Life update #1: Double graduation!

And the start of a new adventure

On Sunday, May 30, 2021, I finished my fifth year at Cornell University with an in-person (but short) commencement ceremony. I spent the first four years as an undergraduate in the College of Engineering, where I majored in computer science and minored in information ethics, law, and policy. After that, I enrolled in the 1-year Master of Engineering program in CS so I could dive deeper into machine learning and learn how to apply it to the world’s most pressing problems. I took classes on topics like computer vision, mechanism design, and the foundations of scalable ML, and I learned a lot about computer vision and the machine learning research process through my MEng project. Because of the pandemic, the Class of 2020 didn’t get a commencement ceremony, so I’ve been treating this year’s ceremony as a “double graduation” to celebrate attaining both my bachelor’s and MEng degrees.

The ceremony itself was surprisingly short—it was only 20 minutes long, excluding the procession. It was an overcast day—or, as President Martha Pollack described it, “in Ithaca, this counts as a sunny day.” But President Pollack brought energy to the ceremony—and coaxed the energy out of us—and her speech was both inspiring and tailored to the unusual circumstances of the past year. Referencing the song from Hamilton, she talked about how the pandemic turned our world upside down for the past year. She spoke to the shock many of us faced when, in March 2020, we found out that Cornell was sending us home for the rest of the semester. She lauded our collective choice, “day after day, and hour after hour, to put community first” by following the COVID-19 public health guidelines all year and getting vaccinated as soon as we could.

Pollack’s broader point was that we are almost certain to see our worlds turned upside down again, whether by a global event or a turning point in our personal lives. And since we’ve endured the pandemic together, we’ll be able to endure whatever is in store for us. I thought of the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel, which reminds us that no matter how tumultuous the world is today, it’s been just as tumultuous in the past and will be in the future:

On the day of the ceremony, I didn’t get to take many photos or see many of my friends who I knew were attending. So I’ve decided not to think of my graduation as the end of my life at Cornell. I’m still going to hang out with my Cornell friends over the summer and stay connected to the communities I’ve participated in during my five years here, including Women in Computing at Cornell. As President Pollack said, “Cornell will always be a part of you, just as you, the extraordinary Class of 2021, will always be a part of Cornell.”

This summer, starting on June 21, I’m participating in the Data Science for Social Good remote fellowship at Stanford. The last month has been a busy time for me, so I’m going to use the three weeks before my internship to relax, hang out with friends, reconnect with old hobbies like Pokémon video games, and reconnect with the effective altruism community. During the fellowship, I hope to learn more about machine learning and practical data science skills, and to apply EA principles to the project I’ll be working on. After that, I’ll be vacationing in Spain, if EU travel restrictions allow it.

What I’ll be doing career-wise afterward is up in the air. I hope to find a job in data science or machine learning engineering in a tech-first organization, because I’m prioritizing mentorship and a supportive work culture. After that, I want to find a job that’s more closely aligned with my social values, like a data science position at GiveWell. But no matter what, I’m excited for whatever comes next.

I like to mark the start of a new adventure in my life with “The Journey Starts Today,” the theme song for the Pokémon Journeys anime series. So here it is: