Geraldine Richmond returned home to offer some advice at K-State’s graduate commencement Friday.
K-State awarded about 3,000 degrees in ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.
Richmond, who received the National Medal Of Science from President Barack Obama, holds a bachelor’s degree from K-State in chemistry and said she would “join the choir” of people giving the new graduates guidance on the next phase of their lives. K-State President Richard Myers also presented her with an honorary doctorate at the ceremony.
“I’m back home, and I’m also emotional,” Richmond said at the beginning of her remarks.
Richmond is now a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, where she has worked since 1985. In her research, she has used lasers to study water surface tension and how water molecules bond. She works around the world to encourage young women to get involved in science careers.
In front of the 2017 class, she listed five pieces of wisdom for the new master’s and doctoral graduates to keep in mind as they move on from K-State. First, she told them to be willing to take risks.
“I really don’t mean jumping on a Harley and going 120 miles per hour down the back roads of Kansas,” she said. “I do, however, mean doing things that take you in new directions outside of your comfort zone.”
She said they would only learn from experiences they don’t know for certain will be successful. If the results are unpredictable, success will be more rewarding, she said.
“The achievement will be of high impact, it will be extraordinarily satisfying, and most importantly, it will significantly bolster your self confidence to take on the next task.”
She also told the class to embrace diversity in their lives. She told a story from her days at K-State, when she was one of only a few female students in her classes, and being given an assignment that required her to create a pulley. Richmond made hers from a metal bracelet and a necklace.
“My approach was likely quite different from the several hundred other guys in my engineering physics class,” Richmond said.
She said getting ideas from diverse sources will bring more ideas on how to solve problems.
“Although I do not believe there is such things as a male science or a female science, or an African-American science, or a Latino science, we all bring different perspectives to a problem,” Richmond said.
Her next bit of advice was to care for themselves enough to always be at the top of their game. She told graduates not to make decisions when tired, angry or overworked.
“Your brain needs to be fully functioning to make such important decisions, and exhaustion and anger diminishes your ability to think clearly,” she said.
She also told them to remember the people who helped them reach their goal because no one gets there alone, and to help others like that in the future.
“You are here because of so many people that have helped you along the way,” Richmond said. “From the teacher that inspired you in the early years, to the friends who never gave up on you, to the neighbor that always had a smile and hello, and your wonderful family members who are here today. Love them, hug them and return the favor to others.”
She finished with a poem to demonstrate to the graduates to have the courage of their convictions. She told them to believe they could accomplish anything even when someone said it couldn’t be done, using a poem of that name by Edgar Guest.
“But just buckle in with a bit of a grin, just take off your coat and go to it,” Richmond read. “Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing that ‘cannot be done,’ and you’ll do it.”