Rackham graduates encouraged to ‘be open to the unexpected’

Maria M. Klawe’s words at the Rackham Graduate Exercises reflected on her life experiences, which boiled down to three pieces of advice.

“Pursue a passion where there is a need, be open to the unexpected and unwanted, and it’s never too late to learn something difficult,” Klawe said.

A computer scientist, scholar and president of Harvey Mudd College, Klawe delivered the April 29 keynote address at Hill Auditorium to those receiving master’s and doctoral degrees.

“Whether in research or in changing the world, the most important elements are: Pick a good problem, persist and work hard especially when success is doubtful, and regularly evaluate your approach and be willing to rethink your strategy.”

Photo of Maria Klawe speaking
Maria M. Klawe, computer scientist and Harvey Mudd College president, addressed the Rackham Graduate Exercises. (Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography)

Prior to joining Harvey Mudd College, Klawe was dean of engineering and professor of computer science at Princeton University and served in several administrative and faculty positions at the University of British Columbia. She also spent eight years with IBM Research in California and two years at the University of Toronto.

Klawe spoke on the importance of learning something particularly challenging and how it helps one become a better learner and teacher.

Photo of Rackham graduate cheering
A graduate cheers during the Rackham Graduate Exercises. (Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography)

“Our society generally advises people to focus on what comes easily to them. I think it’s important to also focus on learning things we find difficult.”

Klawe is receiving an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree.

The Rackham Graduate Exercises marked the first time in two years that Rackham held an in-person ceremony, Last year’s event was conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the U-M community also spoke at the ceremony, including President Mary Sue Coleman, Provost Susan M. Collins, Board of Regents Chair Jordan Acker, Rackham Graduate School Dean Michael Solomon, Faculty Senate Chair Allen Liu and graduating U-M doctoral student Valerie Nwadeyi.

In her remarks, Coleman applauded the graduates for not only having earned an advanced degree from the university, but for doing so during a global pandemic.

“You taught classes, passed written exams, wrote and defended theses and dissertations, all at a time when the world was in disarray,” Coleman said. “And now that the country and world are re-opening, we desperately need you. We need the new knowledge you are creating and the truths you are sharing.”

Solomon said that as holders of advanced degrees, graduates are uniquely equipped to harness their skills in research, scholarship and artistic expression to drive vital change.

“Your discoveries, your creations, are meant to resonate throughout a world in need,” he said. “There are so many different ways in which your work and scholarship can ultimately impact the public good, which at its highest level is what graduate education is all about.”

Watch a video of the Rackham Graduate Exercises.

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