2006 Graduation Slideshow

Here is a PDF version of Rob Carey’s 2006 graduation presentation. What follows is the transcript for the speech itself:

Everything’s going According to Plan


I hate May. Sure sun and flowers and warm weather are great but every year it’s the same – All the bright young men and women cruise away to distant exotic lands, leaving us old folk behind with our responsibilities.

And the worst for me? Brainstorming for the annual physics slide show andcoming up empty. Parents, if you can imagine yourself as a staff writer in, say, the 4th year of Gilligan’s Island,

[Gilligan and the Skipper]

you can begin to feel my pain. Looking out over a vast ocean and, as far as the eye can see nothing but cliches… 1) Take 1. The dreams of a small child. Travel to the nearest star. Well, let’s see, for us, vacationing on Cape Cod, the nearest star was the late Anthony Perkins

[Anthony Perkins]

whose summer place was just across the rock wall…. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, Mr. Perkins is the only person who served as the Grand Marshall of the Bay Area Mother’s Day parade in the same year that he acted as spokesman for the American Cutlery Association….

One gag. Then a dead end.

I spoke to my wife. [Morgan Fairchild] Morgan Fairchild in search of inspiration. She was quick.

“Well let’s see. How old are they?”
“hmmmm, 21 or 22.”
“Right. So most of them were born in … 1984 (Did I tell you she’s really good with numbers?) They’re you are!”
“Where am I?”
“There’s your theme! 1984.”

[George Orwell]

George Orwell. The modern totalitarian state, imagined in the late 1940s. It’s a laugh riot. Well…Maybe you’re right. So, let’s see – a cybernetic dystopia, where the government snoops on ordinary law-abiding citizens and terabytes of disinformation are available at the push of a button …

[Intelligent Falling]

...Naaah. Too far-fetched.

But then Kim had an idea.
An awful idea.
Kim had a wonderful awful idea. We call it

[“Everything’s Going According to Plan”.]

For my part, and before the trouble really starts, I’d like to dedicate tonight’s performance to Kim Armstrong, the undergraduate coordinator, who’ll be leaving Boston for the West Coast at the end of the month.

I don’t have to tell the students that there are underprivileged physics majors at Berkeley and Stanford who would love to have Kim as their undergraduate coordinator. I think it’s safe to say that using the language of chocolate lamination, she’s revealed to us our better angels. I wish her the best. I should add that late on Friday, Kim was named as a recipient of a 2006
[Hershey Kiss]
Hershey chocolate fellowship. Apparently, she and co-recipient Christo
[orange gates in Central Park]
are teaming up for some project in the Bay Area. No word on exactly what they have in mind.
[golden gate bridge]

[Generic college photo]

Now, most of you students probably have the impression that there is nothing more ordinary than going off to college. I used to feel the same way. How boring and predictable it all was! You take those silly classes, you pay someone to take your SATs, and then you graduate. True, you’re wait-listed at all the accredited colleges to which you applied but then Daddy’s check for the new athletic center at Faber finally clears and …. off you go. I’m sure each of you can tell a similar story.

At least, that’s what I used to think. Now I’m not so sure. As a physicist, I should know better. After all, we learn that classically, in one sense, and quantum mechanically, in another, you cannot predict the future with certainty. Well, folks, I’m here to tell you today that the past is equally unpredictable.

There are the exceptions that prove the rule:

[Michael Dormody 1] Michael Dormody.
Sorry Michael. Somebody has to lead off. Even on days when Randy Johnson’s fastball is running high and inside. So let’s see.

[Michael Dormody 2 and Michael Dormody 3] Earlier? In the suds. Later? Still with the suds. Verdict – Graduate study in fluid mechanics.

Next? More easy calls? Yes.

[Jennifer Hanson 1 and 2] Jennifer Hanson

There are the unmistakable, immmutable, unchangeable.

[Trifon Fitchorov 1] Same story with Trifon Fitchorov. {With wonderment} He scarcely changed as he grew.

As for Brent Markus, [Brent Markus 1] it was slightly different – [Brent 2] he never had to grow at all.

There were some miraculous changes

[Don 1] When Don Huynh was an infant, his parents never dreamed that he would start [cue bike] hanging with a biker crowd. Had they raised, unwittingly, a Hell’s Angel? To their great relief, Don gave up his leathers and started

[Don Tux]

“Don After Dark” a successful line of overpriced men’s formal wear.

But then there’s the totally unexpected.

[Noah 1]

Noah Bluestone. Here he is today with two of his close friends. I’m told that they’re actually a pair of groupies who hang with a punk band called “Best in Show”. Anyway, isn’t it a vision of domestic contentment? Ah, but from what tangled roots?

[Noah 2]

Before he was 3, Noah was a roadie for Bob Marley. At 6, muscle for Kermit the Frog…. Oh, the hit man is a person in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood… Ahhh, but what was always his happy place?

[Noah and pig]

the quiet, pastoral study of biological physics.

[Matt W with bear] A world away, a similar story unfolded. His parents tell me that Matt West always wanted to be a scientist.

[Matt W graduating] But he was precocious in other ways. [Pointer] From the age of 6, Matt was playing the adults like a cheap violin…. {Snicker} BTW, Matt pulled a similar trick with me Junior year …. ...Yeah, it worked…

But you grow up fast in a tough town like Tolland, Connecticut. It was no place for a Cub Scout … and Matt did not remain one for very long.

[Matt martial arts]

And when Bob Keeshan


needed a pint-sized flack for some sensitive work, Matt was there to answer the call. “I know they’re my meal-ticket but Matt, sometimes the Captain just needs to take care of the Captain” he would explain, passing a hand briskly sidewise across his throat and gesturing to the swarming 5 year olds.

[Julia dancing]

Some of you had multiple talents. Julia Barsky was a gifted dancer –

[Julia on phone]

who had a day job working as a telemarketer. In an efficiency measure that’s
still a case study at the Harvard Business school, she combined the two:
staging dance performances that always seemed to be scheduled just when you’re
sitting down to dinner or emerging from the shower.

[Aliens] Did you know that she was abducted by aliens? Or that, like Red Chief, she was returned?

[BOX] Slowly. With their transporter out of service, the extraterrestrials opted to ship Julia media mail. Turns out that’s twelve dollars and six cents cheaper than Priority. Poor Julia. Of all the millions of scientifically advanced aliens that ooze through every pore of the galaxy, she had to find the gang with the maxed-out credit cards. On the bright side, their technology spared Julia from remembering the ordeal, though she experienced a strange sense of deja vu when entering her Freshmen dorm.

[Warren Towers – Welcome to your new home]

[DE on ATV]

David Ellsworth grew up in Northern California, a story he shares in his memoir: “A Cowboy In Wine Country”.

[DE with backpack]

During week-long treks through the high plantings, areas so remote and forbidding that it was sometimes difficult to find an unsecured wireless network,

[David pointing to computer]

David would travel alone, carryin’ nothing but his laptop, sleepin’ bag,

[David in sleeping bag]

chewin’ tobacky, his huntin’ raahfle (fer pickin’ off feral food critics from the Central Valley) a little desiccated sherbet – to cleanse the palate between tastings and of course,

[David in braces]

a few extra rubber bands.


Family and Friends: In the interest of safety, and out of consideration for others, we ask that each of you remain in your seat until all the graduates have been ridiculed.

[Enjoy the Show]

[Liz Taber]

Liz Taber had an uneventful childhood, at least until she fell in with one of those Southern California cults, [Mouse ears] a fly-by-night organization that has more recently moved its so-called base of operations to Orlando. [After deprogramming]

Wait. I have a confession to make. [White screen] There’s a part of me that loathes the Internet. Well, not the NET itself but rather the sort of small-minded nitpicking that it encourages. When I first started teaching, a generation ago, stories could be harmlessly stretched and embellished for pedagogical reasons. These days, within a few seconds, some snot-nosed kid with a Blackberry is waving his hand, telling the class that first of all, there never was an Apollo 25 mission and anyway, they wouldn’t have brought an atmospheric physicist to the moon, ‘cause there IS no atmosphere and … Shut up and put that thing away or I’ll ….

{voice dripping with contempt} I don’t do middle school “OUTREACH” anymore

Anyway, what might have been a tall tale to some, or a pickup line to others, was very real to Liz Taber.


She lived that dream.

Some of the talents span generations. Some are hard to spot. Others are easy. [Cameron and Nick] Here Nick’s brother Cameron shows why no graduating McConnell (and you know, folks, there are more of them than you might think) in living memory has ever failed to be voted “Most Callipygian”.

[Callipygian Venus]

callipygian – having a beautiful or shapely buttocks… Yes, yes, of course it’s from the Greek.

Nick is also a runner but as far as I know, that didn’t figure prominently in his choice of Boston University.

[Chris V. 1]

The same is not true of Chris Vermilion,

[Chris v. 2]

here shown in top form. What you don’t see is the half dozen New York State troopers in hot pursuit (yes, kiddies, yearbook photos DO get airbrushed – happens all the time.) But why BU? Was it the deep and diverse education? – Nope. Research opportunities unrivaled by any university within thousands of feet? – Sorry. Three words: No Extradition Treaty

For some, like Chris, a chance to come to Boston University was definitely a step up. The same could not be said of George Steele.

[George with lawn mower]

At the age of 2, George was already running the largest Lawn and Garden Service on the South Shore.

[George Graduates 1]

At five, he returned to school, graduating with a degree in applied botany. Here he is with the dean of the college. Never content to rest on his laurels,

[George 3]

George spent his weekends doing historical reenactments.

[George 4] At 18, he earned himself yet another degree – and one more great lookin’ college administrator.

Some of you were plucked from different careers and found yourselves in physics, almost by accident.

[Jason 1]

Jason Robertson’s youthful labors began … innocently enough –

[Jason 2]
he picked up spare change working as a bounty hunter for the American Friends’ Service Committee.

[Jason 3-5]

A sports career beckoned, but before his first season was complete he was caught up in a 3-team, multi-player trade, involving 2 utility infielders, 3 physicists, a truckload of cash and one noted organic chemist. Welcome to Beantown, Jason.

[Vicky 1]

Now, Victoria Stockley was groomed for a performance career but even as she tried to land an A-list agent, there was a scientist trying to get out.

[Vicky 2]

At the right, you see her in a relaxed moment, taking time off from her ceaseless struggle to get good TV reception in South Campus.

I also discovered hidden tragedies.

[Drew 1]

Drew Strikwerda. A healthy and alert young man. A sure bet for a scientific career.

[Drew 2]

So was his kid brother, Buddy. Buddy worshipped Drew and emulated him in all things – including fashion…. But only one of the boys could go to college. The other would have to work as a personal trainer in the family business: keeping fit and trim the

[postal employee, milkman, UPS]

postal employees, milkmen, and UPS personnel who serve their small community of Fitchburg, Wisconsin.

[Scott Parker in tubes] Scott Parker had a very unusual early childhood, modeled on the theories of a noted psychologist who felt that an extension of the womb experience would smooth a an infant’s transition into childhood. His well-meaning but misguided parents, making a common geometrical error, confined Scott to a “Skinner Tube” for his first 4 years. Here he is at age 6, after finally being removed. Hey! You’d be tired, too.

BTW, Parker family (if any of you are still in the audience). Scott looked just the same – and just as angelic – while dozing in my PY405 lecture.

[Alket 1]

Glancing at Alket Mertiri, then and now, you’d never suspect the incredible truth.

While on a youth basketball exchange in Greece,

[Alket 2]

Alket’s lower body was suddenly turned to stone. Modern science had no solution for his affliction – or any explanation for his equally unexpected recovery. “Dude, I don’t care if she did tell you she was the goddess of love, you don’t talk trash on her home court.”

And the unexpected parallels!

[Kara guitar] Kara Vaneck – Again, on the surface an uneventful childhood and adolescence,

[Kara clothes] discounting, that is , her love of expensive clothes. One particularly catty entry in Facebook claimed that “she made J.-Lo look like Mother Theresa.” But her long-suffering parents would deny her nothing that was woven of silk – “don’t worry about your father dear. The doctor says he can do just fine with the one kidney.”

[2 year old Karan with car] Karan Khosla. Another easy call, right? Early on, the smart money was moving towards classical mechanics. “Sorry ma’am, I’m gonna have to put this one up on the lift”.

[astro class]

BTW, If there was any question about why we lose so many good students to the astronomy department, this photo of Karan’s high school astronomy class should provide a ready answer.

[Karan trekking] But there’s more, when Karan wasn’t trekking in Europe,

[Kara Karan]

he was gigging with fellow musician Kara Vaneck. Together they toured as Kara Karan!

[Rio Album cover]

a Duran Duran tribute band. If they figured that their signature lyric “Her Name’s Neutrino and She Dances in the Sand” was a ticket to the big time, they were disappointed. After flopping in rock venues large and small, the two decided to put Kara Karan to rest. Except ..

[College Radio Station] that later, their one album would become something of a cult classic, enjoying late-night airplay on dozens of low-power college radio stations.

[John Penwell on the beach]

We’ll close with some more high energy hydrodynamics: Mr. John Penwell.

Folks, I wish I could find a few words to tie it all together. Parents – deep thanks from Kim and me, your self-indicted co-conspirators but … let’s not forget our little agreement, hmmm? There are one or two release forms still unsigned. Slander is such an ugly word.

Students – Thank you for your indulgence. But then again, what is more ridiculous than a parental fantasy … except perhaps professorial delusions of grandeur?

And what would the bard say?

[pseudo arcadia] If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I’m an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.


Naaah. I never could recite blank verse. Let’s leave the last word to Johnny Penwell

[JP with hand on switch]

Lights ooooouuuuut.


[JP scary]