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Academic Ceremonies - December Commencement

Closing Reflection:
Joshua C. Bongard
Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Joshua Bongard

“What do I do now?” That’s what I found myself asking, as I walked back from the
White House in D.C. to my hotel this past October.

I was incredibly fortunate to have just received an award from President Obama, along
with 93 other young professors from across the United States, for our research, and our
attempts to include undergraduates and high school students and public school students in
that work.

This presidential award capped off a very successful period in my professional life.
Ever since I was a young kid I had wanted to be a scientist, and build robots, and teach
others about robots. And now, at 37, I’ve done pretty much everything a professor can do.

Together with my students we’ve published several successful research papers. I helped
to write a well-received book. I’ve managed to convince the government so far to
contribute over a million dollars of funding for my work. And since government funding
ultimately comes from the American taxpayer, I’d like to thank each working parent in
the audience for contributing about 0.7 cents to my research. I’ve also had the pleasure of
working with some amazingly bright graduate students, one of whom is graduating but
couldn’t be here. I’ve also had the pleasure of interacting with some amazingly bright
undergraduate students, a couple of whom are here today.

So: “What do I do now?”

I ’ll bet that many of you that are graduating are also asking “What do I do now?”
Graduation is an obvious turning point in most people’s lives, and is a natural time to ask
such a question. Some of you may not yet have found a job. Some of you may not know
whether you want to go to grad school, or work, or travel, or help your community.

On the other hand, some of you may have a job or graduate position all lined up. Some of
you may have no doubt about what the next step in your life is. You may have a job that
starts on Monday, or in the new year, or perhaps you’ve already started and have been
carrying homework and a new job on your shoulders at the same time. Maybe some of
you are ready to start graduate school next month. Maybe some of you are preparing to
help our state recover from Hurricane Irene.

Or perhaps you’re preparing to help out with recovery or prevention programs
somewhere else in the world. Maybe some are ready for some well-deserved time off.
Maybe some of you have two seasons worth of “America’s Got Talent” backed up on
TiVo and know exactly what you’re going to be doing over the holidays.

For those of you that have no doubt yet, have no doubt that you will have doubt. [I think I
got that right.] Maybe you’ll ask yourself at 37 what do I do now, or perhaps you’ll ask it
at 57, or 97. But sooner or later you will ask it.

But enough about us here in this room. Let’s take a step back for a moment. At the end of
the Second World War, our grandparent’s generation asked themselves “What do we do
now?” They responded by building and maintaining one of the longest periods of peace
and prosperity in history. But our state, our country and the world is coming to the end of
that long period of prosperity. What worked in the past is no longer working. In terms of
our economy, our environment, and ourselves, we as a society are also now asking,
“What do we do now?”

But where would be without doubt? If we all knew, at every moment, in every situation,
what to do next, life would simply be a set of steps to carry out. Life would be a recipe,
it’d be a set of instructions.

But life is certainly none of those things. It’s full of doubt, it’s full of surprise, it’s full of
fun. It’s an adventure. And most of you are just getting started. Welcome to it.
So, in closing, let me ask our organizers for today:

“What do we do now?”

Last modified January 22 2012 10:24 AM

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