Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sandra Tsing Loh's (BS 83) Commencement Speech to the Caltech Class of 2005

One of my favorite excerpts:
I believe I'm on the short list of candidates for patron saint of those lost at Caltech. Junior year, I was assigned as physics lab partner classmate Sekhar Chivukula, widely regarded a genius, he's still in physics today. Of our pairing it was said: "Sekhar will do the calculations, Sandra will handle the radioactive samples." Thanks for the respect. Never mind-- By senior year, I'd developed my own law of quantum mechanics that had nothing to do with Wigner-Eckhart's Theorem or Clebsch-Gordon Coefficients-

No, Sandra's Theory was: "On any Phys 106 exam involving the spin of an atom, the answer is at least 63 percent likely to be. . . . 1/2." I don't know why but. . . You'd be amazed how often it worked: To skip the calculations and just boldly put down 1/2 and then write next to it an illegible honeycomb snarl of curlicues that vaguely resembled any of the Greek symbols--lambda, iota, zeta, tau, ampersand-- With any luck a tired Pakistani TA might just look at it, get a headache and throw you a point--!

So by the time I graduated, I had a Caltech diploma entirely made of. . . partial credit, yes-- My degree was glued together, faintly pulsing with. . . radioactivity, graded less on a curve than on a kind of wild hyperbola asymptotically approaching . . some imaginary. . . actual answer. . .

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