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Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering

Good afternoon. President Wildenthal, faculty, friends and family – thank you for being here to celebrate this day with us.

In software engineering, we use a term called “nonfunctional requirements,” or quality attributes. These are requirements for things you can’t measure and are difficult to test. For a software product, nonfunctional requirements could be usability, reliability, security and compatibility. Like most of you, I don’t have much experience with life after college. But I’ve come up with a few nonfunctional requirements for college graduates based on successful people I know.

They are successful in the sense that they’ve pursued their passions, maintained meaningful relationships, performed well at work, and undergone trials and manage to live contentedly. The common denominators I’ve seen in these people are teachability, healthiness and gratitude. Of course there could be a million of these nonfunctional requirements. These are just ones that had the most impact on me.

I know most of us are very excited to be finished with school, but really, we’ll be learning the rest of our lives. The first step to learning is being teachable by admitting to yourself that you have something to learn. I firmly believe we should never accept “That’s the way we’ve always done it” as an explanation for how something is done. Having curiosity and being teachable will obviously help us at work and school. The deeper we understand a problem and its implications, the better we can approach it. But curiosity also helps us in relationships. You can gain only so much from questions beginning with “what” (What school do you go to, what do you do, and what do you study?). Having the curiosity to ask the “why” questions (Why did you choose to study that? Why did you choose to work for that company?) helps us better relate to our peers and expand our network.

I quote Brian Herbert: “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” Since I am speaking to students graduating with an engineering or computer science degree, I know that we all have both the capacity and ability to learn. My hope is that as we move on from our time at UT Dallas, we keep our willingness to learn in all we do. Your diploma will include the seal of The University of Texas at Dallas. On this seal is the motto, Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis, which is the Latin translation of “Education, the guardian of society.” As graduates of this institution, we know that education does not stop with the highest degree we attain but must last a lifetime.

Another trait I’ve noticed in successful people is their healthy lifestyles. Their habits create environments where they are able to succeed. They take care of themselves: physically, mentally and emotionally. They take meaningful breaks at work. They take walks. They take vacations that do not include conference calls and emails every day. They eat to fuel their bodies, not to merely satisfy a craving. As most of us will have jobs involving sitting at a desk for about a third of the day, it’s important that we take care of our bodies. It’s important that we start out our careers by creating sustainable work hours instead of burning ourselves out to get an early promotion. And it’s important that we build real networks of people who mutually support each other, not just connections. In the safety talk before a flight, the flight attendant reminds us that if the oxygen masks are released, putting on your own mask should be the first thing you do. I used to think this sounded a little selfish, but I think it goes with the principal that you can’t help others until you’ve taken care of yourself.

“I know most of us are very excited to be finished with school, but really, we’ll be learning the rest of our lives.”

Lastly, I’ve seen gratitude. Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” I think this is a little bit more than just looking on the bright side. To me it means you can choose to be thankful in any situation.

As I ask myself how I ended up here, I’m reminded of everyone who helped me – professors who answered questions, mentors who helped me develop as a person, faculty who ensured I took advantage of opportunities, and family and friends who encouraged me to try things I thought I could not do. Or I can be thankful for all my opportunities and keep moving forward. I have truly come to consider UT Dallas my home for the last three and a half years. And I am grateful for every lesson I have learned here that has helped prepare me for the so-called real world we are about to enter.

I believe these nonfunctional requirements – teachability, health and gratitude – are important to your career and your daily life. You may not be evaluated by them at work or graded on them at graduate school, but they will be factors for your success. I will not say good luck to you all because you do not need it. You are all very capable of great things. So instead, congratulations to the class of fall 2015.

Elise Keller graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in software engineering. She is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and a Grace Hopper Celebration Scholar. She has served as a Student Government senator. After graduation, she will join J.P. Morgan’s Technology Analyst Program.