Matthew McDonough

PhD, Electrical Engineering

About 1.8 million years ago, humans began sharpening stones to cut trees and hunt animals.

About 11,000 years ago, metal was discovered. With this discovery, a variety of tools could be created to shape our ancestors’ world.

Then about 200 years ago, a primitive computer was invented. With this tool, the modern era that we live in was formed.

Profile Photo of Matthew McDonough

Four, six, eight or more years ago, you began your journey in formal college education with a desire to acquire a new tool. Your wish was granted every day you opened your textbook, attended a lecture, or had engaging discussions with your colleagues, but a new tool will be officially awarded to you today. You’ve earned it, so take this moment to appreciate just what you’ve accomplished.

How will you use this tool to shape the world you live in?

When I finished high school, I didn’t know what to do with my life, but I knew I would probably need college to do it. I went to college and within the first year, I asked myself the critical question that led to where I am today. Now I pose that question to you, and not just the graduates who are already well on their way, but to everyone here today: What change to do you want to see in the world?

“As Sir Isaac Newton taught us, objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted on by another force. To change this world, you have to be that other force, and you have to have an iron will. I hope you leave today inspired. But that inspiration will be meaningless without grit and determination.”

This is such an important question, because if you’re not the change you want to see in the world, you have no right to complain about the way the world is.

So what is it that you are passionate about? When you look at the world and wonder, “Why does it operate that way?”, decide to fix it instead of leaving it at wonderment, because if you don’t fix it, the next best case is that someone else will. In the worst case, 10 years from now, you will look at the same problem and wonder, “Why does it operate that way?”

For those of us celebrating today, we have chosen a path through formal education in engineering. Where you go from here is up to you.

Some of us will go on to graduate school or academia. Our goal will be to acquire even more tools to fix the problems we see in life, either through formal education or through laboratory innovation.

Some of us will go to industry to build the next biggest and best widgets. Maybe that’s electronics to help manage energy, or implantable devices to improve people’s health. Maybe that’s a new method to secure data so people can feel safe shopping without having their credit card information stolen.

Some of us will forge our own paths through entrepreneurship. We see a void in the world and seek to fill it.

What matters is that you use your new tool to leave this world a better place than you found it. With great power, comes great responsibility. You’ve developed a great new tool. Now go out and use it. Make tomorrow a better day for yourself, for your family, for your country ... for humanity.

Before I get off this stage, I want to leave you with one more thing to think about. This world has a lot of inertia. As Sir Isaac Newton taught us, objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted on by another force. To change this world, you have to be that other force, and you have to have an iron will. I hope you leave today inspired. But that inspiration will be meaningless without grit and determination. Therefore, I leave you with one last quote. As the great Jedi Yoda once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.”

Find the thing that you want to change in this world. Use your new tools and keep developing others to enable that change. And don’t let the inertia of this world hold you back.


Matthew McDonough graduated with a doctorate in electrical engineering. He has spent the last four years working the Renewable Energy and Vehicular Technology laboratory. He has also been the graduate advisor for two teams of undergraduates in the International Future Energy Challenge. After graduation, he plans to continue his work in renewable energy at a local research institution.