … which will be invaluable as you take your destiny and that of others in your hands…

Society, and this nation, have a great need for all that you have to offer – accurate knowledge, dispassionate judgment, pervasive problem solving ability, astonishing creativity, boundless energy and optimism, a talent for innovation, integrity and compassion, and the thirst to make a difference and to leave your mark, in a connected, truly global world.

When you think about what you want to do, think that the entire world is your field of opportunity.

You might as well --you’re going to have to anyway. In this era of globalization, the entire planet will provide your challenge and will be your competition. The world has become larger- and smaller at the same time. Respect the differences, celebrate the diversity in opinion, culture, and human experience. Somewhere in your classes you have learned that in a complex, non-linear system, inputs with many frequencies lead to wonderful new states. Embrace the challenges with vision and courage.

The world we live in changes everyday in unpredictable ways. But your background is the best tool to understand it and make it better. This background is quickly becoming the great enabling tool for virtually all fields of endeavor.

You will be as adept at designing a company as at designing a rocket engine or a computer chip. And you will be as ready to pursue a career in business or medicine or law or public policy as a career in engineering itself.

Wouldn’t it be great, for a change, to have people in public policy who know how things work? Even better, how to make things work?

Your best chance of success will come from doing what you love…

Tom Friedman, the noted author of the flat world, gave a well-received commencement speech at Williams College a couple of years ago. His number one tip for graduates was: do what you love. The flatter the world gets, the more essential it is that you do what inspires you and what fulfills you.

Friedman said that in this increasingly flat world, the most important attributes you can have are adaptability and a creative imagination, the ability to be the first on your block to figure out how all these enabling tools, now available to so many more people, can be put together in new and exciting ways.

And, remember, while you’re doing these great things, where you came from –
Today you are joining the Trojan Family as brand new alumni… It is the fringe benefit of a USC education…

And you are also becoming the newest ambassadors of the Viterbi School – we are most proud to have you represent us out in the world. We will miss you but I know that we will always be with you.

And remember too who got you to this day…

Your journey at USC has become possible by the constant care and support from the most important people who are gathered here today—parents, families, and friends. So, on a day in which you are rightly the center of attention, I would ask you graduates to rise and join me in a round of applause, for those who have supported you each and every step in your academic journey, (those who have paid your tuition) your family and friends:

Thank you.

The Viterbi school’s vision can be summarized in four sentences:

First at USC
A leader in the nation
With constantly rising quality
And excellence in all our endeavors

Today, you are the embodiment of this vision.

As you leave today with our blessing, that of your parents and friends, and with the official Viterbi School seal of approval, this is my wish for you: Do what you love and you will reach for the stars! And when you reach there, take a moment to look back and you will see a caring and supporting institution that admires you, is proud of you and embraces you for all the wonders you are certain to accomplish!

Fight on!