Updated: Nov 16, 2018
My PhD graduation speech
“Rhythm! I am going to collect all the latent rhythms hidden in human society. The more basic the rhythm, the more applicable to people around the world.”
This is what I wrote in my college application essay nearly 14 years ago. Truth to be told, I didn’t exactly know what I was talking about, even as I was typing out those words. They just somehow resonated with something deep inside that I didn’t want to translate into more tangible terms prematurely. I wanted to wait. A decade later, those abstract words were finally given life through my PHD dissertation, which is essentially about finding hidden semantic rhythms in online social interactions that are applicable across today’s modern markets. What a full circle of life.
While I marvel at this profound realization of the connectedness of a life, I also acknowledge that in retrospect, many things can make perfect sense. We’re great storytellers who can pull together the most scattered things in life and turn them into a coherent whole (the skillset we probably perfected from writing out our research statements on the job market). However, without the benefit of hindsight, while going through each stage of the PHD journey, we couldn’t make sense of many things. Instead of seeing a full circle, we saw ourselves going round in circles with our ideas, praying for a breakthrough. We learned to persevere when we felt small, our voices unheard, in this very world we were desperately trying to understand better.
However, we didn’t quit. Nor did we rush to see that full circle prematurely.
Whenever we fell, we didn’t simply try to get up for the sake of being efficiently resilient; we took the courage to stay down there for a while to think really hard about what it means to succeed in our profession, and what it is that we wanted to get an answer to. Although our community is not free of the pressure to publish and get a certain type of job at the end of the journey, many of us have taken the time and space required to find the “true north” in our personal, intellectual, and professional life.
I can imagine a parallel world where we might have chosen different paths 5 or 6 years ago and perhaps moved along a path of more instantly gratifying, ostensible success. We might have liked that too. But we would not have been the ones we are today, the scholars who can truly appreciate the beauty of uncertainties and be okay with not being heard or listened to right away, as long as we believe in the potential of our ideas. We owe an obligation of stewardship to our ideas. They are struggling to be given life, to achieve currency in the world, to create real value for people who can build and run a better society. Only we can do that. So, today, as we step out of the door as newly-minted doctors, let us continue to inquire and inspire to be the best possible representatives of our idea-children that we can be.
Class of 2018. This is your address, your day. Let us celebrate.