Campus Celebrates 2012 Commencement

Gmail creator and alumnus Paul Buchheit (CWR ’98; GRS ’98, computer engineering) advised 1,750 Case Western Reserve University graduates to pursue their own dreams during Sunday’s commencement exercises.

“You will find a lot of voices telling you which way to go or what to do and who to be,” he said. “But the ultimate answer is to answer to one’s own life.”

A year after graduating from Case Western Reserve, Buchheit left a secure position at Intel to join an unknown startup then operating out of a colleague’s garage. He found the idea of working with a handful of others to create something new far more appealing than being one of thousands in an established corporation—even if the choice might not seem to make the most sense for his career.

In Buchheit’s case, the startup was Google. Following his passion ultimately proved the best professional move of his life. As difficult as following your own path may be, he told the graduates, it offers two undeniable advantages: First, it pulls you away from roles that don’t fit. Second, it takes you toward ones that will.

“You will get a lot of pressure to be someone else,” he said. “Who you are may not be what others want.”

But by being yourself, you will find those willing to embrace who you actually are. When Buchheit decided to try online dating, he mentioned the irreverent animated television show Beavis and Butt-Head in his profile. This strategy, he acknowledged, probably wasn’t ideal for attracting women—but it was honest.

Only one person responded, but it was enough. Paul and April Buchheit have been together for 14 years, and have two children, ages 7 and 3.

“I’ve never had to pretend to be someone else,” he said. “Being authentic leads to … deeper relationships.”

Buchheit gave his address shortly after receiving an honorary degree. He was one of four distinguished individuals to receive the recognition this year. The others were:

  • Ciro de Quadros, executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and a world leader in the fight to eradicate preventable diseases such as polio
  • Brenda J. Hollis, chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone who won convictions against former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity
  • Grammy winner Aretha Franklin, the first woman inducted into the Rock and Hall of Fame. Franklin received her degree during ceremonies last fall during the American Music Masters program

The university also awarded the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize to anthropologist and faculty member Melvyn Goldstein for his decades of groundbreaking work regarding Tibet.

Barbara R. Snyder gave the President’s Award for Visionary Achievement to civic activist and leading philanthropist Norma Lerner. This year marks the 10th since she and her late husband, Al, announced a $100 million gift to create the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. In accepting the stole and certificate, Norma Lerner emphasized that the innovative educational initiative was the brainchild of Al and his friend Floyd “Fred” Loop, then the leader of Cleveland Clinic.

“They forged a model that would allow our nation’s finest minds to flourish for the benefit of patients,” she said. “A decade later, I consider this medical school a legacy that I—and we as a family—will always cherish.”