Student Speaker: Micki Smolenski


Thank you Dr. Bachmann, Dean Sukumaran and the College of Engineering and Computing for having me today.

And to my classmates, congratulations to you and to your families and friends on your graduation. You have overcome so much to make it here today, and I admire you all for your persistence over this difficult last year and a half. I am so thankful to see all your faces here today. Micki Smolenski: the 2021 Recognition Ceremony Student Speaker
Although this may seem like a long time ago, I am sure we all had an experience or teacher in high school that has stayed with us these last four years. For me, it is the teachings from my drama teacher, Mr. Morton (or JMo as we often called him). Before every big performance, he would gather us together, and remind us that “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”. After four years of theatre, we must have said it at least a hundred times… regardless; it has stuck with me since.

My drama teacher was quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson whose full quote reads:

Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

After leaving high school, I strived to live by this message where I could, and it was quickly clear to me that you all did as well. Instantly, I saw that the “Miami Engineer and Computer Scientist” was not part of that typical mold. Along with all of your computational, technical, problem solving skills, I am constantly in awe of all of your incredible passions and enthusiasms for going deeper: among this class are humanitarians, entrepreneurs, and musicians to just name a few of this class’s amazing talents.

Instantly, it was clear that I was among some truly remarkable human beings. All of you are striving for excellence down your own, unique path, and I encourage you, as you navigate this tumultuous new world, to never lose that enthusiasm for all of your passions.

Looking back, we all have our big reasons for “Making it Miami”, but for me, I decided to come to Miami on the promise that I could, indeed, be both an engineer and involved with theatre. This school was one of the few places that did not look at me weird when I said that, and persuaded me that my ambition and pursuit of my passions would not only be encouraged, but thrive here.

However, my first year I struggled in pursuit of many of these goals: as many of us may have realized, college courses would turn out to not be as easy as ones in high school. Freshman year, I found myself somewhat miserable—I had not made a single one of the performance groups I tried out for, I, like many of us, got my first D ever on an exam, and realized that this “perfect four year plan” that I had forced myself into, was, believe it or not, not what I wanted to do…

In this defeat, I was ready to give up—ready to change my major, drop my minor and maybe even leave Miami altogether. However, in my pursuit of something new, I met with Dr. Kirkmeyer, and, without that meeting, I can guarantee you I would not be graduating in this college today. I distinctly remember him asking me the question, “do you not love it, or are you afraid you won’t be able to ‘do it’; what would you do if there was no fear of failure?” My drive and ambition were one thing, but Dr. Kirk reminded me of something I now find more important: my passions. He reminded me of these, and the unique ways that I could bring them together.

His belief and enthusiasm in not only my abilities, but my passions as well pushed me through, and I was able to finally find the paths through this university that I loved; I found a newfound confidence in what I was doing, and was able to forge ahead with a new path for myself.

By junior year, I was coding, directing, and choreographing at levels I could not have imagined. With the immense support of my family and friends, I found my passion and was once again able to believe that “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”. Although we may struggle from time to time, we must love what we do. These last four years, you have pushed yourselves to success by finding your passions, and going after them enthusiastically.

And, then, once we find that spark, and your unique “you-ness”, we have to share it with others, and find those people who support our paths.

Although I knew more of what I wanted to do, I felt that I had to hide what I truly wanted to do from a lot of people; I felt that I would not be a “true engineer” if I wanted to do theatre and vice versa. I had pushed myself into believing that fear we all probably know well--the fear that those close to us will judge our dreams--and decided that my passions were not worth sharing.

Then, junior year, I directed a show for about three months, and it was definitely one of my most memorable, and “enthusiastic” parts of my college career. However, even though I was exhausted, overwhelmed and putting in way too much work on all ends, I did not tell a single one of my computer science and software engineering professors about it. All because of that fear.

However, I really came to regret not sharing my accomplishment sooner: once the show had ended, Professor Krumpe actually came across a program of the show, and was upset that he had not known about it sooner. In our conversation that followed, he showed so much enthusiasm for my work, and gave me the idea: why not combine the two, and create something that embodied my two worlds.

I had an idea: to develop a play based off of interviews with women about their experiences working in STEM fields. Reaching out and asking these women for their help was… terrifying, but taking that leap to share our passions is the make or break. We can have all the pride, and passion for our goals and dreams, but without others, they’ll likely never take off. We must first find our dreams, and then, we need our team--no matter how scary it may seem at first to ask...

When it came to Conversations with Women in STEM fortunately, my idea was met with immense support, and I received so much encouragement not only from the alumni and the professors I met with, but the students as well. Though we may leave today, we leave as part of Miami. We leave with not only encouragement of the professors who changed our lives, but their continued support as well. We leave with our individual passions we hope to pursue. We leave with the memories of being with our peers: of late nights in Benton cramming for that exam, going to those club meetings “just for the free pizza” and coming back for four years, going abroad to new places we cannot stop talking about, grabbing coffee between classes at Starbucks. Every “enthusiastic” driven moment that has brought you to this point, and those friends who have been with you along the way.

Find those people who meet your enthusiasm with open arms, and keep you going at the end of each long day. All of us have those people who have made these last four years so special for us. For me, that was my friends and family: the friend who, on a whim, gave me my first choreographer experience. My capstone group getting through our coding with late night Zoom-dance parties. My mentors, without whose feedback and support I would have never found so much success. And, of course, my family who got me here to begin with, loved me, and cheered me on at each step (not to mention, sent the best care packages…). Surround yourself with the people who support your passions, and your enthusiasm need never hide.

Whether it is fitness, music, gaming, or anything else, do that thing with all of your might. One of the greatest things you can do is continue to bring your enthusiastic joy to what you do. As we head off today, there are many, many unknowns ahead of us, and odds are, our passions will change. For many of us, it may be some time before we find those projects that encapture our soul and bring out the very best in us. But, I hope you promise to never give up in that pursuit, and to continue to find that enthusiasm each day where you can. Give it your all. Take on the challenges. Because you can, and can do it, with enthusiasm. Congratulations, you “enthusiastic” class of 2021!