Keynote: Phyllis Callahan

  Phyllis Callahan, University Provost photo

 Thank you, Dean Dollar, for inviting me to speak this evening to our graduating class from the College of Engineering and Computing. It is an honor and a privilege and I appreciate the opportunity.

I want to add my congratulations to each and every graduate. You are an accomplished group, and after years of hard work, dedication and drive, you are earning your Baccalaureate or Master’s degree in Computer Science or Engineering. Way to go!  

In life and at Miami, each of you has likely faced your own challenges or difficulties, moments of doubt or even failure, but you have persisted and you will reap the benefits of that determination and grit as you leave Miami to pursue your goals and dreams.

While it is true that providing the keynote address at your recognition ceremony is certainly an honor for me—and I’m so pleased to be here—I am well aware that few people actually remember any of the speeches from their graduations.          It’s true.     And that’s as it should be. The ceremony is not about the speakers. It is about you, the graduates. So you will be my focus. 

Your colleague, Prasidh, shared an incredibly inspiring story—one that altered his life and serves as a lesson for all of us to take nothing for granted.  As I thought about my own story, I wondered what I could share that you might find useful. What lessons have I learned over the course of my own education and career—including 31 years (yes, 31 years!) as a faculty member at Miami —that might motivate you as you enter the work force or pursue additional study. What might I say to help inspire you to make a difference? 

There is a great visual image of computing and engineering. One that, I think, applies to many fields, but is particularly appropriate to Engineering and Computing. It is a beautiful picture of the globe – our world - with the words “FIX IT” superimposed on it. That is what your academic training and Miami experiences have prepared you to do. Fix it. Fix the problems. Fix the world. 

No small task, to be sure, but I challenge you to do it.

So, allow me to share some of the lessons I’ve learned that, I hope, might help you think about how you will “FIX IT” …and ones you might remember! 

  1. I’ve learned the value of truly collaborative interactions that encompass diverse perspectives;
  2. I’ve learned the importance of a strong work ethic; and
  3. I’ve learned to understand privilege and to accept the responsibility that comes with that privilege.

First, the value of collaboration:  True collaboration is hard work, but it yields powerful results. Diversity of perspectives, training and backgrounds—from different groups of people working together in cooperative, collaborative ways—gives us better solutions to the complex problems we face as a society.   It is that simple.

You have had an opportunity to experience firsthand CEC’s commitment to socially engaged engineering and computing—to learn how to apply the valuable knowledge you have acquired to solving complex problems in a socially responsible way. In other words, to consider not just the technical aspects of a problem, but to address the human aspects as well.

Your liberal arts education—yes those wonderful Global Miami Plan courses!—has prepared you to understand how vital it is to include different perspectives to successfully answer questions and solve problems. You will have the opportunity to solve the kinds of problems that plague our communities, our country and our world.       And we need you to do that. 

The second lesson I’ve learned is that a strong work ethic is critically important to success. I am confident that you have already learned this one. The mere fact that you are here indicates you understand that it is through hard work and dedication that we achieve success. Period.    This same strong work ethic will help you as you begin collaborating with others to solve those problems our communities, country and world will have to face.

Third, I ask you to reflect on the privilege you have been given—the privilege to attend this great university and to earn your engineering or computer science degree. To be part of an elite group. And make no mistake, you are part of an elite group. According to the National Center of Educational Statistics, only 27 % of all STEM degrees awarded since 2012 are in Engineering fields, and an even smaller number—only 7% are awarded in computer science.

I ask you to consider that with this privilege comes responsibility to serve society—to “fix it” —whatever that “it” is. To tackle the difficult problems— ask those difficult questions, and to address —with focus and determination — the challenging problems facing our world. 

I would like to add something else. Regardless of your own story, whatever obstacles you might face, or maybe despite them, be optimistic and persistent. My background and training is in the biological sciences. When I was an undergraduate, there were very few women in my STEM classes. Today, the biological sciences are fairly well gender balanced. That is phenomenal progress and it happened in my lifetime as a result of individuals’ strong commitment to change – to making my field more inclusive and diverse.  As I reflect on my own life and experiences, I remember those people who supported me, who fostered my professional growth and gave me the opportunity to succeed and I am so grateful to each and every one of them.  I encourage you to be part of enhancing diversity in your own field –be inclusive, share your expertise, be a mentor.

This evening I’ve tried to offer some reflections on the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my education and career. I hope some of them resonate with you. The fact is, however, none of us knows what life has in store for us. 

What I do know is that you have been given an opportunity.  A gift the privilege to receive an excellent education from a fine institution and now, as you leave Miami, I am going to ask you to do 3 things— consider it your final assignment. 

First, I ask you to remember to be grateful for your Miami education and to use it wisely.  Remember those who gave you this opportunity. Your parents, your grandparents, your family, however you define family, are celebrating your accomplishments with great pride. Try to remember that all of our accomplishments—big or small—are, in some part, due to the support and nurturing of others. Remember to say thank you and mean it.

Second, I ask you to keep learning, stay curious, commit to your work, and always work harder than those around you. Seek out ways to make a difference, solve problems, help others and have a positive impact. We are counting on you!

Third, I ask you to remember us and to keep in touch with your faculty and staff. We have tried to provide a rich learning environment for you so you could thrive and excel.  We have worked hard, to the best of our abilities, to provide a myriad of educational opportunities for you. What you do with your Miami education is now up to each of you. 

When I think about the future and the issues our global society will have to confront—issues that we don’t even recognize yet, I think about the fact that I have a grandchild coming very soon (my 4 th!) and I wonder what the world will be like for her in 20 years. 

YOU will be shaping it.  And we—those of us who occupy this planet now and those who are yet to be born, like my little granddaughter—are counting on you. On your skills and talents, on your ideas and ingenuity, on your dedication and persistence, and on your commitment to making this world a better place.

So, finally, 2019 Engineering and Computer Science graduates, my challenge to you is …“Fix it.”

Thank you and congratulations.