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Reflections by Commencement speaker

Senior Sandeep Bharadwaj on the power of 'not knowing'

Portrait of senior Sandeep Bharadwaj


  • Violinist became the youngest musician ever to perform at India's Chennai Music Season. Has played more than 350 concerts since 2006
  • Associated Student Government member, director of dining
  • Founder and former president of Northwestern chapter of Global Brigades. (Think Doctors Without Borders combined with student service)

Graduating senior Sandeep Bharadwaj of the McCormick School of Engineering has gone through several drafts of the speech he’ll deliver Friday, June 17, at Northwestern’s Commencement.

He was selected to address fellow grads and families because his list of achievements here is long. He recently invented a medical training device and plans to become a doctor. The Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME) has given him a great start down that path, and this fall he’ll continue the journey at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.

Bharadwaj’s address on behalf of the Class of 2016 will be a “big thank you” to all who made the day possible, from parents to faculty and staff.

While he didn’t give away any secrets, he explained the spirit of the speech is to reflect upon things learned — and not learned — during his undergraduate days.

“There’s humility associated with not knowing things,” he said. “It can be more powerful than knowledge itself. It’s what inspires us to consider the possibilities, to wonder what’s possible and make change in the world.”

Humility fueled Bharadwaj to consider a life in medicine. Since high school he’s volunteered in hospitals and shadowed doctors. As a biomedical engineering major at McCormick, he did an independent research project with Lurie Children’s Hospital to invent an electronic training device that surgical residents use to practice proper surgical stitches on delicate tissue.

The knots must be just tight enough without being too loose. Imagine practicing for pediatric heart surgery by stitching wet toilet paper. “I’ve tried,” he said, “it’s insanely hard.”

Advice for new students

It sounds cliché, but there are so many opportunities at Northwestern. Take it all in. You’ll be overwhelmed at first. But know that the simple things can be the most important sometimes. For example, it’s okay to procrastinate when you should be studying for an exam to have a heart-to-heart with a friend.

Missing Northwestern

When I leave I’ll miss being in this campus bubble. I study every day at Norris, and people I haven’t seen in a month will pass randomly and say hello. I’ve come to know people so well, they’re family to me.

Shout out to friends

I’m on my fifth draft now, so it’s been a process. People have asked for a personal shout out. They ask me what jokes I have. But I’m keeping pretty quiet. I want it to be fresh and have people be engaged in the moment.

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