About 100 thousand students come from India alone to the United States every year to do their graduate studies. So this time every year there would be anywhere around 50 thousand students graduating. Simply going by the rule of numbers, doing Masters in USA shouldn’t be that big of a deal. On December 17th, when Dr. George Rouskas called my name on to the dias, and when Dr. Laurie Williams handed me the Masters certificate, I saw my parents sitting in the front row, their faces beaming with happiness; my mom was cheering for me, and my dad was snapping pictures. I took the certificate, smiled for the camera and was walking back, when I said to myself “Sundeep Kota, Master of Computer Science”. I guess it does not matter how many people do it; it still sounded good.
Two years ago I was talking to my brother when he suggested that it was time I tried something new. Doing Masters was an option. Considering the fact that I am awkward around new people, and often misunderstood I wasn’t too keen to leave my family, and the few friends I had behind. Add to that I established a nice, comfortable routine for myself. But then I thought about it for a couple of days and in a fleeting moment of feeling adventurous, I decided to give it a shot. I did not have a plan. I could always come back, or that’s what I told myself then. Now, two years later I am glad that I took that decision.
The last year and a half at NC State has been quiet not so normal. The assignments, exams, and the chores, well I thought I was one free ticket away from running back home. All my life I have never lived outside Hyderabad, and then one day I wake up and I am 8000 miles away. The realization that I am no longer an hour away from home was very scary. Things were very different now, and so were my interactions with people around me. I realized while writing this post that I met and interacted with more people while at the library than while drinking beer. Having worked for a bit this was something new.
All things said and done, I am really glad for meeting the people I did at NC State. While I have been lucky to be in the company of some very smart people in the past, back then I never really paid attention to the stories around me. I guess growing up helped because during my stay at NC State I got to see in person how ambition and hard work can make things happen. Against all odds I saw students with no prior background in a field kicking ass in core curriculum courses, students pursing knowledge rather than following the herd, students defining their dream jobs and then achieving them, students being disciplined when most of their friends only talked about it and students overcoming dire personal setbacks and hitting home runs. For me this was inspiring, and I’d like to think that after being in their company for more than 18 months some of this ambition and tenacity has rubbed off on me.
While the reason for each of us to come to this program might be different, and our backgrounds even more so, in the end we were all running the same race, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been running alongside me. Now if you could picture me in a graduation gown, one hand raised with a glass of champagne, I’d like to give a toast
To having a career and having a hobby,
To being in the pursuit of knowledge and happiness,
To not being strangers and to all things to come,
Before you go!
That part about not being strangers, I was totally serious about it. So the next time you see me don’t forget to say hi. We could probably do the toast once again, and this time together with non imaginary spirits :).