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Good enough for me

April 16, 2016

Today, April 16, is the one day in the year when I use this blog for very personal purposes.  In particular, I reserve the day for remembering Virginia Tech and my time there.  (Past years’ writings are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

If you’re here for physics-related content, just hold on; a new post should be up within a few days.

On the afternoon of May 12, 2007, I almost did something terrible.

That particular Saturday was the day of my college graduation.  The physics department was holding a warm and enthusiastic ceremony for the seventeen of us who were graduating, with plenty of food and lots of cheer spread among the hundred or so people in attendance.

The dangerous part was that our valedictorian was an unusually generous person, and had offered to split the valedictory speech with me.  I probably should have declined, but I was apparently neither sufficiently polite nor sufficiently humble to do so.  And so I was slated to give a short speech as part of the ceremony.

What made this dangerous was that late April and early May of 2007 were confusing times for those of us at Virginia Tech.  During the week or so before the ceremony, as I sat down to try and draft my graduation speech, I found that I kept coming back to the themes we were all facing after the Virginia Tech shooting: loss, grief, anxiety, community, etc.

With those themes ever-present in my mind, I wrote something that was predictably awful.  Most of the specifics of what I wrote have been (graciously) lost to my memory, but you can probably imagine it easily enough: a painfully over-earnest speech that betrayed a deficit of self-awareness.  It would have been the sort of thing that drips with a sense of how moved the speaker is by himself.

To this day I still have nightmares where I find that I have become like “Mike”, the guy who threw me into an unreasonable rage by writing a terrible poem.  I guess I almost did the same thing.

But a very fortunate thing happened to me on the morning of Saturday, May 12:
I woke up feeling happy.

As it so happens, on the day of my graduation, surrounded by my family members and friends, I was happy.  I wasn’t “confused” or fragile or maudlin.  It was much more simple.  I was just happy.

And so I made the fortunate decision to ditch that terrible speech in favor of something more straightforward.

I decided to sing a song.

During college I had actually made a minor habit of writing parody songs about being a physics major and about the VT physics department. So I guess I was sufficiently well-practiced to be able to put together a song pretty quickly, in time for the ceremony.

The lyrics are reproduced below.

Now, I should probably warn you in advance that this is not a good song.  It’s full of overzealous dorkiness and now-incomprehensible inside jokes.  But I treasure the memory of standing in front of that audience and singing this song.  Because it is a memory of being happy; of feeling yourself surrounded by people who like you and care about you; and of being unashamed of who you are, and unafraid of the future.

I should mention, by the way, that our valedictorian’s half of the speech was awesome.  It was more or less entirely made up of jokes and impressions of our professors, and the whole afternoon was baked in geekish enthusiasm.


Good enough for me

A song for the Virginia Tech physics class of 2007

[sung to the tune of “Me and Bobby McGee”, as performed, for example, by Janis Joplin]

Standing in my cap and gown
waiting to hear my name
I’m feeling near as divided as a triplet state.
So many things I never learned,
so many tests where I got burned,
but at least I beat the high physics dropout rate.

Well my education has served me well.
It taught me some important skills,
and it taught me to avoid what I can’t do.
From Tauber’s quantum purgatory
to Mizutani’s rambling stories
I’ve mislearned more science than most people ever knew.

Well a diploma’s just a way of saying
“you’re good enough to leave
but hey, we’re not making any guarantees.”
And I may never solve a single problem
in a rotating reference frame…
But inertial frames are good enough for me.
Good enough for me to get my degree.

From the sub-basement physics lounge
to our campouts in the woods
just think of all the nerdy things we’ve done.
Text Twist games that last for months,
telling awful science puns,
yeah we’ve invented a language of our own.

Some of us can obfuscate with pictures,
but all of us speak math,
And if you say it sounds like Greek,
then I’ll have to agree.
And while we may sound pretty smart,
I’ll tell you a secret truth:
none of us know what quantum mechanics means.

Well a diploma’s just a way of saying
“you’re good enough to leave
no matter what score you got on the GRE.”
I may not know how to solve the time-dependent Schrodinger equation…
But time-independent is good enough for me.
Good enough for me to get my degree.

Well a diploma’s just a way of saying
“you’re good enough to leave
but if you want respect you’ll still need a PhD.”
And though my time here has seemed short
and it’s hard for me to leave…
Well, I guess five years were good enough for me.
Good enough for me to get my degree.




One Comment leave one →
  1. April 16, 2016 12:38 pm

    Great story, and your level of self-awareness then and now is wonderful!

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