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On the morning of June 15, 2024, hundreds of students, adorned in graduation caps and gowns, began their procession into UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center for the Commencement Ceremony of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). The students could hardly contain their enthusiasm as ICS began its celebration of the roughly 975 undergraduate degrees, 140 graduate degrees, and 270 professional master’s degrees that ICS expects to confer this academic year.

A photo collage showing 10 different students walking in, all smiling.
UCI students walking into the Bren Events Center for the 2024 ICS Commencement Ceremony. (Photos courtesy of Pro Pics)

“In just a few minutes, I will be conferring your degrees upon you, marking the culmination of what has been an incredible journey,” announced UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman. “All those years of dreaming, aspiring, planning; so many long days and late nights; historic challenges to overcome; the setbacks that you pushed through, persisting through every adversity…. take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of your accomplishment.”

Indeed, student speaker Grace Newman recalled the inauspicious start for many back in the fall of 2020, while featured speaker Pat Helland looked to the future, offering three pieces of advice for students as they embark on their next journey.

Changing Society for the Better

Grace at the podium, speaking during graduation
Grace Newman

After welcoming the crowd of students, families and friends, and esteemed faculty, ICS Dean Marios C. Papaefthymiou introduced Newman, who earned a B.S. in informatics with a specialization in health informatics. She will continue her education in the fall through UCI’s Master of Data Science program.

“With a diverse background in health data science, informatics, leadership, and research, she excels in creating intuitive and insightful reports to help organizations make data-driven decisions,” he said. “While her specialties are in medical informatics and biostatistics, her skills are applicable anywhere, and she loves to branch out into new fields and drive impactful solutions.”

As Newman addressed her classmates, she recalled how she had started her UCI journey during the global pandemic, taking ICS 31 with Professor Alfaro over zoom and watching her enable silly online filters to lighten the mood. “This unique form of community, tethered by an Internet connection, shaped us as a class,” she said, highlighting their ICS bonds while acknowledging their varied interests as designers, engineers, researchers, gamers, and even sociologists, healthcare workers, and business analysts.

“As the leading innovators of the next generation in computer science, it is absolutely imperative that we link our sense of humanity to the virtual connections we fostered during our first years here,” she continued. “Our tech-savvy, globally linked generation has the unique ability and the responsibility to embody the principles of humanity we have studied at UC Irvine, and to act to change society for the better.”

She then quoted her senior capstone professor, Matthew Bietz: “Even as we’re deep in the weeds about what JavaScript function or mobile app framework to use, software design is about building empathy and understanding who’s on the other end of these systems.” Newman went on to explain that “this understanding makes us leaders in our field, best equipped to design and produce technology that meets real human needs for real human people.”

Chasing Change and Creating Connections

Pat at the podium, speaking during commencement
Patt Helland

Dean Marios then returned to the podium to introduce Helland, a Salesforce software architect. Helland arrived at UCI in September 1973 and quickly fell in love with programming, but two and a half years into his degree, he left UCI to work full-time to support his young family. “In that sense, Pat may seem an unusual choice as our commencement speaker,” said Dean Marios, before emphasizing why he was still the perfect choice. “Pat is incredibly smart, with a clear passion for both UCI and computer science…. His story is proof that there are many paths to success, not just one, and that whether your time learning here at UCI is a lot or a little, if you make the most of it, you can do great things.”

Helland’s career achievements include driving significant advancements at Microsoft, Amazon and Salesforce. As he discussed some of these achievements, he stressed that UCI provided his strong foundation. “I’m honored to be here and am in awe of your accomplishment,” he told the students. “You’ve done something that I never managed to do. You graduated college!”

He then offered the graduating class three pieces of advice centered around determination, curiosity and kindness:

  • don’t abandon your dreams, even when you feel hopeless;
  • always be curious and chase change, because change creates opportunities; and
  • gratefully receive mentorship and look for opportunities to mentor others.

He stressed the third piece of advice, noting that mentorship isn’t a one-way street; it can create connections that shape your future. “Perhaps my most important point is about connections and generosity. I’ve seen firsthand the value of approaching people as people first and friends, even though they work for a competitor,” he said. He then reiterated his advice before sending the students off to celebrate their new beginning: “Whatever path you take, pursue it with passion, curiosity, kindness, and determination!”

Closing with Alacrity and Flourish

To conclude the ceremony, Dean Marios asked the students to honor some “very special guests who deserve well-earned recognition.” He then praised the family and friends in attendance for their encouragement and sacrifice, and the students gave them a roaring round of applause. “We salute you,” said Dean Marios, before making one final request.

“Graduates, raise your hands and join me in three strong anteater zots,” he said. “It should be done with alacrity and flourish. These are my instructions!”

With even more enthusiasm than when first entering the Bren Center, the newly minted ICS Class of 2024 proudly offered a final UCI “zot zot zot” before heading off as tomorrow’s tech leaders, ready to change society for the better.

The group of four, in front of a UCI backdrop, showing the “anteater face” with their hands, where the two middle fingers touch the thumb while the index and pinky fingers remain up.
A UCI “zot zot zot” by (from left) student speaker Grace Newman, Mace Marshal Vijay Kumar ’99, featured speaker Pat Helland and Dean Marios Papaefthymiou.

Shani Murray

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