Thank you, Dr. Moser (Farnaz) and Professor Vetterli. It is such an honor for us to be here with you today! I’d like to introduce you all, also, to my husband, Eric. As a woman leader, I want to make sure you all meet the person who supports what I do. He is a stay at home dad, runs his own internet business, and is an entrepreneur.
You all can do whatever you set your sights on! Anything in the whole wide world!
You are the makers and leaders of the future! Heck – you are probably already doing that now – and not even waiting for the future!
I look in your eyes and I see young ladies who are curious, caring, and who want to make a difference. I also see young ladies who really like their technology.
I was just about your age when I discovered just how much I like technology and realized that I wanted it to be a big part of my life. That was the spark for my very unusual career that led me to now representing the United States of America here with you today. In other words – I was just like you are today and am living proof that every individual can make a difference!
Raise your hand if you like to take things apart? And keep it up if you sometimes put them back together?
That was me. I took everything apart – pens, toys, machines – although, much to my parent’s dismay, I didn’t always put things back together!
And then I finally had a teacher who was able to channel my curiosity. Mrs. Thompson. I had her when I was a little bit older than you all. She was a lot like what I see in Prof. Moser. She was my science teacher and was both very, very tough and very caring. In fact, one day, after we learned about rocks and minerals, she rewarded my work by giving me a beautiful and giant chunk of mineral – that I have to this day! <show rhodocrocite>
It was in her class one day that I designed this. <hold up the plane> It’s my very special paper airplane.
To her credit, when Mrs. Thompson saw it, rather than crumple it up, she pushed me to think about how it flew and why, with the two wings, it flew so fast and so well.
<Throw the paper airplane>
I was hooked – and decided to study to become an astronaut. And between us – I still have that dream.
In high school – which is the same as collège or lycée here – I believe that, because I was a girl, my advisor didn’t point me to enough math and science, so when I started to study engineering at university, it was really, really hard – but I persisted, learned that I was and AM good at math and got degrees in both Mechanical Engineering with Aerospace applications AND English. I did both because I learned that I liked to understand how things work AND I really like reading and writing. I even worked at NASA for a couple of summers during university – and got to use rolls of gold to see if it could be used to capture the material in the tail of a comet!
When I graduated from university, I wanted to work where I could help use my reading and writing skills to help people understand technology, so I went to work for a major technology company called Microsoft. After that, I worked at a company that uses technology to help people plan travel called Expedia.
But then, when our second child was born, I decided to stay home with my two kids – which I did for four-and-a-half years. During that time, technology stayed a big part of my life. For example, as a volunteer, I created a couple of community organizations and worked on President Obama’s campaign – using the Internet and social media extensively throughout.
In 2009, I went back to work at Microsoft and worked with students all over the globe to help them better use technology in their schools. That allowed me to see students of all ages and teachers who were creating solutions that could change the world!
I left paid work again to be home with my kids a few years later and continued to volunteer with the President on his reelection. In fact, the work that I and my family did was part of why President Obama got elected twice. And, because he and his team saw the work I could do and learned about my non-linear background, he asked me to do this job!
That brings me to today.
You can see that my early love of technology and my curiosity about how things work and my desire for impact have guided my life and brought me to unexpected places – including to your graduation today!
I encourage you to never lose that curiosity and to build on what you have learned during this fantastic program. If you follow what you love, you never know where it will take you!