Adventures in Ethics and Science

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Having finished grading (yea, having submitted the final grades themselves), I attempt to resurface from my cave.

It’s really rather bright out here!

Anyway, as you will have deduced from my last post, there was a commencement-sized break in my grading activities on Saturday. The commencement speaker, Google senior vice president of global sales and business development Omid Kordestani, gave a nice address to the grads and their guests, so I’m reporting on his big points here.


Kordestani couched his remarks in terms of a set of “Aha!” moments he has had in his own life, and the lessons he learned from them.

  • To keep your edge, think and act like an immigrant. By this, Kordestani meant that one should maintain a sense of optimism, and regard no obstacle as insurmountable. He saw this attitude as his mother’s key to success when, recently widowed, she moved her family out of Iran to pursue better educational opportunities for her kids, and he felt that adopting this attitude himself helped him at school and in the workplace. (He also related a very funny story about how, after the family had settled in England, he decided — at age 14 — that the family really needed to go to the U.S. He was so utterly earnest about it that his mom agreed. What convinced him that the U.S. as where they should build their new life? The Jeffersons.)
  • Follow your instincts and passion, not the money. Yes, this is what Google’s sales guy said! (It’s not just me!) Kordestani talked about how, after studying engineering as an undergraduate, he came to discover that he really liked dealing with people; he was smart enough to see that what he studied wasn’t who he had to be. He also talked about passing on an opportunity to make buckets of money working as an investment banker so he could be a part of a start-up. The start-up ultimately failed, but he said that not only did it make him happier than banking would have, but it also built the relationships and set him in the direction that took him, ultimately, to Google.
  • Life is a path, not a destination. Again, Kordestani emphasized that a degree should not limit one’s choices. One should take risks and not be afraid of mistakes (“missteps are not missed steps”). He cast life after college as “your start-up phase; certainty is a moving target”. It was pretty clear, though, that he viewed the uncertainty in terms of its great potential and excitement. Ultimately, since Kordestani’s view of success in the world was so tightly tied with finding a path that feels right and “fits”, he advised the graduates, “Make the small decisions with your head and the big decisions with your heart.”

The address was engaging, the delivery was heartfelt, and it seemed to take just the right amount of time in the program. I’d give it four mortarboards.

Feel free to use the comments to report on commencement speakers you may have heard this graduation season.

Comments

  1. #1 Alan Kellogg
    May 29, 2007

    The last time Mom finished grading finals she grabbed me and we went out for a double feature of The Lion in Winter and Anne of the Thousand Days. Just had to get out of the house, and she wasn’t about to do it alone. I dare say, if my brothers and their friends had been ready to hand, they would’ve been roped into the party. :)

    Agree with Kordestani about life etc. It is, after all, the pursuit of happiness that’s the inalienable right.

    Then you have the illuminatus who once observed (if not in so many worlds), “We realized we could conquer the world long ago. But then it occured to us, once we’ve conquered the world, what do we do with it?”

  2. #2 Larry Moran
    May 30, 2007

    I don’t understand how the system works at your school. How can you have a commencement when you haven’t finished grading your exams? Is there nobody in your class who needed your course in order to graduate?

    At our school, all grades have to be submitted within ten days of the end of the exam period. The final transcripts are issued two weeks after that and graduation ceremonies are two weeks after the transcripts have been sent out.

    Nobody goes to the commencement ceremony unless they have actually completed the requirements (and paid the fees). Is it different at San Jose State University? Do students attend commencement in anticipation of graduating?

  3. #3 Janet D. Stemwedel
    May 30, 2007

    Larry, the SJSU commencement is pretty much a “Congratulations! (we think)” event. There are so many grads (or putative grads) who come that they couldn’t hand out diplomas at the ceremony even if they had seniors’ grades filed and processed by then.

    Having been an undergrad at a school whose finals-to-commencement timeframe was pretty similar to what you describe, I find it pretty silly, too. I suspect “facilities utilization” considerations are what drive the system. (Summer term starts next week!)

  4. #4 JM
    May 31, 2007

    That sounds like a good commencement address.

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