During the Arts & Sciences Graduate Studies Hooding and Recognition Ceremony on May 12, students Cezareo Rodriguez and Jalie Moore will join distinguished alumnus Larry Robinson (MA ’81, PhD ’84) in addressing the class of 2023.
Here, the speakers reflect on their time at WashU, their hopes for the future, and their wishes for the graduating class.
Doctoral Student Speaker: Cezareo Rodriguez
Growing up in St. Louis, Cezareo Rodriguez always aspired to attend WashU. “It’s the best school in the area, so that’s always been a high mark that I would love to hit. And I did!”
Rodriguez, who will graduate from WashU with a doctorate in mathematics and statistics, has many academic achievements to celebrate. His research at the intersection of computer science and statistics has shown how tools like artificial intelligence can be applied to rapidly growing datasets.
But as he prepares to address the graduating class of 2023, Rodriguez wants to focus on what they have accomplished as a community, not just as individuals. “A big theme of my speech is gratitude towards friends, family, and the WashU community,” he said. “I don't think I could have done it without them.”
Throughout his time at WashU, Rodriguez was supported by his peers in the math department and the Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship Program. In turn, he went above and beyond to support undergraduates whenever they struggled in his classes.
“I liked to reach out to students to encourage them and help them overcome their adversities,” Rodriguez said. “You really don't know what your students are going through until you actually have those kinds of conversations.”
That effort and encouragement didn’t go unnoticed by Rodriguez’s students, who nominated him for the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence, an annual recognition of graduate student teaching. “I've had multiple courses where, on the last day of class, everyone gave us standing ovations,” Rodriguez said. “Those moments really felt great.”
As he prepares to begin his job at the St. Louis-based startup SimpleRose, Rodriguez hopes to continue using his expertise in computer science and statistics to help others.
“I want to help keep artificial intelligence on the right path,” he said. “My goal is to solve bigger problems in the world faster and more accurately, and to help as many people as I can along the way.”
Master’s Student Speaker: Jalie Moore
Before she began her master’s degree in teaching, Olin Fellow Jalie Moore was considering joining the FBI. As a scholar of Russian language and culture, she knew that she could have a successful career in national security. “I wanted to get that really cool job that everybody pictures, where you learn this critical language,” Moore said. “But studying abroad in Russia totally changed my mind.”
After developing close relationships with Russian citizens during her travels, Moore realized that she did not want to take a job that might work against their interests.
“I love the Russian language and culture because of the friends I've made there and the connections I have with them,” Moore said. “So, I decided to go a different route where I could advocate for this language, use it every day, and keep positive connections with the Russian people.”
To do this, Moore plans to return to where she first fell in love with foreign language: a high school classroom. “Learning Spanish in high school made me realize that I might want to go into language,” she said. With her new master’s degree in hand, she plans to teach English and Russian at a high school in Alton, Illinois.
“In high school, children are still developing cognitively, but they have reached the age where they're beginning to think about the world outside of themselves,” she said. “If I introduce Russian to them now, it will help them in their lifelong learning.”
By helping students appreciate the language and culture she loves, Moore hopes to teach teens to separate the Russian government from its citizens. “I want my students to learn that there is more to Russia than Putin,” she said. That lesson, she believes, is vital for preserving peace.
Alumni Speaker: Larry Robinson
As president of Florida A&M University, alumnus Larry Robinson (MA ’81, PhD ’84) helps students recognize that they can change the world.
“It's important for all students to realize that they have the capacity to do anything that they want,” Robinson said. “I go to sleep and I wake up thinking about how I can create an environment where students can be successful. I know the need for them out in the world.”
Robinson, who was recognized as a 2020 Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni, remembers WashU as a haven for world-changing scholarship. Throughout his time studying nuclear science at the university, he felt humbled and inspired by the ambition around him.
“We had some of the most outstanding faculty in nuclear science — people who had been in the field since it began,” Robinson said. “Everybody seemed to be focused on solving some great problem, talking about the meaning and passion behind the work that they were doing.”
Robinson was no exception. His nuclear science research at WashU included work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a key site for the Manhattan Project. After graduation, he worked as a research scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory before going on to a series of research leadership positions at Florida A&M University. He is still actively engaged in research as the director and principal investigator of the NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems-II, which aims to recruit, educate, and train a new generation of scientists.
Changing the world, however, is about more than just breaking new ground in your academic field. “We also have to invest in the side of people that gets them to care about their fellow citizens,” Robinson said. “A liberal arts education helps us do that.”
Robinson’s wife, Sharon Hollowell Robinson (AB ’81, PT ’84), also attended WashU, and the two of them spent time working with disadvantaged youth in the St. Louis region. “That gave me a lot of inspiration because I could see myself in some of those young men and women who were just starting their careers,” Robinson said. “It kept me grounded in understanding what my long-term obligations were.”
The ultimate measure of a university is what its alumni do after they graduate, Robinson said. “One of the things that really makes WashU special is that we have so many wonderful alumni doing great things around the world. So, no matter what you're doing, being a part of that ought to make you feel proud.”