“A commencement speech or commencement address is a speech given to graduating students, generally at a University”. This is how Wikipedia describes a commencement speech. The commencement speech made by Steve Jobs at Stanford University Graduation Ceremony 2005 is considered as the best commencement speech done during a graduation ceremony.
University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka had held their 2013 graduation ceremony on July 2013. The Convocation Address, as they say, had been done by one of the most sought after Professors in the world, when it comes to sustainable energy solutions – Professor Gehan Amaratunga.
I found his address as interesting and attractive as the commencement speech of Steve Jobs. It is with great pleasure I post his speech, while thanking to University of Moratuwa authorities for documenting his valuable speech and circulating it.
Speech Made by Professor Gehan Amaratunga at the General Convocation 2013 – University of Moratuwa
Salutations Vice Chancellor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank the University of Moratuwa for giving me the honour of addressing the graduating Class of 2013 in Engineering.
Graduation after the successful completion of your degree is indeed a watershed in your life.
In many ways it is a completion of formal education and a license to enter the world of work as a professional.
It is also a staging post in your personal adventure in the engagement with life. The twists, turns and ascents which lie ahead cannot be predicted.
But one can be prepared to take on a professional adventure. This you undoubtedly have successfully achieved by way of gradating today.
What I want you to expect is a sense of adventure and exhilaration which can lie ahead as you advance in your career.
In fact I would urge you to always seek a sense of professional adventure. This will keep you forever young in terms of intellectuality by always learning, learning not just to acquire new information, but also on how to use it wisely and in a timely manner for maximum benefit.
I can share you some of my experiences on how my career developed after I graduated in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Cardiff University 34 years ago!
After graduation I was uncertain of what I should do professionally.
But having got a First, I was in the fortunate position being offered a studentship to read for a PhD at Cambridge University, which I took on without really having any clear idea of what research entailed, let alone how tenacious, hard working, opinionated and dedicated one had to be to complete a PhD.
I also learnt that all the subject areas I had not liked in my undergraduate course, were the very ones I had to be expert at for research. I am certain that you too will find this out when you start working.
So do not throw away your 2nd and 3rd year notes – you will have to refer to them again! On competition of my PhD I discovered that I had enjoyed and been successful at research.
I had been trained to attend a problem which I did not have any specialist knowledge on, to acquire all the require background information across disciplines and to use it to come up with new insight and solutions.
The actual content of my PhD, which was on missile electronic systems, was not that important. But what was important was the process I had gone through and the skills I had acquired to achieve it.
My success at research meant that I was inducted in to the modern monkhood. That is to say, I became a University lecturer!
While the pay one got in the UK as a lecturer in the eighties was not attractive, what was is the freedom one had to follow one’s own ideas.
To be successful at exploiting such a freedom requires discipline and also a sense of entrepreneurial adventure to look at research opportunities which others have not identified or have ignored.
Research in Engineering, as in Medicine, is only really validated when it is applied for societal benefit.
Therefore extension of my research to application was something I started to passionately believe in. This in turn led naturally to formation of my first start – up company Cambridge Semiconductors (CamSemi), an IC company specializing power management, with venture capital investment.
To date it has shipped in excess of 1 Billion ICs and the chances are that if you have a Nokia or Blackberry phone, a CamSemi chip will be controlling the AC/DC charging of the battery.
My career after graduation had in 20 years taken me from academic to entrepreneur.
Over the past 10 years I have been a founder of a further 4 start – up companies spanning solar electronics, nano materials synthesis and wind power. Two of them have products on the market at present. One of these companies, Nanoinstruments, which makes equipment for the synthesis of carbon nano tubes and grapheme, was started in 2005 with a Sri Lankan student of mine who did Bachelors in Physics at the University of Colombo, Nalin Rupasinghe. We started the company without any capital and the first workshop was a garage/barn. In just two years after starting, the company was acquired by a major German semiconductor equipment manufacturer, Aixtron. Nalin became a millionaire and continues to work for Aixtron. I site this as an example of what entrepreneurial flair a new Sri Lankan graduate, such as your selves, can display when having to succeed in another country. It is time for you to release the same entrepreneurial spirit in Sri Lanka to make it a technologically exciting place.
My research has also thrive and allowed me the freedom look at new problems. It is currently focused on nano electronics and energy storage.
I am now entering the third phase of my career, which I can best describe as sharing wisdom and nurturing a future generation of ingenious innovators, such as those who will rise out of this very graduating class.
In this context I have taken leave from Cambridge to be the Chief of Research and Innovation at the newly formed Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology. What is really invigorating is that this has allowed me to be directly engaged with some of the most urgent problems for humanity to be sustained on the planet, such as green agriculture and enhancing food yields to water purification through the application of nanotechnologies.
The opportunities are immense and the problems are urgent.
You are starting your career at a time when the priorities are very different. For example, when I graduated no one could have imagined that the Soviet Union would not exist and the cold war would be consigned to history. The topic of my PhD missile electronics was influenced by the priorities which prevailed.
Today the key priorities are sustaining the planet while we continue to enhance living standards for 4 billion people and growing in the developing world.
A key question which you will have to address and solve during your career is : ‘Can we have continued economic growth through consumption, for example such as ever more sophisticated and prevalent consumer electronics, without destroying the planet?’
The question is sobering.
But while we do not know the answer at present, I am certain that with your ingenuity and commitment we will be able to reinvent or transform engineering as we know it today to become sustainable and economically viable.
So to reiterate, what lies ahead is a career adventure.
Embark upon it with a sense of wonderment and enthusiasm.
Sustain your career by always being committed to enjoying what you are doing and having the ultimate aim of ‘making something better than what it is today’.
The most important thing is have fun in your career. Life will then automatically sort itself out!
I wish you all the very best for the future with all my heart.
- University of Moratuwa General Convocation – Convocation Address Booklet