A Last Lecture by Dartmouth Professor Thomas Cormen

A Last Lecture by Dartmouth Professor Thomas Cormen


– Okay, let’s get settled,
let’s get settled in here. Couple of reminders, we
have the review session Wednesday 12:15 to 2:15, right here and that’s optional, it’s open, like the other review sessions, no agenda, I’m just here to answer questions. And then of course we have the final exam Friday at three, here, not in LSC, sorry that it’s going to be here, I know it’s not as nice for you guys, but that’s where they put us. And if you are not taking the
exam Friday, three to six, in this room, you need to contact me by nine a.m. Wednesday so I can make alternate arrangements, okay? So here we are, we made it to
the end of the term, right? It sneaks up on you, doesn’t it, right? Those fast Dartmouth terms. So I want to start off
by thanking the people that really make this course run, and that’s the course staff. So I’m going to put up
pictures of each one, and what I would like you to do is make noise, however
you want to make noise, if they were your section
leader or helped you in any way at any point during the term. So we start off… Whoops, we start off, there we are– – [Student] Sean! – [Thomas] With our grad TA Sean! (applause) Okay, and then in alphabetical order, the section leaders, Anne Bailey, sitting in the back.
(applause) Nora Benmohamed!
(applause) Sharon Bian!
(applause) – [Student] I love you Sharon! – [Thomas] Rachael Chacko!
(applause) Michelle Chen!
(applause) Frances Cohen and her llama!
(applause) Laurel Dernbach!
(applause) Kai Frey!
(applause) All right. Lessley Hernandez!
(applause) – [Student] I love you! – [Thomas] And her mommy shark. All right Drea Jenkins!
(applause) Jiachen Jiang!
(applause) – [Student] I love you Jiachen! – Hanna, who’s last
name I cannot pronounce. (applause) Jewels Lichtenberg!
(applause) Oh, where are we, there we are, Penny Liu!
(applause) Christina Lu!
(applause) Erika Ogino!
(applause) Leah Ryu!
(applause) Julian Wu!
(applause) Oh, wow, good cheer for Julian, all right. Linda Xiao!
(applause) And finally, Michel Zhu!
(applause) I’m glad to hear all that noise, because we really do
rely on the course staff. We’ve been using section leaders in the introductory
computer science course since the spring of 1998. I was the first professor
to pilot that program, and it worked really well,
it was a win, win, win. It was good for the students
because they had so many points of help, it was great for me because it took a huge
load off my shoulders, and it was also great
for the section leaders, they had a fantastic experience. So I actually have compiled a list of all the section leaders that I’ve supervised in the introductory CS
course, which is CS1, and before that our old CS5 course. There were 240 section leaders, some of whom served for me multiple times. Here’s the first half. The first 100. All right, and this is, you know, over quite a number of
years now, 21 years. And here’s the second 101. So quite a few people. So as I said, some of them
served me multiple times, or served the students multiple times, and of course I was teaching,
and I’ve had one person who’s actually been a section
leader for me three times, and that is our section leader
from this time, Linda Xiao. And Linda–
(applause) Linda was a section leader
for me her freshman spring, and got better course
evaluations than I did. (laughter) So by my count, this is my 62nd course that I’ve taught at Dartmouth. Not counting thesis and reading courses. And I estimate just back of
the envelope calculation, that I’ve given about 1770 lectures. And this is my last course at Dartmouth, and this is my last lecture. And that’s why I told you there
would be something special. There’s an academic
tradition of a last lecture, and it’s done in various
ways, and if you ever want to see the best last lecture ever, go to YouTube and search
for Randy Pausch’s last lecture, this is Randy Pausch, not during his last lecture. He was a professor of computer
science at Carnegie Melon, he was dying of cancer, and he gave what was his last lecture about making your dreams come true. So my last lecture’s not
going to be as amazing as Randy Pausch’s, but it’s special to me ’cause I only get to do it once, and I got to tell you,
I’ve never been so nervous for a lecture as I am today. So remember when I told you
that this would be on the test? I didn’t mean the CS1 final. I meant a different test. I meant a test that’s going
to happen after you graduate. You see, you probably knew that you were going to
go to college, right? Not everybody here knew
that, but most people here knew that they were
going to go to college, and the choice is really
which college to go to. There wasn’t a whole lot
of degrees of freedom here, it was I’m going to college,
and it’s just which one. But you’re going to graduate
from here, I hope, you hope– (laughter) And you’re going to have
to decide what to do, and now you, at that point you’ll have a lot of degrees of freedom. You could be deciding to go get a job, you could be deciding to
got to graduate school, or professional school. If you get a job, what kind of job? So as you’re thinking about
what you want to do in life, I would like you to consider a few things. I’m going to start off with a basic fact, the Earth is doomed. It’s absolutely doomed. Remember we talked about
the sun burning out? It’s going to happen. The sun is going to burn
out, it’s going to explode, it’s going to vaporize the Earth. Not for a few billion years,
but it’s going to happen. So, what’s going to
happen to the human race? How will the human race survive? Will we find another place to go? Will we be able to get there? Will we be able to bring all the stuff that we need to survive there? Right? What will the human race
even be at that point, right? I mean, you know, it probably won’t be homo sapiens anymore, right? We’ll be homo something else, right? So, as you think about that,
think about, beyond that, there’s the heat death of the universe, whatever that is. So this leads to a question,
a very simple question, does anything really matter? Does anything matter? Or, let me put it another way, and the way that I want to talk about. How do we find meaning in life, given that ultimately,
not only are we all dead, but the Earth gets
vaporized and we probably don’t find another planet to go to anyway. How do we find meaning in life? If nothing matters, if
nothing really matters, how do we, or why should we
bother living a virtuous life? Why not just make a ton of money, get a big house, a fancy fast car, a boat, drink 20 year
old single malt Scotch, I was Googling, you can get 50 year old single malt Scotch if
you want to pay enough. Dine at expensive restaurants every night, why not just do that, why not just live the hedonistic lifestyle? You have the ability to do that. Lots of Dartmouth alumni are
going to go to Wall Street, they’re going to make a ton of money, they’re going to work in
finance, what do they do, they move money from one place to another, and then they skim a little
bit off as it goes by, and I know I’m simplifying a little bit, and in fact some of these
people have benefited me to the point that I can retire, but you know, ultimately that’s
really what’s going on here. Indulge me though, okay. Or, maybe you become a CS major,
and you get a job in tech, you move to the Bay Area,
you get a six figure salary, they give you meals, they give you other on-site benefits, you know, oil changes, dry cleaning, massages, I don’t know. (laughter) And you’re going to spend
all of that six figures on rent and Uber–
(laughter) And especially if you’re
in California, taxes, and you’re going to
have nothing left over. But here’s the real
question, if you do all that, if you go to Wall Street
and make a ton of money, or if you go out to the Bay Area, is that going to give
you a satisfying life? And maybe it will. But what meaning would your life have? I’m going to tell you a story. One of my former students,
actually his name was up there before,
’cause he was actually a CS1, CS5 section leader
from many years ago. Class of 2000. Double major, computer
science and history. And as he was in his senior year, he came to my office, we
talked about career plans, and he told me that he was
going to go to Wall Street and make a ton of money, because he wanted to join a country club, he wanted to eat at expensive restaurants every night. And, you know, I knew the
guy, and I knew, you know, he was a section leader and a good one. You can’t be a good section leader if you’re not a soulful person. And it just seemed like
what he was planning to do it just didn’t fit with
what I knew of him, but you know he really
wanted the country club, fancy restaurant lifestyle. And I said to him, and I
remember exactly what I said, I said, that may feed your stomach, but it won’t feed your soul. And he laughed at me and
said that was so corny. (laughter) I heard from him a few years later, he asked me for a recommendation letter because he was applying to
the University of Wisconsin, for a PhD in history. So, eventually he realized, yeah, it wasn’t feeding his soul. That was a great victory for me. (laughter) So, I can’t tell you how
to find meaning, right? ‘Cause I’m not living your life. But I can tell you ways in which I have found some meaning in my own life. I find some meaning in my own job, or, I guess it’s about to be past tense, although I’m going to
be here on the faculty for another two years, just not teaching, so let’s just say, I found
some meaning in my job, and I will continue to. And look, what’s my job? I’m a professor, I get to do research, I get to teach, and I get
to do professional service. And the service is to my
professional community, and to the institution Dartmouth as well. So let me talk about the
meaning I get from my research, and it’s actually very brief, which is, it’s from working with my students. When I do research I’m
doing it with students, and I really enjoy working with students, and teaching them how to do research, teaching them how to discover. The meaning I get in my service? Yeah, most people don’t enjoy service, for me it’s really helping
the careers of others, and also as I’ve mentioned I did direct the writing program, excuse, the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric for four years, and I chaired my own
department for six years, and I, you know, I found meaning in helping these units
improve, get better, et cetera. Where I found plenty of
meaning is in my teaching. You might have noticed I enjoy teaching. That’s why I’m here. As I told you in the first class, this is my 25th time
teaching the intro course. Students lives have been
changed in my courses. Especially in the intro course. Some people came in sure
they were going to study computer science, they took CS1 or CS5, and they realized, oh,
this is not what I thought, and, you know, you might be one of them, and that’s okay! That’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with discovering what it
is you don’t want to do. That’s fine. But we’ve also had several
who, it went the other way. Where they came in not expecting
to study computer science, and they did. I remember the very first time
I taught the intro course, back in fall of 1993, where
were you in fall of 1993? Had your parents even met yet? And there was this guy
Greg, he was senior, taking the intro course
from me in the fall, and he killed it, he got
an A with a citation, if I recall, and he ended
up taking our second course and then our third course,
what you now know as CS50, and even though I think
he was history major, if I’m not mistaken, he
ended up working in software, he got a job in software. A few years later and I may have mentioned this student to you, Lauren, she was also one of our section leaders,
she graduated in 1999, and took the intro course
from me her sophomore fall, not planning to be a CS major, maybe math, maybe religion, she wasn’t sure, but boy was she good at this stuff, not great on the tests, but
really good at the coding, and loved it. I encouraged her to take more CS, she did, she ended up being my
senior thesis student, she wrote the very best senior
thesis I’ve ever advised, we took a third of it and sent it off to the top conference
in parallel computing and it got in. I would have had Lauren give the talk but it was right after she graduated, the conference is in
France, she was interning at the CIA, they didn’t want
her to go out of the country, so I had to go to France and drink the wine and eat the food. (laughter) And Lauren went off to MIT
to work with my advisor, ’cause how could I pay him
back for all he did for me, send him students like Lauren. She gets there, he’s not there. He’s gone on leave. So she works in a different group, gets her Masters in one year,
which nobody does at MIT, she hates it. She doesn’t like the city,
she doesn’t like Boston, she doesn’t like MIT, she doesn’t
like being a grad student, she grew up in the suburbs of Illinois, and she decides she’s
going to go take a job in Silicon Valley, ’cause
that’s more like a suburb, she’s trying to decide
between two companies, VM Ware and another company, I suggested VM Ware, they make software that allows one computer
to emulate another. She went against my advice
and took this other job, ’cause she liked their
product, and that was Google, and she got there in 2000,
Lauren’s been retired for quite a while now.
(laughter) Her husband’s still working there, so they live in Mountain View, but she also owns property in Yosemite, how cool is that? Another student, Liz, also
took the course from me her sophomore fall in I
think it was 1999, or 2000, 2000, right in here,
and Liz was going to do engineering physics, but
just couldn’t help herself, loved doing the coding, also
became my thesis student. When Liz graduated she
wanted to work at Google when they were setting
up their New York office and they didn’t want to put any fresh college grads in there,
either people with experience or advanced degrees and I told them well at this point I’ve
got a good track record with Google, I told them put Liz in there, in a few years she’ll
be running the joint. In a few years she was running the joint and now she’s out in Mount
View as a VP at Google, so Liz is doing pretty well. And then another student
who I love to talk about, Stephanie, she was an 09, and she took the intro course from
me her sophomore fall, contacted me before the term saying I’m going to be in your office
getting help all the time, and she was, until she wasn’t. About three quarters of
the way through the term she stopped showing up, and typically that’s because the student has given up. In Stephanie’s case it
wasn’t ’cause she gave up, it was ’cause she didn’t
need the help anymore, and by the last lab
assignment, she came by saying you got any more extra credit? And Stephanie became a CS major, and is now in San Diego doing CS stuff and then also annoying
the hell out of people by playing bagpipes.
(laughter) So lots of great stories here, but the point here is
that one of the reasons, in fact probably the reason I love teaching this course the most is because I get to changes lives. Presumably for the better. And this is what I love, you know, I’m changing lives by
teaching this course. So that’s meaning for me,
that’s a way I find meaning. I also find meaning in my writing, so I’ve mentioned this
book a few times, right? It’s called Introduction to Algorithms, it’s also known as
CLRS, after the initials of the authors, Cormen,
Leiserson, Rivest, Stein. We do things alphabetically in
theoretical computer science, which is why when we were looking for our fourth author
after the first edition which was CLR, I chose Stein,
’cause it came after there. Instead of say, my friend Jay Aslam. So this book came about because I was a graduate student at MIT, and I had to be a TA for a year, TA or a research assistant for a year, and I was assigned to the
undergraduate algorithms course and my job was to write up notes. And apparently I did too good a job and my advisor who was
the course professor, Charles Leiserson, suggested
we turn it into a book and we did, and it only
took three and a half years to do the first edition while
I was still in grad school which is that and hockey is why I took the eight years to get my PhD. And this book, you know,
we didn’t expect it to be what it became, it was just the right book at the right time. We’ve sold almost a million
copies at this point. For an advanced textbook,
that is fricking amazing. It’s been translated into a
bunch of different languages, we’re working on the fourth edition now, and some day it may get done. And this is a way that
I know that I’ve really effected people’s lives, and the way that I can really tell is that I mention I’ve gone to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing a few times, and when people meet me there, they are just amazed, like
that they’re actually meeting the author of this book
that they know so well, and I mean I had, there was one person who’s literally writhing
on the floor having met me, and I say this not to brag, just to say I know the impact this book has on people’s lives, and
to brag a little bit. (laughter) So, you know, I, this
is what I’m known for. Writing this book changed my life, and it’s what I’m known
for professionally. I’m not known for my
research in particular, it’s really what I’m
known for professionally. But where I really find meaning in my professional life is mentoring. Working with students and helping students with their work, and with their lives. I’ve graduated only
five PhDs, which in 28, or 27 plus years, well it’ll be 28, that’s not very many. I haven’t graduated that many PhDs, but I am proud to say
that of the five PhDs? Three were women. And I’ve supervised 22
senior thesis students, 10 men, 12 women, and I’m
very proud of all of them, but you know, especially that I’ve been such a good mentor to women. And I’ve mentored many
other undergraduates, section leaders, graders,
people in reading courses, people just doing research,
students in general who had no reason to
connect with me at all, and also some who just became my friends. And what I love about
this is that I can take my life experiences, and
I’ve had 63 years of them, and I get to help guide others with that. I find meaning in my
personal life as well, and there’s lots of ways
that you can find meaning in your personal life. One way is by self improvement. And is this thing going to work? There we are. That’s me on August 10th of this year. I have cropped out the rest of the photo, this is with some friends from college. Let’s see if this laser thing will work, yeah, you see that part?
(laughter) So, this photo was sent
to me and I decided I didn’t like that at all, you know? Who’s the fat guy with the Buddha belly? Right? And then two weeks later, August 24th, this is me with two mayors. One of them, the one on
the left is Sue Prentiss the former mayor of
Lebanon, New Hampshire. The one on the right is some
guy from South Bend Indiana. And again, it’s like, what’s
with this little fanny pack I’m wearing in the front?
(laughter) So, the first, so I know
that in the first photo I was at least 182 pounds,
’cause I weighed myself a few days later with a
really accurate scale. In this photo I weighed 177 pounds. This morning, I weighed 152 pounds. (applause)
Thank you. And I had set a goal to
lose a lot of weight, and I had a secondary goal which is to, hello Prasad. (Prasad laughing) This is our department
chair and my good friend, professor Prasad Jayanti (applause) – Thank you. Sorry for barging in like
this professor (laughs). But we had to do it. I’m Prasad Jayanti as you
said, and this is Curt, our system administrator. And you all know I’m sure, this is the last class and
the last lecture for Tom, after being here for 27 full years, and this is the 28th year running. And Tom is a devoted teacher,
as you probably know, but there’s something that you don’t know. And that is, he will remember you years after you have
graduated from Dartmouth, even decades after. And I, they say that
he is my only colleague who has that sort of ability
to remember his students, and that comes from deep caring. And so, how can we miss the opportunity to make this moment permanent,
by photographing him, with you all?
(laughter) So we’re here, are here
exclusively for that purpose, and, so how best can we do that? I think, I mean given that we don’t know what plan you have for the lecture, we wanted this to be
brief, so that we are not taking time away from
you, the precious time, so maybe you can sit just as you are, and I see a blank chair very conveniently right in the center of the classroom. Right in the center. And privileged are these six students here to be seated next to him. (students talking) And make sure, make sure
your faces will be seen, by doing this if you are behind. Yeah, then, maybe, some
of them are moving. Are you able to cover this whole thing? I see, I see outsiders
running into the classroom to capture this moment.
(laughter) Are you able to cover them all though? – I am not able to cover
the whole thing, no. – He’s not able to, so come, so we– – [Thomas] Can you stitch it together? (Prasad talking inaudibly) – [Student] Take that like
five minutes to cry too. – [Thomas] Well, I’m going to have to do the rest of this really fast. (students talking) You got it? – [Prasad] He thinks he’s got everyone, if you didn’t think you
got into the picture because you were hidden, one more. And now I want a picture too.
(laughter) – [Thomas] Thank you.
(applause) Thanks Prasad. – [Prasad] My pleasure. (Prasad whispering) – [Thomas] Of course! Your wife’s back there. – [Prasad] I know, but, am I welcome? – [Thomas] Sure, sure, sure. – So he gave me permission to stay for the rest of the lecture, and I’ll find a blank chair for myself. – All right, well thank you all, so I was talking about
setting personal goals and deriving meaning from that, and I was talking about how fat I was– (laughter) And how fat I’m not right now, and so one of my goals was to lose weight. So initially, when I started on this plan, when I was like, looked like that, I estimated I weighed
about, actually about 190, 185, something like that. So I wanted to get down to 160. As I approached 160, I decided, nah, I’m going to go for 155. As I approached 155, I
decided I’m going for 150, now I’m approaching 150 and actually, yesterday morning, I weighed 150.2, I gained a couple of pounds yesterday, and now I’m going for 145, I
don’t know if I’ll get there but that’s what I’m going for. But I had a secondary goal. I had a pair of pants that
I used to be able to wear, and I couldn’t wear them for a long time, but I kept them just in case some day I would lose weight. I’m wearing them.
(applause) First time in decades I’ve
been able to wear these pants, and they’re really not
even all that tight. (laughter) So, you can find meaning
in self-improvement, but I also want to talk about
another way to find meaning. I’ve mentioned my wife,
Nicole is her name, and here’s us in 1983. And, you know, don’t look at the guy with the big hair and the cool glasses, look at the beautiful woman on the right, this is, this just kills
me when I see this photo, just the look on her
face, oh, just kills me. We’d been married for
about a year at that point, we got married in 1980. So here’s Nicole in 2005, this is my favorite photo of her, this is in Majorca. So I wanted to talk about
Nicole a little bit. So we met freshman year at Princeton, we lived in the same dorm, and I met her because I was hanging out with the one other guy from my high school who had gone to Princeton in my class, and it turned out Nicole’s
freshman year roommate had gone to a Cornell summer
program with this guy. So they’re walking around,
they recognized each other, so I meet Nicole’s roommate Beth, and she introduces me to Nicole. Great, you know, lots of
people you meet freshman week. Right? You met a lot of people during
orientation week I assume. And a few, I don’t know a
couple of weeks later maybe, Nicole and I found
ourselves at the same party in a dorm room, and then went and hung out for a little bit afterward, just sitting out on Nassau street, the main street of Princeton. And we ended up talking
until four in the morning. And just became really good friends, we hung out together all the time, but we weren’t, you know, you know. (laughter) Well we each had a hometown honey. Her hometown honey was
actually from her hometown, he was going to college
at University of Arizona. My hometown honey was
not from my hometown, she lived in Cranston Rhode Island, and notice how I said Cranston, that’s how they say it. And, but we each had, you know, somebody, but we figured out a way to deal with that and by the middle of–
(laughter) Of our full term. By the middle of our full
term we were together, and we were together really the first three years of college, and then at the beginning of senior year, Nicole broke up with me. She, I think, was afraid that
the way that this was headed, she would just be shutting off options. So our senior year we were not together, and that was not fun for me, and I graduated, she graduated, I went off to California to the Bay Area to not make six figures. Salaries were a little
different at the time, my salary was 18000, and that was good. And Nicole stayed in New York to work for a literary agent, which
made her very unhappy, she did not enjoy this at all. So she called me up on my birthday in August of 1978, right
after we’d graduated, and she wanted to get
my opinion on something. She was thinking about chucking it all and moving to Colorado,
and becoming a ski bum. And she expected that I would
tell her not to do that, and I told her get the
hell out of New York, go to Colorado. So that got us reconnected, and she came out to
visit me in California, I went out to Colorado to visit her, we got back together, ski season ended, she moved out to California to be with me, we got married a year later,
it was great, it was great. We were living in Santa Cruz, having just the time of our lives. She came with me when I went to MIT, she had been in Santa
Cruz really undirected, she had a job packing paper weights, like that’s a thing?
(laughter) These are artistic paper weights, but she had this job
packing paper weights. She eventually started teaching English as a second language
in the Santa Cruz area, and then when we moved to Boston, she continued teaching
English as a second language. And really didn’t dig it that much, especially because in
the world of education, ESL is the bottom of the barrel. Like ESL teachers look
at art and music teachers and say I wish I made that much money. So she grew dissatisfied with that and one day she wrote,
or she read in an article by somebody at the
Addison-Wesley publishing company and she wrote to that person
just to get some information, this person called her up the next morning to have her come in and
interview for a job. So Nicole got a job at Addison-Wesley as an editorial assistant,
then she moved up to assistant editor, and
eventually became an editor. Addison-Wesley closed down her division, she went to work at D.C. Heath another academic publisher
in the Boston area. D.C. Heath at the time
was owned by Raytheon, the military company, and
this is during the Gulf War, they had a patriot missile
on display in the lobby. I asked Nicole to try to get
one at employee discount. (laughter) I figured somebody
barges into our apartment to steal my goalie equipment
and they were looking down the barrel of
patriot missile launcher, they’re going to have a second thought. So she did that, and
then when we moved here, she continued doing book
editing as a freelance editor. And project after project
represented to her as oh it just needs a light copy edit and it turned out it needed
a whole reorganization. And the book that finally finished her was called Hemp Horizons. About industrial uses of hemp. By an author who apparently had found a non-industrial use of hemp
because this book was mess, and she had to completely reorganize it and after that she just
decided no more of this. In 1996 I went on
sabbatical for half a year at Carnegie Melon
University in Pittsburgh, and when we came back,
Nicole just didn’t want to do editing anymore. And she ended up getting involved with the Lebanon planning board. So we live in Lebanon, and I don’t know how many of you have been to Lebanon, but that’s really where just about all the commercial development happens, all the residential development happens, and the planning board hears everything other than single family homes, so a lot goes on before
the planning board. Nicole was initially an alternate, then a regular member, then
the vice chair, then the chair. She was the chair when
something interesting came up. There was a proposal to put a super market down on route 120, down near
the exit for the interstate, and the super market was going to be sited such that the loading dock was 50 feet from an elder care facility. 50 feet. For those of you who know baseball, that’s less than the distance between the mound and the home plate. That is not much, to have
trucks idling and spewing fumes. The planning board in Lebanon
never turns down a proposal. They might say yes and give 30 conditions, but they never say no. They said no. The developer sued, saying that Nicole was biased against the project. Nicole had done a
procedure that was called an inoculation procedure in advance, where they asked is there anybody who, anybody objects to hearing this case, no objection was raised. But the developer sued,
it went all the way to the state supreme court, and they found in favor
of the city of Lebanon, naming Nicole specifically as
having done everything right. So that was nice.
(laughter) But that burned her out,
that and another project which was Dartmouth-Hitchcock
wanted to expand, and it turned out, she
found out after the fact, when she was chairing for this, that it was the third largest
private construction project in the history of the state. So she burned out on
that, eventually joined the conservation commission, became the chair of that eventually. Somewhere in there she was the Lebanon park ranger for a year? (laughter) She loved the outdoors. And, and then in 2009 she
ran for Lebanon city council, and won, she ran at large,
Lebanon has three wards which she was running to
represent the whole city, and she was the top
vote-getter in the city, and got re-elected three more times, and served three and a half terms. The reason for the half
term, this doesn’t end well, spoiler alert. In March of 2014, she started
noticing something was wrong, and in April of 2014 she got a diagnosis of endometrial cancer, that
would be uterine cancer. And we were told it was treatable, she had surgery in April of 2014, I remember being at Dartmouth-Hitchcock while the surgery was going on, writing code for red black trees, ’cause I was teaching
CS10 and I was reworking the red black trees stuff and, you know, good way to keep my mind
off what’s going on, so I’m writing code, I’m sitting there in the waiting room, with
my laptop, typing away writing Java code for red black trees. And the surgery was successful except that they did find that the cancer had gotten into her lymph nodes, so it was stage three cancer. She underwent chemo, and then radiation, and they wanted to add
chemo to the radiation, we were really unsure about that and we got a second opinion
down at Dana-Farber, she was getting treated
here at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. We went down to Dana-Farber in Boston, and they said don’t do
it, don’t add the chemo to the radiation, but they
wanted to add it here so, you know, great, you have two places that are experts in cancer
and they’re giving you absolutely contradictory
info, contradictory opinions. We ended up going with it,
and it was good that we did, she was able to tolerate it. Then she had more chemo,
and by January of 2015 she was in remission. But we were told that the cancer would probably come back, and it did, and it came back fast and hard. And by April of 2015 it was back, and she had radiation
to try to beat it back, and it beat it back a little bit but it also metastasized
into her left lung and then ultimately into
her spine and her liver, and by June we had a pretty good idea that this was just not going to work out. In late July she was in the
hospital for about a week, in August we were told that
she didn’t have much time left. We tried to go on vacation to Maine, we actually did got to
Maine, planning to spend four nights there, but we
came back after one night, ’cause she just wasn’t doing well. She, we took her right
back to the hospital to Dartmouth-Hitchcock, she
was there for a couple nights, and then she came home for a few days, and on August 19th, 2015,
at 10:30 in the morning, she died in my arms, with me telling her that I loved her. And I spent the last several months taking care of her, her
sister came up from Virginia for three weeks at a time
a couple times to help us. And the reason I tell you this is because taking care of Nicole
is the most important thing I’ve ever done. And I expect the most
important thing I ever will do. And that has given meaning to my life, knowing that I could do that for her, that I could care for her, that the last thing she
heard, as she was dying, was that I loved her. You’re going to meet people here who are going to be part of
your life your whole life. Nicole was part of my life my whole life, except for, you know, the couple years she wasn’t with me. But there are going to be people here who are part of your life your whole life. You might not know who they are now, you might have even met them
yet, especially your 23s. Nicole and I are actually adopted members of the class of 1962, the
Dartmouth class of 1962, I’m actually a Dartmouth 62. But why am I a Dartmouth 62? Well Dartmouth has this thing called the class of 1962 faculty fellowship, which goes to an untenured professor, and I was chosen many,
many, many, many years ago, and they have a dinner every year where they invite that
year’s faculty fellow to come and speak to the class, so I went to the dinner,
Nicole came with me, they decided they liked Nicole, so they kept inviting us back, and I got to know these guys
quite well over the years. And when they heard
about Nicole’s illness, they adopted us as members of the class. It’s great, I get to donate money. (laughter) I don’t get to vote in elections though, but I get to donate money! I think this is called taxation
without representation. (laughter) But I see these guys every year, and you know now they’re, you know, they’re in their late 70s, but I see how they feel about each other, how they treat each other. And these guys love each other, they really do, I mean
they’ve told me stories about one in the hospital and another one visiting him everyday. And, you know, this is
the kind of relationships that Dartmouth breeds, and you know, you’re going to make friends here, there are going to be people here who’re just part of your
life your whole life, and it’s just a really,
really special bond that Dartmouth people
have with each other. All right, now I’ve gotten completely lost in what I wanted to say… Yeah, so as a Dartmouth student, you’re going to have the opportunity for a liberal arts education
that is really unsurpassed. I know somebody who used to teach here in the math department, he
had a two year appointment, and then went to that university I love to make fun of in Cambridge, and he came back here for a thesis defense and I was talking with him,
and he told me, you know, don’t let Dartmouth become Harvard. The kids at Harvard are screaming for what Dartmouth students get. You have the residential component here, which of course Harvard has, but you know, it helps you
learn from your fellow students. But the real thing here that I think makes Dartmouth so great is the faculty. The faculty are here because
they want to work with you. And I’ve heard faculty members say this in arts and sciences faculty meetings, I’m here because I want
to work with students. And that’s why I’m here. I could have taken a job at Sandia National Labs
in Albuquerque in 1992 instead of coming here. That job would have come with higher pay, no tenure pressure, world class equipment, literally down the hall, and
really good Mexican food. (laughter) But I came here because I wanted to teach. I wanted to teach undergraduates. The liberal arts curriculum is, I think, a real strength of this place. I was an engineering major as
an undergraduate at Princeton. The engineers at Princeton had a completely different curriculum. We didn’t have a foreign
language requirement, I forget all the other differences, but it was a different curriculum. Here, even the engineers
have the same curriculum as everybody else, right? They have exactly the same requirements as everybody else. So take advantage of the liberal arts. You will never have
this opportunity again, to have this broad and deep an education, at least not as, while you’re young enough to do something with it. Yeah, maybe after you
retire, you can do things like we have Osher at Dartmouth, but, you know, while you’re young you can do something with it, so take advantage of that. Take courses all over the place, which we kind of make you do anyway, but you know, take various courses, try things that you’ve never tried. And it’s really not so much
the facts that you’ll learn. I mean I, I remember so little of the facts I learned when
I was an undergraduate. There are really only two courses that I remember anything from. One was theory of computation,
and the other was compilers. The rest I kind of just
have vague memories and I can, you know, go
back and look if I need to. But really it’s not the facts, it’s the thinking, it’s
the ways of thinking, it’s critical thinking. Knowing how to evaluate an
idea, evaluate an argument. And it’s not about the tests. I know the way I grade this
course, it’s about the tests. (laughter) But it’s not about the tests. And the reason is, when
you’re studying for a test, you’re renting the knowledge. So many times I see a student who has just taken an
exam, and I’ll ask them something a few days later,
that was on the exam, and they don’t remember it? Right? You’re renting the knowledge,
just like you rent beer. So instead of renting the knowledge, how about owning it? Own the knowledge. Remember after the first mid term, I talked to you about
belief versus understanding? That you know, you can
believe what I’m telling you, but you don’t really understand it? What does understanding
mean, it means a deep understanding that you
can explain it to someone. Maybe someone in the class, maybe me. Understanding is really the first step to owning the knowledge. So I encourage you, don’t
just settle for belief, go for understanding. I mentioned the D I got in linear algebra my freshman fall. By senior year I wised up a little bit, and I was taking a graduate course on optimization, reading a
pre-print of the textbook, written by the professor,
and reading a chapter and believing it, and then
realizing I believe it, I don’t understand it. And I went back and I read it again, and I read it again, and I read it again, until I really understood it. So that’s what you should be doing in all your courses, whenever you can, make sure you have a
deep, deep understanding of what’s going on. Don’t just believe, but understand. One thing I recommend to everybody, try getting involved in research here. The faculty are here because
they want to work with you. As I like to say, we like to get our undergraduates involved in research because they’re wicked
smart and they work cheap. (laughter) So try getting involved in research because it’s, you’re going
to be great consumers of knowledge while you’re here. But even better than consuming knowledge is producing it, actually
creating knowledge where there wasn’t knowledge before, and that’s what I love about working with my research students, they’re actually creating knowledge. So give it a shot if you can. And nothing is going to
promote understanding knowledge better than producing it. So, let’s see how I’m doing on time, oh I’m doing good. So I want to talk about why I’m retiring. So one reason is I can afford it. (laughter) And I’m very, recognize I’m
very fortunate in that way. Why can I afford it? Well I made a little
money writing this book, and Dartmouth does pay
me, although I’m actually underpaid compared with other salaries I’ve seen of faculty, but that’s okay. (laughter) I can afford to retire, it’s okay. And I’ve managed my money very well, and also I’m not extravagant, you know, for one thing I never had kids, so, you know, kids will
soak up your money. (laughter) We never had kids, and, but I just, I don’t lead an extravagant lifestyle. I don’t take fancy vacations,
I don’t drive a fancy car. I did have a Saab 95
wagon for a few years, but other than that I
haven’t driven fancy cars, and, you know, I’m just, I just
don’t spend that much money. So I can afford it. Nicole and I had planned
to retire around now so that we could enjoy life together, and then of course that changed, but also having her die when she did, she was 58 at the time,
having her die when she did also just showed me, you
don’t get that much time here. Right? You just don’t. You know, our time spent here is so short. There’s a Grateful Dead
song, called Box of Rain, anybody know it? Nobody knows it, wow. (laughter) Okay, couple of people know it, okay. Do you know what it’s about? So, it’s written about
the songwriter’s father dying of cancer. And it has a line that I always remember which is, such (sighes),
such a short time, wait, such a long, long time,
such a long long time to, no, such a short time to be there and a long long time to be gone. I think that’s how it goes,
now I can’t remember the line. (laughter) Anyway, there’s a long
time, but we’re here for only a short time, that’s
what I’m trying to say. Now I’m going to have to
look up the line, damn. (laughter) It made me realize, you know,
I get only so many years here, and I feel like I’ve done a lot here, but I feel like I’ve done everything here that I need to do, everything
here that I want to do, I want to try doing some other things. And of course now you’re
going to ask what things? I don’t know.
(laughter) I haven’t quite decided. I have a few ideas. Number one on my chart is sleeping late, but I do have some other ideas, many of which involve,
well, some of which involve some form of volunteering. We have a club called Coder Dojo that goes to local
schools and teaches kids how to program. Linda and Lessley are back there, and Linda pointed out
to me that I would like to work with students in
less privileged circumstances and this is what Coder Dojo does, and I’m the faculty advisor to Coder Dojo, maybe there’s a connection there, so maybe I’ll so something like that. I might want to get involved
with an organization called Cover, which does home repair and home improvement
for people in the area who can’t afford it. I’m pretty good around tools, if you ignore my table saw
accident from Christmas of 2015. But the parts did grow back. I sawed off the tips of my fingers. Yeah, and let me point out,
I wasn’t being careless. I was being stupid.
(laughter) There’s a difference! So careless is you’re
not paying attention. I was paying attention as I
was doing something stupid. (laughter) So yeah, I’m going to try
doing some other things, now I’m going to be around. I’m going to continue
being the undergraduate program director in computer science through the end of the winter term, ’cause professor Jayanti asked me to, and I can never turn him down. And I will be around on the faculty until the end of 2021. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, I might be one of those
creepy old professors who hangs around for
no discernible reason. (laughter) I got that to look forward to. So anyway, I’ll be around,
I love for you to drop by and say hi if you can find me. I don’t know how much I’ll be around after the winter, but yeah
please drop by and say hi. So, anyway, I want to thank
the course staff once again, we really can’t pull this
off without the course staff, so one more time, thank you.
(applause) I also thank my faculty colleagues. The computer science department, first of all, when I joined Dartmouth we didn’t have a computer
science department. We had a mathematics and
computer science department. We split in 1994. And I’ve seen other computer
science departments, and ours is as collegial
as you will ever see. We really get along very well, we really pull together for
the good of the department, and the students. It’s actually quite unusual. I know of departments where
it’s quite the opposite, where people are at war with
each other all the time. And really the way that you can tell how collegial our department
is is when we disagree. We disagree really agreeably, so I really, I value
my colleagues so much. And colleagues in other
departments as well, I’ve gotten to know a lot
of Dartmouth professors over the years, especially when I was directing the writing program, so I really appreciate
the faculty at Dartmouth. And then finally, I thank
the students, all of you, for everything you’ve given me, for allowing me to give
what I’ve given you, like I say, you’re the reason I’m here. So, thank you. (applause) (cheering) – [Student] We love you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *