Wole Idowu and Erik Pintar give advice to current students

Credit: Courtesy of Ethan Bless-Wint Credit: Courtesy of Ethan Bless-Wint Credit: Courtesy of Ethan Bless-Wint Credit: Courtesy of Ethan Bless-Wint

This Wednesday marked the third and final installment of this year’s First Lectures Series. The annual series, based on Randy Pausch’s novel The Last Lecture, allows graduating seniors to reflect on what they have learned during their time at Carnegie Mellon and allows them to utilize the event as a platform to impart their own words of wisdom to current students before they embark on their new journeys outside of Carnegie Mellon.

This Wednesday, Obawole (Wole) Idowu, an electrical and computer engineering major, and Erik Pintar, a fifth-year electrical and computer engineering and human-computer interaction double major, joined the ranks of previous first lectures speakers.

Wole Idowu’s Lecture

Idowu began his lecture by describing himself to be somewhat of a special case. Having graduated from high school at the age of 15, he initially wasn’t phased by the transition to college. That feeling didn’t last very long, however, after he realized the challenges he would be facing such as more difficult schoolwork and racism. “For the first time in my life I actually felt like I didn’t belong,” Idowu said.

Idowu did not let this keep him back. He found motivation in the many struggles he faced here at Carnegie Mellon and harnessed this to become a better individual and student. “I was able to learn valuable lessons through the many faults I made to become a better person and to grow even further than I did before,” Idowu said. He went on to list a couple of the lessons, or as he calls them the “keys to success,” he learned, which he titled with inspirations from music.

The first key, which he calls “Hotline Bling,” involves learning how to ask for help when you are falling behind. “I used to call my teachers on the cell phone,” said Idowu, which was received with laughter from the audience. He recalls interacting with teachers in his high school, asking them about their day and his performance in class. He notes, however, that he wasn’t really asking them for help, but rather how they were doing. He notes that as freshman we can sometimes be too prideful to ask for help. Idowu recalls his father telling him that “whether or not you want to admit to help ... it’s not stupid to ask for help.” After taking this advice his work improved and he noticed the advantages of taking the initiative to seek help when necessary.

The next key Idowu talked about was “Carpe Diem.” Idowu often refers to his experiences with Professor David Kosbie, an associate teaching professor in the School of Computer Science. Idowu explains that Kosbie would always tell him to “seize the day,” advice that he would often disregard with the excuse of being too busy to take part in certain things. Idowu recalls taking Kosbie’s advice during his sophomore year by taking the initiative to participate in work with wearable technology, a study that he had previously shown interest in. Idowu noted the valuable skills he learned by participating in this and just how beneficial it can be to “seize the day.”

Idowu also discussed the benefits of “working smart, not hard.” He relays that if you think you are not cut out for a certain task, such as a class or specific major, try looking at it from a different approach. Nearing the end of his lecture, Idowu explained that all of us at Carnegi Mellon are not just a number, and we shouldn’t define ourselves by our grades. He recalls his experience taking Physics II with Professor Kunal Ghosh and the struggles he faced with the class. By putting time and energy into the class he was able to improve his grade. He recalls Ghosh encouraging him to “look outside of just this class” and the positive impact this had on him.

Idowu ended his lecture with advice he learned from his grandfather, which was “never settle for less than what you’re capable of.” He encouraged the audience to test their capabilities, not only to improve academically, but also to change the world.

Erik Pintar’s Lecture

Pintar focused his lecture on what it means to grow up. Presenting one unique perspective, Pintar began his lecture with a clip from Peter Pan, who repeatedly sings “I don’t want to grow up.” Pintar sought to debunk the notion that growing up is not fun. Being a fifth year student and having experienced the turbulent ride of college, Pintar has come to the conclusion that college is the perfect time to grow up.

Similarly to Idowu, Pintar argued that we shouldn’t define ourselves based on our major or career. Instead, we should find something we are passionate about and strive to better ourselves in that area. He reflects on his initial belief that he should aim to be at the top based on grades and skills. Now, however, he has learned that it is much more important to focus on learning. “The world doesn’t need people who are plastered to gold stars, getting As, and nice résumés,” Pintar said. “The world needs people who know what they’re doing, care about what they’re doing, and [are] doing something with what they know.”

One thing that Pintar is passionate about is teaching sign language. He currently teaches a StuCo Spring class that melds sign language and pop music together. As an example, he presented a video of himself during a previous Carnival signing to the song “Back Home” by Andy Grammer. The video was received with applause and smiling faces from the audience. For the audience, the video made clear the joy and happiness that Pintar got from teaching sign language in a way that was fun and interesting for students.

Pintar also focused his lecture on the difference between interdependence and self-sufficiency, advocating for the former. He believes that we should focus on improving our relationships with others. He uses the analogy of a young child being dependent on his parents and those around him. He claims that as we grow older we tend to depend on others less. Pintar questions our depleting trust and faith in others and argues that we should seek to reclaim this. He cites his faith as one of the factors helping him to put his trust in another being and helping him realize that his life is not his own.

Pintar concluded his lecture with three key fears that many of us face. These fears are commitment, uselessness, and trust. To combat these he suggests overcoming our isolation, taking the time to stop and reflect on our purpose in life, and to regain our faith in society.

“I hope to see you when you graduate this place, as I am doing in a few short weeks, as someone who is joyful, giving, and interdependent,” Pintar said. “Don’t be scared of growing up. A joyful, satisfying life is waiting for you. Grow up and I promise you, you’ll never go back to what you left behind.”