Speech by Master of Engineering in ISTD (Research) graduate, Mr Karthikeyan Rajasekharan

17 May 2013

SUTD Chairman of Board of Trustees, Mr Phillip Ng

Guest Speaker, CEO Keppel Corporation Limited, Mr Choo Chiau Beng

SUTD President, Professor Thomas Magnanti

SUTD Provost, Professor Chong Tow Chong

Director of MIT/SUTD Collaboration Office, Professor John Brisson

Director of International Design Institute of ZJU, Dr Liu Bo

Distinguished Guests

Graduates and Freshmen

Parents and Friends

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Afternoon.

It is my honor to stand before you today representing the first group of graduates of the university. Yes !!! the day is here and Yi Linn, Nikhil and I are proud to be the first graduates of the university. We stand here thanks in large measure to the hard work and support of the staff and faculty of MIT & SUTD and our respective families. You have together made this day possible and we owe all of you a debt of gratitude. We hope to repay that debt by remaining true to SUTD's mission as we venture forth.

When I was asked to speak at this occasion, I pulled out a blank piece of paper to write my thoughts down. And so, there I was staring at this blank piece of paper reflecting on this wonderful journey. I was at once overcome by conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I was anxious about the uncertainty of what it all meant, what I was meant to say and what messages I ought to convey. And on the other hand , I experienced giddy happiness at having arrived at the finish line, and being given this opportunity to address you. Perhaps the best way to describe how i felt is to tell you what my brother once told me. When my niece, Harshita was born, I asked my brother how he felt. He said it was the perfect combination of absolute joy and absolute terror. Staring at the sheet of paper, I understood how he felt.

Looking at the blank piece of paper, I realized that this journey was really about beginnings.

I think back to the day when I first started as an undergraduate at NTU. There I was a young man, who had grown up sheltered and secure in the home of his parents and all of sudden I was thrust into a new environment. It was difficult adjusting to a new surrounding, living without the comfort of home, making new friends and adjusting to a new academic process. I am sure some of you perhaps feel the same way as you start your new journey as undergraduates.

Similarly, two years ago, as we began the SUTD MIT dual masters program, we were uncertain about how the program would work. How would a program that spans two continents move forward. What would we research ? How do we get data to conduct the research? How would the program enable us as we entered the working world?

So yes, beginnings are hard. But we had help. We had the staff and faculty at SUTD and MIT to help us along the way. The knowledge we gained at MIT laid the foundation for the research work we performed here at SUTD. I studied Systems Design at MIT and came back to Singapore with a firm grasp of interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving. While I had a good notion of the research I wanted to undertake, the specifics were nebulous. At SUTD, working with Professor Aditya Mathur and Professor Ng See Kiong helped me clarify my approach. I understood more about data science with their guidance and that experience helped me secure my present job at Google.

That first step beginning something new is nerve wracking but trust me it gets easier.

Beginnings are also a lot of fun. The intrigue of figuring things out and forging a new path is exhilarating. When I was told that a paper that crystallized our research findings had been accepted for a conference, I was over the moon. But to tell you the truth, the real joy was in the process of discovery, the tinkering and the time i spent playing with the problems. As you move forward, treat the challenges you encounter as puzzles that beckon to be solved. You will have tremendous fun that way. I made wonderful new friendships along the way that I will carry for a lifetime. I still chuckle at the spirited debates we had in the canteen over trivial matters.

Finally, there are few people in the world who get offered the opportunity that all of us here have been given. We get to be part of a brand new academic venture and experience it firsthand. We get to blaze a trail which others will follow. There is a lot of fun to be had in this process and having completed the program, I can tell you with absolute confidence that this is a rollercoaster I would ride again. In a heartbeat !! But alas, for the those of us who graduate today the ride is over. But the memories and the experience will linger. And So, I arrive at the finish line, a little sad at having to leave some of this behind.

In the end my message to you today is quite simple. You have all been given a blank piece of paper. The question I pose to you is "what story would you want to write when you reach graduation day ?"

In the words of Horace, "Go on and Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise"

Thank you.

Press Release of SUTD Commencement & Freshmen Inauguration Ceremony
Speech by SUTD President, Professor Thomas Magnanti