A Letter to the Graduates: Stepping Boldly Into a Better Future

Meet Grace Maddocks, one of ECE’s newest graduates and Ph.D. students as she looks towards the future and the great responsibilities of the newest class of engineers.

Ms. Maddocks served on the Executive Board of the Engineering Student Council, as a University Ambassador, and as a member of the NC State Chorale. She was a Resident Advisor and performed three years of undergraduate research with the ASSIST Center. She continues at NC State as a Ph.D. candidate conducting biosensor and human subject research under Michael Daniele as a Provost’s Doctoral Fellow. 


As I reflect on what it means to be a graduate of the Class of 2021, I cannot help but think of the last few semesters of our degree. Entire senior design projects were completed without teams ever meeting in person, graduate school and industry interviews without a single campus visit. And yet, here we are now. Despite our losses and the unpredictability of it all, the Class of 2021 has found inspiring resilience. In the coming weeks and months, we will step out across the nation and around the globe into roles as engineers at distinguished companies, doing cutting-edge research, owning our own businesses.

As graduates of North Carolina State University’s world-renowned Electrical and Computer Engineering program, we have been prepared to take on today’s most pressing engineering challenges. From the day we received our admissions letters to our first day in E101 to Senior Design, our college has pushed us to think and do, to take risks, and to prioritize true knowledge. Your dedication has not gone unnoticed.

As graduating engineers, our hard work has gotten us to a place where we have a great responsibility to society. The National Society of Professional Engineers tells us clearly: We must have integrity, holding paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. We must be objective and truthful, avoiding deception. We must conduct ourselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of what it means to be an engineer.

For many of us, these are the things that we have spent years dreaming of—the light at the end of the tunnel when it was 4 a.m. in a Hunt Library study room and we had spent three hours on a singular 302 homework problem. It was the bigger picture when we stood at Freshman Engineering Design Day, when we took a few extra steps in Talley just to make sure that we didn’t step on the seal, the bigger picture every time we submitted a Moodle assignment at 11:59 and 59 seconds…

But the past 14 months have shown us that there is a greater responsibility placed upon us as the next generation of thinkers.

But the past 14 months have shown us that there is a greater responsibility placed upon us as the next generation of thinkers. As we step out into the world as engineers, we play a significant role in defining the society around us, impacting the lives of people that we may never even meet. Our responsibility reaches far beyond the confines of our job description, far beyond the walls of our workplace.

We can use our earned position as educated young people to stand up for what we believe in and for what is right. We can be the generation that prioritizes and destigmatizes the mental health of ourselves and of others. We can be the generation that asks difficult questions about how our work impacts the health of our environment and of people. We have the power to be the generation that is conscious of our privilege and that listens more than we speak. We have the opportunity to be critical when our gut tells us that something is wrong, the opportunity to make space for all opinions, regardless of which are the loudest. We can be the generation of engineers who refuse to shy away from difficult conversations, who refuse to enable injustice through silence. We can be the generation of engineers that is unashamed to say that we stand with marginalized communities, the generation which understands that our work is not exempt from the nuances of our society and its systems, that our work is so much greater than ourselves.

We have the potential to be advocates for so much good. I cannot help but think of Amanda Gorman’s words, “For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” I know that all of us in the Class of 2021 have our eyes set on the future and I hope that we all step forward into the role that has been placed before us.

To the strong women in my graduating class, I am so thankful to know you. As we embark into an industry that is still getting used to seeing our faces, I long for us each to fight the voice which tells us that we don’t belong.

To all of my classmates, as we step boldly into the unknown, let us never forget the roots from which we have grown, no matter the successes we celebrate or the failures we endure.

I cannot wait to see the things that we do. From alumni in space to C-suite executives at Apple, those who have come before us have made it clear. We have been set up for success, and we are ready.

All of my gratitude goes to the faculty and staff of the ECE department who have truly embraced what it means to provide a personal and meaningful education to each of us, even through the trials of online learning. Thank you to Dr. Laura Bottomley for her work with women and minorities in Engineering, which inspired me to choose NC State. Thank you to Dr. Ginger Yu, Sara Concini, and Cecilia Townsend, for their endless support and belief in me. Thank you to every family and friend of every graduate of the Class of 2021; your support has been the motivation for us to get to where we are today.

Cecilia Townsend

Coordinator of Undergraduate Advising
Senior Lecturer

Ginger Yu

Associate Director of Graduate Programs
Teaching Professor
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