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My alumni speech for RIT's CS graduation event

This year I was invited by RIT CS Department to give a talk as an alumnus. I attended RIT CS school from 2012 to 2014, and it was only my pleasure to reflect and share a bit about my experience and how the school contributed to my personal and professional life.

“When Professor Hans-Peter Bischof (we call him HP) reached out and offered me to give this talk, I was humbled and well, a bit nervous. I was anxious because I had never given a graduation talk before and wasn’t sure what to talk about. Then, after some time, I was relieved because I realized that this was an excellent opportunity for me to reflect a bit about my journey at RIT as a CS graduate student.

It’s been almost eight years since the day I arrived at RIT to pursue my master’s degree in Computer Science. Frankly, I was lost and didn’t know what to expect. I was scared because I wasn’t sure if I was good enough for this school. As an international student who has never been in the US before the cultural shock was real. I knew that I had to find friends who are in a similar position. My first opportunity to look for friends was our orientation day in our school building, where I got my CS t-shirt and met my future classmates. Little did I know that some of those classmates would become my good friends who I’m still in touch with.

I clearly remember professor HP’s talk about the program and the bridge course exam. I hoped to pass the bridge course exams so I could take graduate courses. Luckily, I failed, and I’m so glad I did because two of those bridge courses, “Foundation of Computer Theory” and “Advanced Java Programming,” were probably two of the best classes I’ve taken. If I’m honest, the “Foundation of Computer Theory” is the best course I have studied.

I was one of the students who joined RIT without any program scholarship. However, I knew that the department offers a merit-based scholarship. I wasn’t financially in the best position, so I knew that I had to do everything I could to qualify for that scholarship. I was determined to study hard and also started working on-campus to cover some of my living expenses.

After studying two quarters (I think now we are on a semester-based system), I got a call from the CS department. I was on the second floor of the library, sitting next to the window when I received that call. How can I not remember every detail of that moment when the school told me that I received a 40% CS department scholarship at that very second? I was so happy that I picked my phone and called my parents to share the news. I felt very proud. I believed I could do well here if I worked hard. I felt very grateful.

One of the reasons why I was excited to join RIT was its co-op program. It’s such a unique experience to be able to pause your education, go work with your profession, and come back again. I’m thankful that our program helps our students find co-ops in the industry’s best companies. Starting from company boots to on-campus interviews, it’s an incredible experience as a student to enrich your education with real work experience. Because of our co-op program, I was lucky to do two internships, one in PTC and the other one at Twitter in the summer. Apart from the work experience, the co-op program helped me to create my first professional network, which is so essential not only for finding a job after graduation but also for life in general.

It was December in 2013 when I went to Armenia to spend the holidays with my family. Before I traveled, I applied for the Graduate Teaching Assistant position. I never expected I would hear from them because I thought I wasn’t qualified. I applied for that position because I knew how much I enjoyed teaching, and I wanted to challenge myself. To my surprise, I got an email asking for an interview call. Since I was away from school, and Zoom wasn’t an option at that time, we had to conduct the interview remotely on Skype. I did the meeting, and I think it went reasonably well. I enjoyed my conversation and even still remember one of the interview questions. I had to implement Stack from scratch and explain how it works. I was so lucky I got the job and started 2014 as a graduate assistant teaching CS1 and CS2 to undergrads. This job was an excellent opportunity to work with smart students and improve my public speaking skills. The TA position also provided financial support and scholarship to cover my tuition fees and expenses. Working closely with students, helping them work on their homework, and advising them about the CS program was one of my highlights at RIT. I’m still in touch with those students and proudly follow their journey of becoming professionals in our industry.

I can tell you a lot of great stories about my time at RIT and how lucky I’m joining our CS program. But since I don’t have much time, I’d like to finish my talk by thanking everyone again at the CS department for creating such an inclusive environment that encourages students to thrive and challenge themselves. I know that I would not be here if it weren’t for my school and teachers.

Since this is a graduation event, I want to congratulate on your graduation and wish you all the best for your next adventure. I have so much confidence that you’re ready to shine in whatever you planned to do next.”