Meet your .5 Commencement speakers!

This Saturday, 119 students will finish their Brown careers. The “Midyear Completion Celebration” will honor those we colloquially call “.5ers” with a small ceremony taking place in Sayles. As is tradition for Spring Commencement, two soon-to-be-graduates were chosen to speak at the ceremony. BlogDH caught up with Bee Vang and Adrienne Tran on why they decided to .5 and what they plan on saying to their fellow graduates. You can watch a livestream of the ceremony on December 5 @ 4 p.m. here.

Adrienne Tran (right)

Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Concentration: Independent Concentration in Computer Science and Development
Most likely to be found: in the CIT

Bee Vang (left)

Hometown: Twin Cities, MN
Concentration: Independent Concentration in Geopolitical Epistemologies
Most likely to be found in: a Starbucks

Why did you decide to .5? Both of you took three semesters off?

Adrienne: Yeah. I was studying Computer Science, and I felt like there is an element of it I was missing– how computer science could be applied to real world problems. I followed a professor to Australia who was doing work in modeling disaster evacuations and applying computer algorithms to how you could create this optimal plan. So I left because I wanted to do research with him.

Bee: I guess I just wanted real world experiences, and I wasn’t too satisfied at the time with what I was studying. I just needed time away from Brown. I worked for several NGOs, went overseas and did some research. I had a chance to professionally develop myself before going back to Brown, and graduating with a degree that I originally didn’t know what to do with it. That’s sort of why went on leave. I thought I was only going to take one semester, then I decided I would take another year off just to work in New York.

Did you know each other before getting chosen as commencement speakers?

Both: Yeah.

How?

Bee: Perkins?

Adrienne: No…. I think you knew Anika, my [freshman year] roommate?

Bee: Oh right, Anika!

Bee, without giving too much away, what is your speech about?

Bee: My speech is organized around the principal motif of Occam’s razor. [Ed’s note: Occam’s razor is: “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.” Thank you, Wikipedia.]

It’s called “The Brunonian Edge.” It’s talking about the kind of liberal arts education we receive here, and what kind of values traditions and insights that it instills in us. And what of that we should take with us into the future, confronting the dilemmas on our generation — that’s what it is in a nutshell.

Do you feel like there’s something about your speech particular to being a .5er, as opposed to a speech you could give at Commencement in May?

Bee: Actually, when I was nominated to submit a speech for this past spring’s Commencement, I was ultimately rejected because they felt my speech is too pessimistic, too dark. It was just not appropriate for the celebratory nature of the event. And so when I was rewriting it, I got a bit more optimistic and forward-looking — so I guess that’s why the speech is now what it is.

Adrienne: It’s interesting that you say that because I remember when I was first writing my speech,  I was reading it to my best friend, and he was like, “This is a really depressing speech, Adrienne!” [Laughs]. I was like, “Okay, I’ll rewrite it…”

Adrienne, what is your speech about?

Adrienne: It just came from a gut feeling that I had things I wanted to share with other people, but I didn’t really know what they were. I was looking at some of the past speeches and they all mentioned things like, “Oh I remember taking a class with this professor,” or writing for the Daily Herald, or doing these things. I didn’t feel like I fit into any of those boxes, and I almost felt ill-fitted to write a speech. But as I started writing, I carved a message out of that.

Bee: A lot of my applying came from just wanting to share my experiences, and give words to the kinds of things I saw, read, experienced — outside of Brown and inside. It’s such a great opportunity to have it somewhat memorialized and give during a ceremony.

Do you have a favorite moment at Brown?

Bee: For me the best moment was when I came to Brown for  the very first time, right before the semester started. I did the Third World Transition program.

Adrienne: Yeah, I really liked the first week of Brown. Everything was very new, and everyone was super friendly. It just felt like summer camp with the best people I’d ever met.

Who would recommend .5ing to? What would you say to a sophomore or junior considering a semester off?

Adrienne: I would recommend it to people who are feeling bored in their classes.

Bee: Brown’s too expensive to just be here and not absorb anything. For me, one of the illuminating factors for leaving was that I was going through this existential crisis; I felt like I was learning, but only learning to know that I didn’t know enough. That made knowledge and education become an end in itself. That’s the impetus that drove to me to say, “Okay, I need some time off. I want to learn more about what education and knowledge mean to me.”

If anybody feels that way, they should definitely take time off. I would like to believe I have some kind of advantage over my peers, because I now have some professional experience before graduating, and that’s helped me a lot, just grounding myself in that there are future prospects.

Adrienne: Yeah, I know people who feel like school is a waste of time. This feeling of, “Why did I go to school? I learn all of these practical things outside of school.” That was the mindset I had, but then I realized there were all these things that I couldn’t learn or find in my time off. I liked going back to Brown and knowing that these were the classes I wanted to take and these are things I want to know.

Image via Deena Butt ’16

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