Just figuring stuff out.
Archive for May, 2009
On May 17, 2009, I graduated from Boston University. (Please see my biography for more details on my education.) The Mathematics Department ceremony was at 9 AM that morning, and the university-wide commencement exercises were held at 1 PM that afternoon. While these were obviously exciting events for everyone involved, I was extra-excited about the department ceremony because I would be giving the student speech! (While my father and brother knew about this, my mother and grandmother didn’t. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I entered with the professors and sat down onstage!)
Professor Hall approached me about a month before the ceremony and asked me to give a “short, happy” speech. As long as it was brief and upbeat, I could talk about anything I chose to. Free reign for presentations is a great thing, but it also meant that I needed to put some thought into an appropriate topic. Friends of mine suggested that I “let epsilon be greater than 0″ and somehow prove that we’d all be happy, successful people in five years. Since most of the members of the audience would probably be of the non-math variety, though, I tried to find a more universal topic that would appeal to everyone. (Besides, that proof sounds non-trivial at best.)
Seeking inspiration, I turned to my list of books I’ve read recently and came upon Not Quite What I Was Planning. This book is a collection of six-word memoirs written by a few celebrities but mostly by ordinary people and submitted online to SMITH Magazine. When I read this book in April, I was blown away by the amount of emotion people managed to pack into their six words. Flipping through page after page of smart, funny, witty, regretful, or deep memoirs forced me to think about my own life, both thus far and in the future, and at six words each, the “brevity” aspect of my speech was under control. I thought that I could draw an appropriate amount of interesting, funny, and insightful material from this theme, so I wrote and memorized a speech that included a few of my favorite memoirs, a couple of my own creations, and some encouraging words on setting and achieving goals in the future.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the speech would be received. I didn’t share the text with any of my friends or family, and because my parents were in town all weekend, I didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse during the few days leading up to the speech. However, I really enjoy public speaking and thought the text turned out well, so I was optimistic going into it. After Professor D’Agostino’s opening remarks and introduction, up I went to the podium, where I delivered what I thought was a very good rendition of the speech. The audience seemed to enjoy it, too; one of my own six word memoirs was “Math graduation speaker receives standing ovation” and they actually gave me a standing ovation when I finished! The rest of the ceremony flew by in a blur, and by 11 AM, I was holding my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mathematics and the College Prize for Excellence in Statistics. What a thrill!
I was ready to declare victory with the speech, but less than 36 hours later, I received a Facebook message from Rachel Fershleiser, one of the co-authors of Not Quite What I Was Planning. She heard via a Google Alert and this blog post that I had given a speech referencing her book, and she wanted to learn more about the speech. We exchanged messages and I sent her a copy of the text, which she seemed to really enjoy. As of now, she’d like to publish the speech, and it will be interesting to see how this turns out!