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Graduate Students Celebrate Commencement

Virtual ceremony featured remarks by Dean Julio M. Ottino, alumnus Paul Gudonis

Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science celebrated the graduation of its accomplished master’s and PhD students on Saturday, December 12.
Held virtually, the commencement recognized 327 master’s and 37 PhD candidates.
“It is somewhat difficult to find the balance between the spirit of the moment and the pride I have in each of you with the weight of everything happening in the world,” said Northwestern Engineering Dean Julio M. Ottino. “But despite the multitude of challenges we face, it is critical we carve out a moment to recognize and celebrate you and your tremendous achievement. We applaud the perseverance and grit that we have seen from you and those who supported your journey.”

The ceremony featured remarks by Paul Gudonis (’76), the chairman CEO of Myomo, a medical robotics company that offers expanded mobility for those suffering from neurological disorders and upper-limb paralysis. Their product, MyoPro, uses noninvasive sensors placed on the forearm and bicep to detect the patients’ own neurological signals and sense their intent to move.

Gudonis, a Chicago native now living outside of Boston, praised how graduates and the University adapted to the pandemic. His first piece of advice was inspired by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
“It is not the strongest or most intelligent being that survives,” said Gudonis, a member of the McCormick Advisory Council. “Rather, it is the one that most successfully adapts to changes in its environments.”
Gudonis told graduates to consider their own life journeys. “My story of attending Northwestern was the result of curiosity, walking into a room, and discovering an interest via serendipity, which will play a major role in your life journey as well,” he said.

After his studies at Northwestern, Gudonis moved toward a career that’s brought him great successes as well as some losses and setbacks. To survive the inevitable roller-coaster experience, Gudonis advised graduates to have resilience and persistence, and to carry on with self-confidence.
“I’ve developed a way of looking at the decisions you’re going to make, whether it’s choosing what job to take or academic positions to accept, finding a life partner, or moving to a new city, it’s like picking amongst several doors in front of you,” Gudonis said. “Each leads into a different room, and you don’t know exactly what’s in the room. Once inside, you realize that there will be several other doors on the back wall of that room, which are only available to you after you’ve stepped into the experience of the first room.
“So, get used to dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity.”
Recalling Chicago City Planner Daniel Burnham’s advice to “make no small plans,” Gudonis implored the new alumni to work on a big idea. To do that, Gudonis advised to “work with people you can learn from, recruit your own personal board of advisers, develop a mentor relationship, then become a mentor yourself.”
“I’ve seen too many smart people struggle because they thought they knew it all themselves,” Gudonis said. “Keep on learning. Read widely, not just in your technical field but use both sides of your brain as you’ve learned here at Northwestern.”
Ottino echoed that sentiment.
“When in a time of change, change bring challenges, and challenges bring opportunities. As whole brain thinkers, this is our time,” he said. “We must use our skills--building empathy, understanding user needs, identifying opportunities, pushing into the unknown, and advancing technology and knowledge to ensure that we drive change for the better.”