SEAS alum urges grads to follow dreams

An Academy Award winner may seem like an unusual guest for a crowd of engineers, but alumnus Bill Westenhofer, who addressed the graduating class of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, was a tangible example of the wide variety of careers an engineering degree can lead to.

SEAS, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary, hosted its graduation ceremony Saturday night in the Smith Center. Westenhofer, who graduated the school with a degree in computer science in 1995, earned an Academy Award for Achievement in Visual Effects on the film, “The Golden Compass.”

He spoke to the 450 graduates about his own struggle with “competing voices,” one telling him to “earn the salary” and the other telling him to follow his love for art. He told the students to follow their interests and find a career they love, not just one that pays well.

“My advice to you is to listen to those voices,” Westenhofer said. “I firmly believe that if you like what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

The skills that are developed through the SEAS program, he said, give its graduates an edge over others in the workforce.

“I can guarantee you that your future will be different from what you expect today, but what your education gives you is the ability to see those twists and turns as opportunities instead of hurdles,” Westenhofer said. “The world needs problem solvers and you are it.”

SEAS is one of the smaller colleges within the University, but its small size contributes to the close bonds between its students, said Brian Gross, one of two student speakers. Gross was honored as the 2009 Distinguished Scholar.

“Here at SEAS, we are more than just a school. We are a family. The only thing stronger than the bridges we build, are the bonds between us,” Gross said. “There is no other school at GW that has such a sense of community, teamwork and friendship among its students.”

His feelings were shared among his classmates.

“The science department is a really close knit group. I’m really going to miss it. A friend almost had to talk me out of not graduating because of that. It’s really something special here,” said Dan Fego, who earned a degree in computer science.

For others, the moment of leaving GW hadn’t quite set in.

Graduate Harshini Kanduru said, “It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s over. I know it’s cliché, but it’s just gone by so fast. I can’t believe it’s done.”

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