2001 Robert and Pamela Goergen Award
for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry
in Undergraduate Teaching
7 September 2001
Good afternoon. I am honored to accept this award, and to affirm its emphasis on undergraduate education. I would like to extend my thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Goergen, to the selection committee, and to my students and colleagues, both faculty and staff, in the Department of Computer Science. One cannot teach in a vacuum; I owe you all a debt of thanks.
For years I have wondered, when filling out my income taxes, whether to list my profession as “College Professor” or “Computer Scientist.” One of the joys of working at the University of Rochester is that I can really and truly be both. Another joy is that I can afford, both in teaching and research, to be a generalist.
I believe that the most interesting ideas, and the deepest insights, arise when we find connections among fields that were previously viewed as independent. Within computer science, my own work explores the connections among operating systems, programming languages, and computer hardware design. In a larger context, members of my department collaborate actively with researchers in more than 20 other disciplines. These connections, both within and among departments, are easier to find at a smaller institution, because everyone rubs elbows with people in other fields.
So here is my advice to all the students here today, and to the class of 2005 in particular: be a generalist! Take advantage of the interdisciplinary opportunities that Rochester has to offer. Never again in your life will you have a chance to learn so much about so many different things. If you are tempted to “get your clusters out of the way” so you can focus on your major, think again. Life after college has a way of forcing you to narrow your horizons; don’t be in a hurry to do it any sooner. And if you are tempted to plan your courses around preparing for a job, think again. Job skills are great, but wisdom is greater.
The founders of American higher education believed deeply in the liberal ideal: the development of a well-rounded intellect and of solid moral character. Those assets may not be as fashionable as they once were, but their value is undiminished. If you take a wide range of courses — if you let your interests expand, and follow them wherever they may lead — you will find that college is much more than a meal ticket: it’s a ticket to a more fulfilling life. Welcome to the new school year; may it be everything you hoped for, and more.