On June 17, 2017, I had the honor to speak about what being an Engineer means to me in front of 10,000+ people in Pauley Pavilion, at the 2017 UCLA Engineering Commencement for PhDs, Masters, and Bachelors degree recipients. As the Commencement Student Speaker, I wanted to find a voice that resonates with all Engineers, and so I focused on the qualities that applies to all of us moving forward: Mentorship. Learning. Community.
“Power comes not from knowledge kept, but from knowledge shared.”” — Bill Gates
Likewise, I believe that shared knowledge is very powerful, so I have provided my full commencement speech below. The full video of my speech is on YouTube here (starts at 1:59:20).
Good afternoon, friends, family, UCLA engineering faculty, and of course, the UCLA Engineering Class of 2017!
Tomorrow is Father’s Day, so I wanted to thank my dad, and all the fathers out there in this stadium. Thank you!
And now, to the graduates: Congratulations on this phenomenal achievement. It is absolutely amazing that we have the opportunity to celebrate our commencement in the legendary Pauley Pavilion. I had a lot of great memories in this space: cheering in the student section during Basketball games and Gymnastics meets, watching my friends perform at UCLA’s annual Spring Sing Talent Show, dancing for 26 hours non-stop at Dance Marathon, and lastly, organizing an event here that is very special to me: LA Hacks.
LA Hacks is a hackathon, a competition where the goal is to build innovative products within the span of 36 hours. The LA Hacks team has always believed that hackathons inspire the next generation of students to pursue STEM related fields; I was inspired to major in Computer Science after attending my first hackathon; While choosing my major was straightforward for me, I found myself constantly trying to answer the question: “What does being an engineer mean to me?”
When you hear the word ‘Engineer’, what is the first image, or word, or description you think of? Now I know we are all proud to be graduating engineers, and I am sure some of us will move on to make a breakthrough in the STEM cell research, develop new synthetic materials, create the next unicorn startup, send a team of astronauts to new planets and beyond, or construct a brand-new transportation system that can finally solve LA’s traffic. In fact, that might be what you all thought about: the technical problems your engineering major can solve.
When I hear the word Engineer, these are the three universal things I see:
First, I see MENTORSHIP. There continues to be a large barrier of entry for STEM related fields, especially engineering. As we move on to industry, graduate school, or other fields of work, we have the power to be advocates for the next generation of engineers. Bill Gates once said “Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared”, and this resonated with me every week in my CS 88S class, an undergraduate seminar I taught on cybersecurity. The class was open to any student, no programming or CS background required, just an interest for a more cybersecurity-aware society. The first step to breaking down the barrier to STEM is to spark passion, and that cannot happen without mentorship. Being an engineer is about helping others, spreading knowledge, and using your experience to guide people in doing their best.
Next, I see LEARNING. We received two forms of education here at UCLA. In the classrooms and lectures, we learned about engineering methodologies — all the core math, physics, and chemistry that we have grown to love. However, in the college environment and student body, we became aware about our field’s gender, intersectionality, and diversity issues. Only when we are open to learning new ideas will we understand the problems that lie ahead, and in turn, what we need to do to solve them. Learning does not stop once we leave college; in fact, learning is a lifelong endeavor, an intellectual growth way beyond university. It is up to us to grow as individuals, learn with each other, and live those moments well.
This leads me to my last observation: I see a COMMUNITY. There are more than 40 UCLA engineering student organizations. Some cater to specific majors, some welcome any type of engineering, but they all have one theme in common: they build community, a supportive group of individuals who treat each other equally and with respect. We did not make it to this day by ourselves alone. At some point or another, we all had our community to fall back on, to support us, and to carry us to this day! While engineers around the world have made significant technological advancements, such as self-driving cars, bionic limbs, and reusable rockets, we have yet to resolve key issues in our very own community: gender discrimination and racial inequality in the workplace. We were able to build such a great engineering community here at UCLA, now it is our time to help make that happen outside of the college campus.
A single word, now with a deeper meaning than before: Mentorship. Learning. Community. That is what being an engineer means for me. Let us all not only keep these three qualities in mind, but also bring them to reality in our own respective fields! Today, we graduate; but tomorrow, while we all have our own path to follow, we have a collective responsibility to uphold our understanding of what being an Engineer means to us, to our society, and to the future we will help create! Thank you!