Freshman Convocation Keynote (23-Aug-2012)
David Kosbie

Thank you and welcome CMU Class of 2016.

I come today as a CMU teacher.  Today’s topic:  How to Thrive at CMU in 3 Easy Steps.

I base the talk not on morals, but simply on patterns among the hundreds of CMU students I have taught. I also base this on my own trying freshman experience.  I wish someone had given me this talk at the start of my freshman year, though much of this probably needs to be lived to be learned.  Even so, on the chance that it may help some of you, I’ll proceed.

First, to be clear:  Beyond my family, nothing inspires me so much as teaching here.  You, and the community of CMU students you are now joining, are brilliant, hard-working, ingenious, and you shall change the world.  I love being a part of that, if just a small part.

Also, let’s first define “thriving”.  It is not necessarily getting top grades (after all, most of you will not be in the top quartile).  “Thriving” is working hard, having fun, learning, gaining confidence, and soundly preparing yourself for a successful future.

Now, let’s get to it:  How to Thrive at CMU

#1:  Work Hard!

Our motto is “my heart is in the work”, and everything we do starts from that premise.  You wish to achieve great things, but greatness comes at great cost.  There is no shortcut.

#2: Work smarter, not harder!

So what happens when things go south?  Work harder, of course.  If 10 hours per day is not enough, try 15, or 20.  Next up, all-nighters.  But not only doesn’t it help, it’s destructive.  I know.  I did this myself.  The only things that plummeted faster than my grades were my self-esteem and my immune system.  Thank heavens for that!  I spent a week in a hospital bed.  Once recovered, I surveyed the wreckage of my grades and my life, and I was determined to find a better way.  Which I did.  Of course.  Or I wouldn’t be here today, would I?

Sadly, many CMU students go down a similar path.  For some, it is because they do not work nearly hard enough.  But they are the few.  For the rest, it is because they are not working smart enough.

So how do you work smarter, not harder?

·         Participate!
You’d be amazed how many students pay over $50k to sleep in.  If you are not in class, you lose.  And being there is not enough.  You have to participate!  Do not watch lectures as though they were YouTube videos!  Listen, think, absorb, question.  Get all you can from them.

·         Read and Study!
Many students dive into assignments claiming they do not have time to read or study first.  Wrong!  Reading and studying may take time, but it is the only pathway to deep understanding , which leads to better enjoyment, better grades, and yes, less total time on task.  So read and study, if just to save time.

·         Focus!
If you are studying and doing anything else, then you are not studying.  And don’t worry about offending your friends with a few tweetless hours.  They are also here at CMU, they understand.

·         Think Critically!
Do not accept truth just because someone said it was so, even if that someone is a CMU professor.  I am a CS teacher, so please permit me a “mathy” example.
    [Example: 1+2+…+100, then 2+4+…+100 first as (1+...+100)/2 then as (1+...+50)*2]
You must pierce the intellectual fog with your critical thinking and discern ideas that seem true from those that are true, to discern truthiness from Truth.

·         Collaborate!
The greatest asset here is the people.  Use that resource!  Meet with your teachers and tutors as often as you can.  And most of all, work with each other.  Ask for help when you need it, offer it when you can.  Be a community of learners.  Not only is it far more effective, it’s also much more fun.

·         Manage Your Time!
The biggest challenge for most freshmen is to manage your time according to your own priorities.  Easy to say, hard to do.  Time is your most precious commodity.  Spend it wisely.

·         Manage Your Whole Self!
Eat, sleep, exercise, socialize, recreate, and reflect.  This is the pathway to academic success.  Wait, you might ask, am I claiming that regular exercise could be the difference-maker in your academic success here?  Yes, I am saying precisely that!  And don’t try to justify how you don’t have time, especially for sleep.  You don’t have time not to tend to your whole self every day.

·         Find Your Passion!
The ultimate key to thriving is to find your passion.  When you find your passion, effort is no longer work.  Of course, there’s no easy way to find it.  Just keep looking, and when you do find it, seize it, and pursue it with abandon, because our most successful students are indeed our most passionate ones.

·         Don’t Cheat!
First some perspective: how many of you knew someone in high school who cheated? [pause]  Cheating is epidemic in high schools.  But not here.  So you have to get used to living in a world where cheating is prohibited, detected, and prosecuted.

Again, this talk is not about morals.  It’s simply about efficacy.  Cheating does not work.  Imagine how awful it must feel to let mom and dad know you’ll be coming home early, and without a diploma, and without a refund.   And heaven forbid you somehow manage to cheat your way all the way through here (as unlikely as that is).   So now you get a job you are unqualified for.  Now what?  What a disaster.  So don’t cheat!  And friends don’t let friends cheat, either.

Enough of working smarter.  Equally important is…

#3: Drink from the CMU Cup!

Do not just applaud CMU’s rich diversity, but live it!

·         Playfair, Carnival, Booth, Buggy, the Fence,…

·         Intrumurals, juggling, fencing, bagpiping,…

·         Read the Tartan.  Write for the Tartan.

·         Take a stuco.  Teach a stuco.

·         Engineers, attend a play.  Drama majors, see the mobot races.  You get the idea.

It’s all world-class, and it’s all right here for you.

Besides drinking from the cup, you can also help fill it by volunteering.  CMU is brimming with exciting volunteer opportunities.  For example, some students were just in Ghana developing systems for water and waste management.  Others were in the Honduras, staffing a rural medical clinic.  Still others took a city bus to Wilkinsburg, where they planted trees and berries in a new ecological art project.  There are countless many more examples, near and far.  But in my experience, little motivates our students more than the chance to help others, so find a cause that you care about, and then do something about it, and do it now!

The bottom line is simple:  Don’t just be at CMU, … be CMU!

This week is a blur and this talk is a blip.  It will be hard to remember, and that’s ok (though you can find it on my CMU website!).  Besides, it’s really obvious, Motherhood and apple pie stuff.  But it also just may prove handy somewhere to some of you, since I have described exactly the path that led many CMU students, and also led me in my time, to a productive college career.  I wish you the very same!

I conclude with quotes from three CMU luminaries:

·         Randy Pausch:  “Dream Big. Dream without fear.”

·         Judith Resnik (classical pianist, engineer, astronaut): “I never play softly.”  Of course, she meant not just on the piano but in all of life.

·         Andrew Carnegie: “Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!”

With that, again, I welcome you, CMU Class of 2016.  Dream big.  Never play softly. And achieve! Achieve!