Carnegie Mellon University
May 17, 2015

Embrace Uncertainty

Alan Alda

Embrace uncertainty.

That was the message delivered by speakers at Carnegie Mellon University's 118th Commencement, where 3,000 graduates and their families convened in CMU's Gesling Stadium.

"Uncertainty can be good," said keynote speaker Alan Alda, an acclaimed actor, writer and director, whose passion for science and technology embodies CMU's interdisciplinary strengths. 

"I think the way to handle it is not to resist, but to surf uncertainty," he said. "Keep your balance, stay agile and expect the unexpected bumps."

Alda's grandson, Scott Coffey (A'15), was among the graduates.

"It's not just Scott, though, who will be entering a field filled with uncertainty. Everyone of you here will have uncertainty," Alda said.

Alda offered additional advice for the future that included:

  • "Let yourself be all the yous you are, but don't let them crowd out the smart one."
  • "Your values really are not so much what you say as what you do."
  • "If all else fails, floss and wear your sunscreen."

Student speaker Brooke Kuei (S'15) looked at other positive aspects of an unsure future.

"The best part about uncertainty is that it's equivalent to possibility," Kuei said.

She graduated with university and college honors with a bachelor's degree in physics and a minor in professional writing.

"As Carnegie Mellon students, we're sometimes so determined and driven that when we set goals for ourselves, it's strange to see them change or even fail," she said. "I thought I was going to be a physicist, but now I'm becoming an engineer. My boyfriend is graduating as an engineer, but now he wants to be an entrepreneur."

In his charge, President Subra Suresh reassured graduates they were prepared for to go into the world.

"I want to encourage you to be so confident in the knowledge that CMU has equipped you for whatever comes next, and in ways that you might not yet recognize," he said. "As the strands of your lives unfold and intertwine, things will arise that you did not, and could not, predict or plan for. That's OK.

"Your generation has lived with almost non-stop change for your entire lives: you simply expect that new ideas, new tools and new devices will emerge continually, and that long established truths and practices will be discarded. You are innovators on a scale unprecedented in human history," Suresh said.

With this year's graduates, the number of CMU alumni around the world has now surpassed 100,000.

In addition to Alda, honorary degrees were given to four exemplary leaders whose life and work also cross many of Carnegie Mellon's fields. They were:

Joyce Kozloff (A'64), a major American visual artist whose work fuses pattern and movement with social engagement, received a Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

Kai-Fu Lee (CS'88), a prominent computer scientist, venture capitalist, corporate leader, writer and former CMU faculty member, received a Doctor of Business Practice degree.

Stephen Schwartz (A'68), one of the most successful songwriters in the history of musical theater with three Academy awards, four Grammy awards and four Drama Desk awards, received a Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

Carl Wieman, who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics, was awarded a Doctor of Science and Technology degree.


Learn more about the honorary degree recipients.

Watch the recorded webcast.