It's that time of year when it becomes harder to find parking here in Cambridge: the throngs of college students are returning. Or could it be that fewer students are bringing cars this year due to the economic situation?
At any rate, the new school year has arrived. During this weekend's Freshman Address at Yale University, Yale President Richard Levin took his inspiration from the new MIT Press book Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age:
A few weeks ago I was browsing in a bookstore when I noticed a new biography of Grace Murray Hopper. In a flash, I knew that I would buy the book, read it, and tell you about her, one of the most extraordinary women ever to attend Yale, when you arrived here. What a perfect topic for this season, the fortieth anniversary of the first enrollment of women in Yale College.
And indeed the story of Grace Hopper is extraordinary:
I imagine that only a small number of you have ever heard of Grace Hopper. She was the first woman to receive a Yale Ph.D. in mathematics, one of the first women in the nation to reach the rank of Admiral in the U.S. Navy, and the first graduate of our mathematics department to be awarded the Graduate School’s Wilbur Cross Medal for distinguished contributions to scholarship and public service. She made her mark on the nation and the world as a pioneer in computer programming, leading some of the most important advances in the field as it developed in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Her story speaks to anyone who seeks self-improvement through education and hard work, and, most particularly, to you. I hope that Admiral Hopper’s voyage will inspire you as much as it has inspired me.
He encouraged the class of 2013 to take their inspiration from her life's work:
Pursue your passions as she pursued hers – from learning math to tinkering to forming and realizing a vision that computer programs could be written in ordinary language.
Give your curiosity free rein. Explore, as she did, every field of study that seems remotely interesting and find the connections among them.
Invest in acquiring skills – as she acquired languages, and math, and public speaking.
Stretch yourself beyond what is comfortable and familiar, as she did when she left Vassar to push herself to learn more advanced math and as she did again when she joined the Navy to serve her country.
Work hard and persevere in the face of initial adversity, as she did when she failed a college entry exam, when the Navy discouraged her from enlisting, when the director of the Harvard Computation Lab expressed initial disappointment in her appointment.
Be creative without isolating yourself, as she did by pursuing radical innovations in computing, while at the same time working effectively within organizations as the glue that held teams of co-workers together.
Recognize that no one else can define the limits of what is possible for you, as she did when she chose to pursue an unconventional career before her time and against all odds.
You have come to a place that offers you extraordinary opportunities for self-discovery and self-improvement. May Grace Hopper’s example inspire you to seize them.