On December 16, 2023, SkyWater CEO Thomas Sonderman delivered the commencement address to the graduates of the Missouri S&T class of 2023.
Watch the video here, or read his remarks below.
To the graduates of 2023
Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed faculty, parents and, most importantly, the exceptional graduates of Missouri S&T, greetings to all of you.
It is truly an honor to stand before you today as an alumnus of the class of 1986 – it was called University of Missouri Rolla back then. I remember the sense of possibility and excitement that filled the air on my own graduation day. Now I feel incredibly privileged to share in that excitement with each of you today. Congratulations on this remarkable achievement.
Always begin with the end in mind
As I was thinking about my speech I was inspired by the simple, yet impactful, advice from Steven Covey to always begin with the end in mind. This principle is the cornerstone of successful endeavors, guiding us to envision our ultimate goals and aspirations. When each of you started here at S&T just a few years ago, you probably started with this end – graduation – in mind. Your hard work, dedication, and perseverance have led you to this moment. You’ve navigated the rigors of academic life at S&T. And now, you’re about to step into a future filled with possibilities. As you take that step, I encourage you to again begin with the end in mind. Envision the impact you want to make, the legacy you want to leave behind, and the person you want to become.
The high tech industry requires bold thinking
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I love this quote because as it’s a reminder to embrace change, to challenge the status quo, and to be unafraid of forging a unique path. It’s also very applicable to my own work in semiconductors. In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the ability to adapt and embrace change is paramount. The semiconductor industry requires bold-thinking individuals who are willing to break from the ordinary, to question the norm, and to foster innovation.
When I graduated with a major in chemical engineering, a lot of my classmates were going into the petroleum industry. But because of the experiences I had through my internships, I envisioned something different for myself. So instead of going into petrochemicals, I put my skills to work in the semiconductor industry. That’s right when PCs were booming and the need for semiconductors was skyrocketing. I thought that would be incredibly exciting, and indeed, it has been!
Now the momentum is swelling around artificial intelligence. The need for AI grows daily and that should get you excited about the tremendous range of career opportunities possible in high tech. In fact, the opportunities are endless.
Semiconductors are the fuel of the 21st century
Indulge me for a minute while I talk a bit more about semiconductors. It is, after all, one of my life’s greatest passions. Today, we live in an era where semiconductors are the unsung heroes of our modern lives. These tiny, powerful components are the bedrock of our technological advancements, shaping the devices we use, the infrastructure we rely on, and the very fabric of our interconnected world. They are truly the fuel of the 21st century. From smartphones to artificial intelligence, from renewable energy to autonomous vehicles, the possibilities that semiconductors unlock are limitless.
The semiconductor industry will need 50,000 new engineers by the end of the decade
I stand here before you not just as a graduate of this great university, or someone who has worked in high tech for my entire career, but as someone who has witnessed first-hand the revitalization of the semiconductor industry in our country. And let me tell you, this is your time. The demand for skilled high-tech professionals is unmatched. The semiconductor industry alone will need 50,000 new engineers by the end of the decade.
The world of high tech is not a place for the faint-hearted. It requires resilience, adaptability, and a relentless pursuit of innovation. And it’s this pursuit that will help you turn the impossible into the inevitable. Just think about the powerful computers we walk around with in our pockets every day. The idea was once seemingly impossible. And that’s true for so many other innovations that make a real difference in people’s lives. Once impossible, now inevitable. And in my opinion, that’s what it’s all about – making a difference in people’s lives.
Remember Emerson’s words and do not let consistency become a barrier to your innovation. If you’ve never been to Minnesota, be brave to join our northern community, and to always learn, and most important of all, have fun! Congratulations, graduates. The future awaits you, and it looks incredibly bright. Thank you.
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