“The Best Gloat Ever!”

Here are the highlights from my final Baccalaureate Semester, and a nice surprise at the actual ceremony:

MATH 481a: In my Numerical Methods class (a class that covers how to use computers to estimate high-precision answers to higher math problems such as boundary problems in differential calculus), my Math professor achieved something I would have never thought possible, namely publicly praising me in class so many times that I actually became embarrassed. Literally 10% of the classes included special Tom-praising sections. He sent me this note to tell me that the A was a lock, even before he’d graded our finals:

“Tom! it was a pleasure to have you in my class. I have earmarked you for an A. I don’t care how you did in your take-home or your final exam. Your interest in the course and your participations during the semester has already earned your a grade that you deserve. Congratulations, I’ll keep in touch wherever I go.”

COMP 429: Even though I work at a networking company, I actually learned quite a lot in my Computer Networking class. I have managed to slip by all these many years without needing to write any code at the socket level, except for a small RMISocketFactory that I wrote at work in Java. But the last several weeks of the Computer Networking class were all about socket-level programming, and we had to write an assignment that did a good job of covering the basics: TCP, UDP, concurrent services, simple protocol design, etc. Here’s the note that my Computer Networking professor sent me:

“Tom, you did very well for the course. Your grade for COMP 429 is A.

Your project was done exceptionally well. I gave you extra credit for the efforts you put into the project. I think you should go on and design/writing code for Alcatel switches, but getting a Master’s degree is the right step toward that direction.

If I can be of any help, please let me know.”

Aren’t these nice letters? I was in heaven.

Then my Commencement was Thursday, and I won an award! I had known that I was up for it — I got a call from one of the professors to let me know that several of the professors had mentioned my name — but during the interview he had asked me about any special things about me, “They like it if, for example, you’re the first person in your family to get a degree.” I considered mentioning that my father was a Doctor of Medicine, my mother was a Registered Nurse, and my sister and her husband both have Master’s Degrees in Education, “…so how about being the last person in the family to get a degree? That’s still pretty special!” But I didn’t. So, maybe no award.

One thing that I had thought went well in the interview was that the professor asked me, “I see that you took Spanish. Did you have it in High School?” “No, I took that course to satisfy the ‘appreciating other cultures in our country’ requirement.” “Well, yeah, but there are probably much easier ways of satisfying that requirement than taking a college-level language course in a language that you’re unfamiliar with?” “Oh sure, but all of the other courses were things like, ‘Diversity in America,’ ‘The Chicano in America,’ ‘The Chicana in America,’ ‘The Black Man [Woman] in America,’ and so on, and I just felt like it would go a lot further towards understanding another culture in America if I took a step towards actually being able to communicate with them — especially living in Los Angeles.”

I had decided on a strategy of doing everything I could to forget the possibility of a delicious, resume-enhancing award. I really, really wanted it, but was afraid that I wouldn’t get it, so the best thing was just to never think about it. And of course this was completely impossible, because I had told people about the phone call, so just about every week, someone would ask, “What ever became of that award…?”

But, pretty early in the ceremony, the President of the College of Engineering and Computer Science announced that the Computer Science Department’s Academic Performance Award, given to one student in each graduating class, went to…me, ha ha, yes! My campaign of not thinking about it had worked! I beat out 188 other Computer Science graduating Seniors.

A few days later, I received the award in a nice cover
(click to see inside):

I called up my Mom in North Carolina afterwards to tell her, and she had seen the whole ceremony on live Internet feed! She had even figured out what the problem was when the screen saver made the screen go blank during the middle of the ceremony, and moved the mouse a bit to bring the picture back. My sister Jan in Indiana missed the award, but got her copy of QuickTime updated in time to see me receive my diploma. What an age we live in!

Afterwards, Sean, his girlfriend Malarie, and some of my best friends and I went out for Mexican food and (in the case of the adults) Tequila. A lovely day.

I start my first day of COMP 588, Software Engineering Economics (Summer Session) on Monday. Two more years or so, and that Master’s degree will be mine, all mine!

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