Senate continues First Lecture series with seniors Moore, Serrao

Alvin Mathew Mar 24, 2014

The second installment of “The First Lectures” was held on Thursday, March 20 at 8 p.m. The idea for the lecture series came from Vaasavi Unnava, a first-year economics and statistics double major. The title “First Lectures” alludes to former computer science and human-computer interaction and design professor Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, which he gave in McConomy Auditorium after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2006.

In a previous interview, Unnava said she was particularly struck by the line, “It’s not about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life.”

In his last lecture — and in the book it inspired which Pausch co-authored — Pausch discussed his journey through life and the notion of “achieving your childhood dreams.” According to the Facebook event page for “The First Lectures,” “Each lecture is individualized and meant to tell the story of a senior, through good and bad, and is a reflection on the past four years at Carnegie Mellon, and how his or her school and peers have impacted them.”

The two speakers at last Thursday’s event were senior acting major Thomas Constantine Moore and senior business administration major Stephen Serrao.

Moore discussed the importance of focus while at Carnegie Mellon. He spoke about how difficult it can be that so many actors are competing for a limited amount of roles. According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 90,000 bachelor’s degrees in visual and performing arts were awarded in 2011 alone.

Moore noted, however, how the university provides its students with many opportunities. “CMU sets people up,” Moore said. “CMU gives its students a competitive edge like none other. Students arrive with a passion and leave with understanding, skill, and connections.”

At times, Moore said, the workload made him feel like he was drowning. “Most of the time,” he said, “drowning us is this school’s way of teaching us how to swim.” Specifically, Moore talked about his experience in 15-112: Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science.

Moore said that although it was the class at Carnegie Mellon he had to work hardest in, he enjoyed it so much that he became a teaching assistant for it.

Moore soon found that he couldn’t continue being a TA when he began his junior year. “Junior year, you’re in four shows, which means you can expect to be in rehearsal or performance six days a week, 12 weeks out of each semester,” Moore said. “One of the traits I think CMU people share, in general, is an absolute abhorrence for admitting defeat. But a big part of learning to focus is learning how to recognize when something is happening in your life that you really can’t afford.”

Moore maintained, however, that he had no regrets. “I’m still glad I did it. I’m glad I tried it. Even though I was drowning, it was the sort of drowning that builds character, I think.”

Moore thinks that the best way to find success at Carnegie Mellon is to focus on one area you excel in, having a sense of incredible focus, and through the encouragement of adventurism.

He also talked about some of the diverse and exciting events he has been involved with as a senior. “This year I’ve also choreographed a dance piece for the first time, written and performed my own one-man show for Playground, successfully mounted an ongoing web comic, and begun to professionally design websites for actors in my program.”

Serrao, a senior business administration major, questioned the definition of learning. He proposed a new definition: significant learning. Significant learning, Serrao said, calls for learning both inside and outside the classroom while creating a web of insight, what he described as a "complex variant of learning that challenges how you think, behave, and reason"

Serrao had three lessons for students at the school, urging them to “strive for excellence, put people first in everything you do, and to embrace vulnerability.” According to Serrao, following these three guidelines is the key to success. “Once you get these three points, you’d be on your own path to learning,” he said.

Regarding his first point, Serrao said that it was important to maintain excellent company: “whether you’re in or out, and whether you’re surrounded by the right people.”

Speaking to his second point, Serrao admitted that “initially I thought of my success before [that of others], but it just didn’t work. I made it a [priority] to surround myself with excellent and successful people.... Put people — not just yourself — first and success will follow you.”

"I learned that everything of meaning and importance carries with it a level of risk," Serrao said when expanding his third point. "Embracing that risk, uncertainty, and often discomfort — namely vulnerability — will allow you to question, learn, and grow meaningfully."

According to Serrao, it’s important to start realizing success is not just about an individual, but also includes the people surrounding that individual.

Serrao also thought it was important to embrace vulnerability. “Being vulnerable is being alive, and is when you’re allowed to grow the most,” Serrao said. “To be able to grow as a person, you need to embrace risk and face its values. It’s important to be aware, because it is the first step toward pesonal growth.”