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Riza Suminto

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Reaching That Finish Line

Celebrating 533rd Convocation Ceremony of UChicago

4 minute read

Today is the day of the 533rd Convocation Ceremony of University of Chicago. And with the pandemic happening across the world, yes, this event is held virtually, like many other graduation ceremonies. It is, however, still feel special to me. Because this is the day when I should have walked to the stage, hooded by my advisor, and ceremonially inducted as a full-fledged Ph.D.

My study in UChicago span from Autumn 2013 to Autumn 2019. During that time, I have seen prior convocation ceremonies. The crowd is enormous, filled by the new graduates and their families. The procession is solemn. It must feel great to be one of the graduates there. To adorn that cool maroon Doctoral gown with three black stripes on the arm. To feel the festivities of the ceremony in person.

You see, the Ph.D. program is very hard. It typically spans 5 years or more. We need to complete difficult courses in the first 2 years, pass qualification exam or Master defense, produce 2-3 quality research papers, arrange them into single coherent Dissertation thesis and defend it, before eventually awarded a Ph.D. degree. I need to go through every step there, face every challenge it entails while overcoming my insecurities. “Can I survive here living in the US, far away from families in Indonesia?”, “Am I good enough to be in this program?”, “What if my paper never get accepted?”, “What if I fail?”, this kind of insecurities keep haunting me during my study.

In 2016, I finally pass my Master defense. I remember I did it a bit late because I need to remedy my incomplete courses on Discrete Math and Algorithm. But eventually, I pass the Master defense and awarded the degree. I was invited to join the 529th Convocation Ceremony in Winter quarter of 2016 for my Master degree. But then, my insecurities kick in again. “What if I’m just happy to settle with Master degree and return home?”, “Do I have what it takes to stay in the program for another 2-3 years?”, “Can I attain that elusive Ph.D. degree?”. I turned down the invitation. During the past years, I saw fellow students unable to overcome the hardship of the Ph.D. program and then withdraw. In my mind, I thought, “If I join the convocation ceremony now, I may lose my motivation to reach the real finish line, the Ph.D. degree”. So I persevere and defer the excitement of the convocation ceremony.

Who knew that when the time finally comes, we are in a different world already. COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, forcing people to stay at home to help lower the contagion. I, once again, need to defer the onsite convocation ceremony. The University of Chicago has been gracious to hold a virtual convocation, and while it is not quite the same as the onsite one, I can still feel the excitement. I felt a sense of accomplishment from staying persistent on this journey and finally finish what I have started. All of those insecurities are now gone and replaced with happiness.

If I can talk to my past self, I will ask myself not to stress too much about it. I will say that all of the hardship will pay off. Know that you are not alone in this journey, and many fellow students also feel that same insecurity, and that is okay. It is part of the process and lesson to learn. Keep in touch with families and friends around you. Do not turn down any support and care from them, you will need all of it to keep your morale high. Love your work, be proud of it. Enjoy every achievement, however small it is.

I can not achieve this degree all by my self. For sure, there are many people who contribute and support me. I want to thank my advisor, Prof. Haryadi S. Gunawi, for taking me under his mentorship. Thank you for believing, forging, and nurturing into what I am now. For my parents and my wife, Cendi, for all their love and supports. For my kid, Mantissa, for being my extra motivation to graduate. Thanks to UCARE members and alumni for keeping the lab lively. Thanks to all CS Department faculty, staff, and fellow students for the awesome learning environment. To my collaborators for their contributions to our research works. Thanks to the Indonesian community in Chicago for making Chicago feels like home. Thank you for many others who directly or indirectly help me get to the finish line.

Doctoral diploma
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I am a Software Engineer at Cloudera, working on the Impala query engine for Hadoop. I completed a Ph.D in Computer Science at the University of Chicago ...