Hope and graduation

The past week was a bit of a blur and part of me is grateful for that. Too much it seems was going on in the world. I am rather glad I missed most of it. Tuesday was my brother’s high school graduation and while not everything had gone entirely to plan in the days leading up to the big event, things had begun to finally work themselves out.

We made our way into the arena where the ceremony would take place. Though it was only midmorning, the weather was already hot and humid, however, thanks to my grandfather’s attendance (and his handicap placard) we didn’t have to walk far. I scanned the program while we waited. There were over six hundred names in total, double that of my graduating class. We might as well get comfortable.

The orchestra began to play as we rose for the national anthem. Most of us stood in silence, preferring to let the trained voices of the chorus do their work. But not my grandfather. At 101, he belted out the lyrics as proudly as if he was a superfan at a rock concert (something by the way he’d never willingly attend – he’s more of a jazz man). Then it was on to Pomp and Circumstance, as the graduates filed into the building dressed in their black robes and graduation caps.

After what felt like ages, I saw my brother enter. We shouted and waved, but we weren’t quite loud enough to capture his attention. I saw him scan the crowds looking for us, but not matter how much I jumped, waved, or made silly faces, he just kept scanning. Sometimes my lack of height really is a disadvantage.

The crowds sat as the principal took the podium. Due to the number of names that needed to be called, she asked that we keep our applause to a minimum so that all students and their families might have an opportunity to hear their names called.

I saw my brother rise and get into line at the stage. I fiddled with my camera’s zoom readying to make the shot. I zoomed too much and couldn’t find him. I looked away from the viewfinder, but without the zoom, the distance was too far to make out which of the uniformly clad individuals was him. I heard my brother’s name called. What? Is he already crossing the stage? I was stunned. My grandfather cheered. At 101, it is amazing what rules no longer apply. His cheers snapped me out of my stunned silence and I shouted a quick whoop as my brother took his diploma and made his way back to his seat.

graduation ceremony
And like that, my brother is a graduate

As we exited the arena, an announcement requested that we vacate as quickly as possible in order to allow the next series of graduates to enter the building. They wouldn’t be the last either. Graduation ceremonies will run throughout the next several days filled with speeches about hope, pride, and opportunity, even if flavored with a bit of nostalgia regarding what is being left behind.

I couldn’t help wondering what my grandfather must think of speeches about new beginnings at his age. Did the nostalgia now outweigh the hope and promise? His phone rang as we maneuvered out of the parking lot. His wife, seated by my side, smiled as she listened to the conversation. She leaned over to me. “His brother-in-law is 104 you know.” I, wide-eyed, assured her I didn’t. “Oh yes, and one of your grandfather’s old girlfriends, who is 102, is at the same assisted living center.” She laughed. “Your grandfather has been trying to set them up for the past couple of years, but she doesn’t seem to want to return his calls.”

Clearly, hope, pride and opportunity are not limited to only the graduate, so use them well, and use them often.





It’s all in a day’s work

I don’t tend to write about my day job. There is the obvious reason –  while I have no reason to suspect that my boss reads anything I write here, he is, at the end of the day, literate, and I appreciate the whole being able to provide food for my children thing. There is also the less obvious reason – the stuff of my day-to-day usually doesn’t make for great story-telling (and I may or may not be bound to secrecy under non-disclosure agreements for the stuff that does).

On this particular day, I was tasked with inspecting non-conforming material. What is that? I’m glad you asked. It’s the junk that doesn’t make the cut on a production line. When product gets chewed up, blown up, or otherwise ruined on an assembly line it is moved to the side rather than simply thrown away so that people like me can periodically go through it and say, “yup, that’s a pretty expensive paperweight you have there,” and then, in either a threatening or collaborative tone depending on audience and/or situation, ask “how did it happen, how can we improve our process or how can we ensure our suppliers improve theirs so it doesn’t happen again?”

See? You haven’t missed much.

Reuse Recycle
How these days can make me feel (image courtesy of flickr)

After authorizing the final piece of flawed inventory to go into the scrap heap, I drove to a nearby university and met with a relative who’d nearly completed her first year. She told me she was considering changing her major to electrical engineering.  As we talked about how much fun she was having solving problems and programming devices to compete in various robotic challenges, it made me a tad nostalgic for my college days. Building a remote-controlled robotic monstrosity that was able to pick up tennis balls only to then shoot them at high speeds at targets on the other side of the room while being attacked by a rival team’s robot (which was as awesome as it sounds) suddenly seemed light years away from the type of engineering work I was now doing.

After my day, a part of me wanted to tell her, run! run while you still can! At the same time, I know that STEM fields need more women like her, and so I smiled and nodded in encouragement instead.

Gradually, we talked about the friends she was making on campus who hailed from other parts of the world. She asked me if I’d ever studied abroad. The answer is no. At least, that was the answer in regards to her specific question about my experience in college. However, I have studied abroad, albeit not through an accredited educational program.

I’ve visited places several places around the world for fun, but I’ve also experienced the joy of eating a saffron flavored risotto featuring fish freshly caught from Lake Como in Italy and climbed the to the Peak of Hong Kong in between touring factories. I’ve been to several places and met hundreds of people I wouldn’t have ever known even existed had it not been for my day job (even if I sometimes go kicking and screaming – reference most posts I’ve tagged as travel).

Finest women become electrical engineers

However, my day job is more than being crammed into the cattle class of an airplane or overcoming jet leg. I also get to enjoy all the routine mind-numbing exciting things that come standard with most office jobs: emails, deadlines, phone calls and meetings . . . so many meetings . . . (whoops, I started losing my train of thought thinking about where all my time goes).

But, thankfully, there is usually more to it too. An engineering background has taught me all about the wonderful magic that can be performed with a strong cup of coffee, a roll of duct tape and/or a decent soldering iron. I understand why the it’s not the voltage that will kill you, but the current, and how arcing means more than character development. Even better, I’ve seen how the things we take for granted are made and have had a front row seat to what is coming next in the pipeline.

In the years since I decided to really pursue writing, I’ve found myself occasionally wondering if I would still pursue engineering were I ever able to crack the mechanics of a functional time machine. How would I advise my younger self? Would I have chosen a writing path back then, or would I have picked something entirely different like design? But then it hits me that the hypothetical time machine built in my garage would not exist were it not for the choices I made back then, choices that have made me the person I am today. Lost in that particular paradox, I can only come to the conclusion that while I am a writer, I am a STEM lady as well and equally proud of it.

As we enter the graduation season, I know that there are several others out there contemplating their next moves and worrying what might happen if they make the wrong choice. Don’t. There are few constants in life: death, taxes, and possibly, the speed of light. You can always change course if you need to. If I have learned nothing else in my pursuit of both engineering and writing, it is this, all things are possible provided you are willing to do the work.

This is hilarious in my work circles. (image from xkcd.com)