So, I graduated today. There is so much I could write about it, but the scariest part, but also the most rewarding was being able to speak at convocation for the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. I worked hard at it, and I feel that it expresses my feelings for today very well. So here it is. Enjoy.
I’m a math major, so I have to ask, what does a BYU undergrad’s experience equal? For me, its 56 classes, 47 professors, 15 roommates, 10 semesters, 9 binge-watched TV shows, 4 apartments, 3 on-campus jobs, 2 major changes, and 2 grad school acceptances, all for 1 piece of paper with my name on it. This seems like a lot, so why am I excited and yet sad at the same time? Why do I jump at the chance to go somewhere new and make my own path, yet tremble at the idea of leaving my home for the past four years?
Part of it is the feeling of accomplishment – we’ve made it! We are done and the things we have accomplished are great. Think of that test you studied all week for and somehow managed to pass. Think of the project that you were working on all semester, and it still became a mad rush to finish in the last two weeks. Think of the early morning class you could never quite make it on time to, and the afternoon class you always seemed to sleep through. Think of the class you never thought you would pass, and think of the late hours in the library or dark corners of the Talmage, Eyring, or the Benson building working towards that passing grade. All those tasks are finished and through them we have gathered a large base of knowledge and skills to bring into the next stage of our lives.
But it wasn’t just the classes that made our time at BYU great. Think of the friends you’ve made, both in class and out, that helped you with those tests and projects, or even just helped you let off some steam when the class load got too hard. Think of the professors that consistently spent office hours or even extra hours helping you understand the material or giving you advice about classes, internships, or graduate schools. Think of the roommates that might have driven you crazy with a sink consistently full of dishes, but that were also there when life got too hard. They were there for the late movie nights, the rejections, the hopes and dreams. As much as what we have accomplished these past years is something to be proud of, the people we have met, grown to love, and who have changed us are worth treasuring, thanking, and always remembering.
I’d like to share one of the best things I learned here at BYU, and it wasn’t from a certain class or one huge revelation. It was a slow change that has happened over the past four years thanks to friends, family, and the professors I’ve met here at BYU.
Four years ago, little freshman Jessica sat down in her first college class. It was a scary 300 level religion class that she desperately wanted to take, but was terrified to because she was a little freshman. As the teacher got farther into the syllabus her heart sank. The assignments seemed too much, the writing too intense, and all the other students seem much older and sure of themselves. There was no way she could get a good grade! As soon as the class ended, Jessica raced to the library, found a computer, dropped the class, and added a Book of Mormon class instead.
Two years later, I was once again in a class where the teacher spent the whole first day going on and on about how it was going to be the hardest thing I would do in college. I was faced with a programming language I didn’t know and fellow students who not only seemed much older but were almost all male. Once again, my stomach started twisting and I started wondering if there would be anyone who wanted to work with me, if I would be able to learn python while keeping up with the assignments, and if I could handle the math proofs and computational homework. All this while that little nagging voice kept answering “you can’t do it, you CAN’T do it.”
This time, however, I stayed in the class which was my first in the Applied and Computational Math Emphasis. The next two years, as I went through the program, were the hardest things I’ve done in college. I found myself staying on campus later and later and spending more and more time in the computer lab staring at bits of code, hoping they’d fix themselves. I wrote proof after proof, until the details all started to blur in my mind and I couldn’t tell convex from concave. I filled whiteboards and whiteboards with formulas studying for tests. But with the help of friends and professors, I made it. And not only did I survive, but I excelled. I’d had enough confidence to stay in the class after that first day and when I saw that my hard work brought success that confidence grew until I’ve been able to present about my own research at conferences and apply to graduate schools I never would have dreamed of. This confidence has enabled me to explore areas to find what I’m passionate about and to create friendships better than I’ve ever had. I’ve learned that if I’m willing to do the work, I can accomplish absolutely anything.
And this knowledge is what I want to share with you today. Take the passions and interests you’ve found during your time here at BYU and pursue them! You have the skills and knowledge you need, and if you don’t you can gain them - the resources are there if you are willing to put in the work. As much as I enjoyed the Book of Mormon class I took, I never did find time to take that religion class I ran away from four years ago and I plan on never repeating that mistake again. This fall I am heading to Duke University to start my PhD in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and I plan on taking full advantage of the resources there in order to accomplish the most I can and best learn how to do my own original research. All of us have a bright future ahead because of the wonderful environment BYU has provided. As we face both the joy and sorrow that today brings, remember, success is ahead if you just have the confidence to work for your dreams.
Thank you, and congratulations.