Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

Astronomer Dr. Julie Comerford '98 Gives 2010 IMSA Convocation Address

A star in her own right, Astronomer Dr. Julie Comerford '98 told IMSA students to take risks, find their passion and work hard during IMSA's 2010 Convocation ceremony.

Pictured (l-to-r) are IMSA Principal and Vice President for Academic Programs Dr. Eric McLaren, IMSA Student Council President Shawon Jackson '11, Balaji Mani '06, Dr. Julie Comerford '98 and IMSA President Dr. Max McGee.
Balaji Mani '06 performs an original piano composition.

Comerford, a W.J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas, Austin, recently was featured in U.S. News and World Report and on the Discovery Channel for her research work into supermassive black holes.

During her address, Comerford told students to "keep an adventurer's spirit and open mind" and to "try something that scares you" because it could open new doors to the future.  Comerford shared with students her initial fear about being assigned to a particular IMSA course that had a reputation of being very difficult.

"I wondered if there was a way I could transfer out of the class.  But then I remembered, and was reminded by others, that this was the whole reason I had come to IMSA," she said.  "To have more challenging classes.  To have more challenging teachers,"  she added.  "It was trying something that scared me here at IMSA that set me on my path towards discovering my passion of astrophysics, which is now my career."

Comerford said her three years spent at IMSA gave her a "360-degree preview" of what life as a scientist would be like.

"From learning the background physics, to doing the experiment, to analyzing the results, to formulating the conclusion, to presenting my results at a scientific conference ... thanks to my three years here, I realized that was what I wanted to do with my life."

IMSA Student Council President Shawon Jackson '11 began the event by challenging community members to apply curiousity, perseverence and optimism to their IMSA experiences. He also charged them to "measure success by the number of people you inspire."

In addition to the keynote address by alumnus Dr. Julie Comerford, Balaji Mani '06 performed several compositions for piano and guitar including "West Sullivan," an original composition for IMSA that he premiered at this event. Jackson, Comerford and Mani all finished to standing ovations. 

IMSA President Dr. Max McGee urged students to be "young men and women of action" and to take advantage of all the opportunities IMSA has to offer.

"Posters are up for choir, athletic teams will be practicing, clubs will be meeting.  Act, participate.  Fill up the Pearson Lecture Hall and Auditorium  for Great Minds Programs, legislative panels and shows," McGee said.  "IMSA provides incredible opportunities for Student Inquiry and Research, for service, for making a difference.  Be responsible for action and do not regress in inaction."

IMSA Principal Dr. Eric McLaren reminded students to take care of each other, and, to pay attention.

"Be willing to pay close attention to those things greater than yourself.  Have reverence for others as you truly encounter them," Dr. McLaren said.  "

Finally, McLaren told students to fully engage in their surroundings and take advantage of the gifts their fellow classmates can give.

"IMSA students have a great tradition of deep and meaningful conversations ... the conversations that draw you in because of the true insights gained from multiple perspectives, the authentic sharing of ideas and powerful connections of people and ideas,"  he said. 

"I hope you allow others to draw out your deep insights.  I hope you seek others to engage your mind and your heart."

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