Dr. Brahm Rhodes is no stranger to Boston University. The multidisciplinary engineer and general partner at Malaika Ventures is a triple-degree BU alumnus ​​(ENG’85, ENG’88, GRS’91) and served as CDS’s 2024 convocation speaker during the May 18 ceremony.

Before an audience of over 300 graduates, faculty, staff members, friends, and family, Rhodes described his educational journey. He recalled working with a “brilliant” professor, who later became his PhD advisor, and the challenging yet life-changing projects he was assigned while pursuing his doctorate. First, he had to solve every problem in a 1910 math book and, as a follow up, read one of his professor’s research papers, derive every equation, and explain the underlying principles and math within 30 days.

“It worked me hard. The problems were difficult, and I used every math skill I had, and a few I didn't, to get through it,” Rhodes said of task number one. “If you have seen the original Karate Kid movie, or maybe the remake, it was basically ‘wax on, wax off’ math for months.”

The second project was even more intense.

“My panicked thought was, ‘Well, that will never happen.’ But I collected myself, read the paper as best I could, and dug up the references and their references until I found something I understood. Then, I worked my way back up the ladder,” he said.

He called this learning exercise “returning to first principles,” and this was his convocation message to CDS graduates.

"You can learn almost anything if you are willing to return to first principles, or as near as possible, to ground your knowledge and build your understanding," he said. “Build on what you know to learn and understand what you don't, and use first principles as a foundation and guide for those efforts.”

Rhodes also encouraged graduates to embrace the power of kindness and kindness-driven data and innovation.

“If you remember that there are real people on the other side of the data and choose to be kind to those people, you'll be more likely to address the problem in a way that will positively impact their lives rather than cause intentional or unintentional harm,” he said. “When we put kindness at the core of our work, it's a first principle (we know how to be kind) that we can use to unlock the ability to understand the people on the other side of the data and make a positive impact.”

Equally important, Rhodes said, is self care. “Be kind to yourself. You can't care for others if you don't care for yourself.”

In his closing, Rhodes highlighted the implicit value of lifelong learning.

"Your education is not over; this is the beginning of your learning,” he said. “Go back to the first principles to learn new things. Do this forever."

“Be a Force for All that is Good, and Carry Our CDS Values with You.”

The commencement ceremony was held at the Tsai Performing Arts Center. In his convocation remarks, CDS Associate Provost Azer Bestavros congratulated the CDS Class of 2024 and celebrated their collective place in the academic unit’s history.

“To our undergraduates, you will be remembered as a class where every member is a crossover into the DS major, having started your BU journey in a different college at BU, and choosing to join the data science program as soon as it was born.”

Bestavros outlined some of the challenges data scientists face today — the weaponization of data, the influence of media feeds, how artificial intelligence blurs the line between humans and machines, fake news and implications on our democracy and civic discourse, and more. Bestavros shared a more optimistic view, one of empowerment and inclusivity in a data-driven, equitable world.

“It is a world in which leveraging data and computation is an equal opportunity, a world in which mastering the tools of the trade is not a barrier to entry but rather the lingua franca for collaboration that breaks down boundaries,” he said. “It is a world in which technology enhances society, drives economic prosperity, and improves the human condition. This is the world that we hope you — our 2024 graduates — will help us build.”

His final message to the graduating class of 2024 was to remember the importance of integrity, staying open-minded, being eager to collaborate, and embracing the power of empathy in all endeavors.

“Be resilient. The world of technology is dynamic and often presents unexpected hurdles. When you encounter these hurdles, embrace them with a positive mindset,” he said. “Put faith in your education, knowing that every obstacle can become an opportunity for growth and improvement. Last but not least, remember to enjoy the journey…be a force for all that is good, and carry our CDS values with you.”

“We’re the Generation that Holds the Power.”

Bella Davies (CDS’24) was selected by CDS faculty to address the graduating class. In her speech, she thanked CDS faculty, teaching assistants, advisors, and mentors for their unwavering support and reflected on the Class of 2024 — its COVID challenges and successes.

“The expertise, industry experiences, and ceaseless efforts by our instructors to improve and develop the curriculum with the rapidly changing world of technology has provided us with the most relevant, cutting-edge education in data science,” Davies said. “I’ve seen time and time again professors willing and eager to help students in all areas, whether it’s for academics or career support. We are all extremely thankful for your guidance, inspiration, and everything you have taught us over the years.”

Bella Davies (CDS'24), Boston University

Davies also called on graduates to reflect and learn from their failures.

“Though it can be difficult, I encourage you all to carry your failures with you along with your successes. Even though we’re graduating, we’re all still constantly learning and growing, and some self reflection now and then will only help us reach further success in life,” she said.

In her closing, Davies, who accepted a position as a full-time software engineer in Boston, shared an important message—calling the Class of 2024 change-makers.

"Data science is still a relatively new field, that means we’re the generation that holds the power to use these new technologies to make a positive change in the world."

The CDS Pledge and Presentation of Degrees

Professor Wesley Wildman, Chair of Faculty Affairs, took to the podium, expressing his appreciation for all in attendance, reciting the CDS pledge, and congratulating the Class of 2024 on behalf of CDS faculty and staff members.

“This is a wonderful moment for the CDS faculty and staff. We have been working hard for several years to get to this event today, and our new graduates are precious fruits of that hard work,” he said.

Professors Thomas Tullius, director of the bioinformatics program, Thomas Gardos, director of the master’s in data science program, and Tanima Chatterjee, director of the bachelor’s in data science program, called on students in their respective programs to walk across the stage to be recognized as they receive their degrees.

Recognition of Excellence

CDS recognized four students for their excellence in academics and general leadership.

The 2024 recipients were Zedong Lin, Graduate 2024 CDS Award for Academic Excellence in MS in Bioinformatics; Osama Dabbousi, Undergraduate 2024 CDS Award for Academic Excellence; Yan Stella Si, Graduate 2024 CDS Award for Service and Community; and Bella Davies, Undergraduate 2024 CDS Award for Service and Community.

Find more commencement information here.

- Maureen McCarthy, CDS Director of Communications