Reflection Speakers Connect, Inspire at Commencement
What would you say if you only had three minutes to sum up your entire Georgia Tech experience — and inspire your fellow graduates — on one of the biggest days of your life?
At each of Georgia Tech’s Commencement ceremonies (bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D.), a graduating student serves as a reflection speaker. With limited time, and in front of a large audience, they are tasked with sharing memories, crafting an inspiring message and theme, and leaving graduates, their friends, and their families with a warm feeling and maybe even a teardrop or two.
At this fall’s ceremonies, the bachelor’s speaker is computer science student Gautami Chennur, master’s graduates will hear from Joshua Ingersoll in aerospace engineering, and the Ph.D. reflection speaker is Sungmee Park, a principal research scientist in the School of Materials Science and Engineering.
To become a reflection speaker, students must apply, and a panel of faculty, staff, and students selects a group of finalists. They in turn present a full version of their speech to the committee and, once selected, are required to work with Tech’s Communication Center during the semester to help prepare them for their moment in the spotlight.
Chennur and Ingersoll recently shared, well, their reflections on their time at Tech and this weekend’s Commencement ceremonies.
Marietta, Georgia, native Chennur was involved in a handful of student organizations as an undergraduate, but her favorite extracurricular was being part of student publications. In her first year, she started working on the staff of Erato, the campus literary arts magazine, and later served as the editor-in-chief for two years. “It has been a rewarding experience to showcase all of the talented art and literature from Tech students,” she said. In her senior year, Chennur was the chair of the Board of Student Publications.
She hadn’t planned on applying to be a reflection speaker, but she saw an email about it “and I thought I could give it a chance! My speech is inspired by my journey at Georgia Tech and how the Tech community has helped me grow.”
Chennur spent a lot of time “just talking to myself in the mirror and forcing my friends to listen to my speech,” she explained. She approached her speech from the perspective of resilience. “Georgia Tech has not always been a walk in the park,” Chennur said. “We all have experienced struggles, whether it be personal stress, classes, trying to find jobs, or some combination of it all; to walk across that stage is a great accomplishment.”
She wants her fellow graduates to “celebrate their victories and recognize that we played a part in creating the next at Georgia Tech.” Chennur will be taking her Tech degree to OneTrust, a privacy, security, and third-party risk technology company based in Atlanta, where she will work as a user experience designer.
For Ingersoll, this Commencement ceremony represents “the end of the most dynamic chapter of my life so far.” That chapter is Georgia Tech, where he earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering in 2018 and will be receiving his M.S. on Dec. 13. Over the past five and a half years, he said, “I learned so much about not only rockets and satellites but about myself. I discovered a passion for teaching, and I continued to develop my passion for music. I have so many emotions about graduation this time around.”
More than nerves, Ingersoll is filled with excitement. As a seasoned musical theater actor and Glee Club singer, he has been focusing less on the pressures of public speaking and more on the content of his remarks — which he almost didn’t submit in time, thanks to ill-timed travel plans and a data collection error. But he made it with minutes to spare and was ecstatic to learn he’d been selected.
The preparation for his speech has involved a fair amount of Microsoft Excel work and examining 12 semesters of T-Square and Canvas data. As he described it, “I really wanted to create a numerical representation of what Commencement means to both me and the rest of the Class of 2019. I hope that I leave the audience with a better understanding of just how much work goes into graduating from Georgia Tech.”
After graduation, Ingersoll, his fiancée Jacquie, and their dog Scout will be moving to northern Virginia, where he will be starting a job as a spacecraft systems engineer at the Aerospace Corporation. He won’t be attending Jacquie’s graduation from the University of Georgia with a master’s in special education, though, because it’s happening on the same day — and at the same time — as his. But with the pragmatism you might expect from an engineer, he views it as a simple, unchangeable fact moving forward, when “the Saturday after Thanksgiving will always leave our house divided.”