Valedictorian Lisa Duemmling’s Commencement Speech

Valedictorian Lisa Duemmling ’15 encourages fellow graduates to embrace the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and be unpredictable.

(Photo by Laura J. Cole) (Photo by Laura J. Cole)

(Video by Simple Thought Productions)

First of all, I’d like to say how grateful and honored I am to be addressing such a diverse and deserving group of individuals. I’d like to thank President McAllaster, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, and parents. You all have gone above and beyond to support us in our endeavors and without you we would not be fortune enough to be here today.

Graduates, we’ve made it. We’ve made it to a time where we are reminiscing on our past four years, but also looking forward to what lies ahead. True to my major, I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss a little quantum mechanics, a field of physics in which we attempt to predict the future. We build a complex model to calculate the probability of a particle being in a specific region of space at a future time.

Yet, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us that there is inherent uncertainty in the system. For example, we cannot entirely know both the position and velocity of a particle. The more information we have on its position, the less information we have on its velocity and vice versa. Of course, this principle refers to microscopic particles, such as an electron moving in an electromagnetic field, but in many ways, the same holds true for us.

Imagine you are the electron, but instead of the electromagnetic field, you are traveling in the field of life. Position relates to your status in the world, who you are, and the knowledge you’ve accumulated. Velocity relates to where you are going, the predictability of your life.

We started out in life with very high uncertainty in our position, knowing very little about ourselves and the surrounding world. Just think back to your 5-year-old self. It’s safe to say compared to today, your perspective has changed and knowledge base has expanded. Hopefully now you’re proficient in a little than more than crayon drawing and napping.

When you were five you had very low uncertainty in velocity, in other words, your life was very predictable. At 9 a.m. you woke up and went to school. At noon you ate lunch, followed by a nap, and by 3 p.m. you went home. During these childhood years you were solely dependent on your family to take care of you. Yet, as you grew older, you began to gain independence, a sense of who you are, and knowledge of the world. The balance in uncertainties began to shift.

Fast forward quite a few years and you’ve just graduated high school. You think you know who you are, but all you have to describe your position is your basic education and 18 years worth of life experiences. Although there is still much to learn, these experiences helped to define your identity.

Maybe you were forced to face adversity during this time. Maybe due to factors out of your control you took on many responsibilities at a young age. Maybe you lost someone close to you that was influential on your life. Or maybe you overcame another obstacle you thought you’d never be able to conquer. It is in these challenging times that we determine who we are, and thus gather more information on our position.

Your future became a little less certain. That adversity taught you that you’re capable of overcoming difficult situations and since you’re not afraid to tackle life’s obstacles head on, more opportunities presented themselves.

Next, you began your freshman year at Rollins College and experienced real independence for the first time, learning more and more about yourself. You attended SPARC day and Immersion trips that taught you how fulfilling it is to volunteer in the community and help others. Maybe these introduced you to a cause or issue you’re passionate about and will keep pursing. Will you become an activist?

Valedictorians Lisa Duemmling '15 and Meredith Lax '15 during commencement on May 10, 2015. (Photo by Scott Cook) Valedictorians Lisa Duemmling '15 and Meredith Lax '15 during commencement on May 10, 2015. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Maybe you joined a fraternity, a sorority, SGA, RIP, or one of the other 127 student organizations we have on campus. Did you become a leader in this group? Will you now lead other organizations?

Maybe you were recruited by one of the athletics teams or you walked onto the football team we had for a mere semester. Will you become a professional athlete?

In one way or another you found family at Rollins that nurtures and supports your passions and newfound interests. They presented you with new ideas and perspectives, provoking you to question what values you prize and what passions drive you. They challenged you and inspired you to experience new things, to study abroad to the United Kingdom or just soak up Irish culture at Fids. Your peers turned into mentors, professors and staff turned into friends.

The more you immersed yourself in the Rollins community, the more opportunities you gained and the more doors opened that you didn’t even know existed.

I started at Rollins thinking I knew with absolute certainty who I was and where I was going. Yet, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and my experiences these past four years taught me otherwise.

My entire life I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. I thought my path at Rollins was going to be very straight forward; I would take classes, get good grades, earn a degree, and move on to graduate school.

Yet the more I learned about myself, the less certain my future became. I discovered an intellectual curiosity in physics. I conducted research and realized that I could pursue physics research or engineering as a career. I took studio art courses and realized I have a passion for the arts; maybe I could paint for a living. I studied abroad for the first time and appreciated seeing another way of life. I obtained an internship in management consulting and genuinely enjoyed my work.

Like all my fellow science majors, I moved from the old Bush building to the Science Village, a glorified trailer park, to the new and much-improved Bush we have today, realizing that I need to be flexible and open to change. That straight-forward path to my future that I had so carefully planned was completely derailed. And in fact, if I had stuck with it, I would have been limiting myself and my possibilities.

Unpredictability of your future is not something to fear, but to embrace. I can still go to vet school if I want, but now I also can purse a PhD in physics, I can become a freelance artist traveling the world, I can become CEO of my own company, I can pursue any possibility I want. That’s what uncertainty in velocity is: increased opportunity.

We’re now at graduation, but we’re still just that particle moving in the field of life. Where does your uncertainty lie? We have just earned our bachelor’s degree at a renowned liberal arts institution, giving us the skillset to do, well, anything we desire. That’s the beauty of Rollins.

But I inquire, what is next? Are you going to further your education and earn an MBA, PhD, or JD? Will you travel and expose yourself to foreign cultures and ideas? Or will you go straight into the work force? I majored in physics, developed an interest studio art, and now am going into the profession of management consulting. Be unpredictable. I urge you to limit the uncertainty in who you are and increase the uncertainty in your future by furthering your education and knowledge of the world. You will find yourself with unlimited possibilities. Be unpredictable.

Thank you for all that you have taught me and congratulations, Class of 2015!