By Hilary Pham
I wrote this speech on March 15, the day before the announcement came that graduation was canceled. Even though it will never be heard in its intended form, I still wanted to share my reflections and favorite lessons learned while in undergrad. Hopefully, this can bring you a sense of normalcy and comfort in this time even if we can’t have a formal celebration.
If life were a video game, we’ve spent the last 4 years in training mode. Freshman year, we were handed a username NetID and have spent time gaining experience, meeting new people, and learning about the world around us. But we’ve always had the option to restart, always had a mystical figure in armor standing in our corner in case we needed a hint. After today, that’s all going to change. It’s a scary thought, terrifying almost, but I think we’re ready. I feel ready. And if you don’t, I have the next three and a half minutes to share some things I’ve learned that hopefully you can relate to.
Thing the first: We have time. In ECON 102, which I know everyone here had to take, we learned about sunk cost. It’s the idea that we’ve lost some resources, whether it’s time, money, or effort, and need to recoup as much as we can from that experience. In high school, I spent two summers interning in the banking industry and would have bet anything that I was going to major in Finance. Then I took my first finance class. There was nothing wrong with the class, I just realized it wasn’t for me; I didn’t hate the subject, I just didn’t feel passion for it.
For some reason, I pigeon-holed myself and thought that if I changed my mind, I was throwing away the effort I put into those internships. At the end of the semester, I realized that I’d written off the 3 years in front of me for 6 months behind me. That comparison jolted my decision making and, since then, I’ve switched my major and found my passion for Information Systems. If you take away nothing from that story, just remember that we are young, conservatively we have 75% of our lives left in front of us, so please don’t trade the last 25% of your lives for the next 75%; that’s a terrible deal.
Thing the second: Find another quantifier besides money to make decisions. In high school, I had a friend who would compare part-time jobs based on the number of Chipotle bowls he could buy per day. Initially, I laughed it off but that idea stuck with me. It was the idea of trying to quantify the value of something when the dollar falls short. Recently, I had to decide whether to go to grad school or start working full time. Like any good business student, I whipped out a spreadsheet, made a pro and con list, but had no idea how to compare the cost of tuition to the value of pursuing my own research interests.
Then I tried something different, I compared each item to my favorite home-cooked meals. The value of working with and meeting peers was worth at least 5 bowls of my favorite soup. Learning more about technology was worth at least 10 dinners of my favorite meal. This system let me compute things that algorithms, balance sheets, and income statements couldn’t account for. So if you find yourself at a crossroads in the future, maybe it would be helpful to ask yourself: how many Chipotle bowls is this worth to me?
Thing the third: Be kind to yourself. I’ve spent so much of my time in undergrad doubting my decisions or beating myself up about things I’ve said or left unsaid, that I didn’t realize all the good happening in the meantime. If you do want to reflect on your past, be kind to yourself while doing so, it’s saved me many sleepless nights and brought acceptance instead of regret.
I’d like to thank Dean Brown, honored faculty, friends and family, and my fellow members of Class 2020 for all of my experiences on this campus, including letting me take up 5 minutes of your day. I truly am not the same person I was 4 years ago and I hope that everyone in this room can agree with that statement. Thank you for 4 incredible years and good luck Class of 2020! Go Illini!
Hilary is currently in T&M Class XXIV, a senior in Information Systems/Information Technology and Business Management and will be pursuing her Master’s degree in Information Management before working with the US government.