Valedictorian, salutatorian share advice for underclassmenand Julia Ilhardt | Apr 27, 2018
On Monday, April 23, University faculty accepted the nominations of the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standings for the Class of 2018’s valedictorian and salutatorian.
Kyle Berlin ’18 was selected as the valedictorian for the Class of 2018. Berlin is a Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures major from the small town of Arroyo Grande, Calif., which Berlin said translates approximately and appropriately to “Big Ditch.”
Before coming to the University, Berlin participated in the Bridge Year Program in Peru, which piqued his interest in studying Spanish. He selected the major during his semester abroad in Cuba.
“I realized that by declaring Spanish I would have a lot of flexibility, and in my experience everyone in the department is just really warm,” Berlin said.
Berlin will also receive certificates in creative writing, theater, and Latin American studies. In what he describes as one of his favorite projects at the University, Berlin crafted his senior thesis in theater around the theme of “the use of knowledge against crisis.”
To do this, Berlin organized a series of lectures by Professor Burl Kylen entitled, “The Last Lecture Before Kingdom Come: A Brief Genealogy of Sunset Studies” about the impending end of humanity. To Berlin, the lectures served as an opportunity to reflect on “community and intimacy and memory and loss and sorrow.”
For his creative writing and departmental thesis, Berlin wrote a collection of fragments about the Patagonia region, exploring ideas of ecology, melancholy, and thought at the end of the world.
Berlin explained that some of his most meaningful experiences at the University existed in the “informal things between formalized spaces or activities.” He said he “performed a sort of anthropology of the campus,” attending countless lectures and performances and engaging personally with professors and peers. He also took several opportunities to study abroad in Cuba, Namibia, South America, and Europe. According to Berlin, “one of my favorite things about Princeton are all the chances there are to get out of Princeton, sponsored by Princeton.”
Berlin’s thesis advisor, professor Brian Herrera, said that he has “rarely encountered an undergraduate student with such palpable vision.” Berlin worked with Herrera in organizing his theater thesis, which Herrera described as “one of my top two or three most stimulating and gratifying theatrical collaborations in recent memory.”
“I don’t know that I have ever encountered such a formidably talented undergraduate student who was guided by as much genuine humility, open-hearted generosity and ethical concern as Kyle,” Herrera said. “His extraordinary creative intellect is matched in every measure by his character, his humor and his humanity.”
Berlin said he is extremely grateful for the support and ability to collaborate that he has experienced at the University, explaining that he wouldn’t have been able to do what he has done without all the support that surrounded him.
“I would never choose schoolwork over having a conversation or doing something that I enjoy or that mattered for other people,” Berlin explained. In this way, he tried to foster an environment of compassionate humanity and inclusion over a contrived version of excellence.
Regarding his plans after graduation, Berlin said that he is “leaning into the uncertainty” and looking for how he “can best do good for the world.”
Berlin will continue to collaborate with the nonprofit theater company that he co-founded with a Davis Projects for Peace Grant while at the University, and also has a one-way ticket to Peru, but isn’t sure yet where his path will lead him.
Berlin is looking forward to delivering the valedictory address at Commencement in June. He hopes it will challenge the University to be a better version of itself.
Katherine Lim ’18 of Atherton, Calif., is a computer science major and will deliver her class’s salutatory address in the traditional Latin.
Lim started learning Latin in middle school despite her school not offering any foreign languages. Instead, she began studying with a teacher who taught Latin at the high school she would later attend.
Throughout her freshman and sophomore years at the University, Lim took additional classes in Latin. Her favorite was LAT 232: Introduction to Medieval Latin, due to its unique departure from the traditional readings by Caesar and Catullus which constitute most high school curricula.
“I really love the Classics department here. Professors who teach Latin in general are really passionate about their subject matter and it’s really fun taking classes from them,” she said.
Her primary area of study, however, involves computer architecture, which focuses on the construction and implementation of computational systems while maximizing performance and power efficiency. Lim’s senior thesis was centered around heterogeneous systems, specifically the integration of cores with varying performance aspects. She worked on interfacing these systems while designing optimized low-level and functional software for them.
Lim said that her two most influential professors at the University were her senior thesis advisor, electrical engineering professor David Wentzlaff, and computer science professor Margaret Martonosi.
Martonosi taught Lim’s first computer architecture class, COS 375: Computer Architecture and Organization in spring of 2016.
“She taught it in a very different manner, where she encouraged participation. It was kind of weird because at Princeton, we’re so used to just sitting in lecture and being quiet,” Lim said. “There’s a lot of intricacies in computer architecture that you don’t necessarily consider and working through the problems out loud and engaging with the problems in class breaks down any ideas you might have that you’re the only one who doesn’t understand the material.”
“I think the world of Katie. She was the top student in the class, and did a very ambitious project designing a computer processor and mapping it onto FPGA hardware. Her interactions in my class clearly demonstrated her facility for the material,” explained Martonosi.
Martonosi also explained how Lim has distinguished herself academically and personally.
“I really appreciate how she takes on technical challenges. She is also quite open about asking a broad set of people for ideas or for answers to questions she has. Her quick learning curve, and her current command of how computer systems are built is very impressive,” Martonosi said.
Lim also worked in Wentzlaff’s lab since her junior year, where she contributed to OpenPiton, the world’s first open source, general-purpose processor and hardware framework. “I’m really thankful how [Wentzlaff] advised me on my graduate school application essays and allowed me to explore the projects I’m interested in,” Lim said.
“She works way above and beyond what is needed to be a great undergraduate researcher. She is able to cross between hardware and software systems with ease (something unique to most students) and is able to take on very complex computer systems and modify them with ease,” Wentzlaff wrote. “In the research projects she has done in my group, she has really taken a leadership position and taken over the ownership of a non-trivial portion of OpenPiton,” he added.
She also cited Robert Mullins, Senior Lecturer in the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, as being a particularly inspirational figure in her academic career. With him, Lim worked on an open-source hardware project this past summer.
Despite her numerous accomplishments, Lim emphasized the importance of her extracurricular activities, which were some of the highlights throughout her four years. Lim said that as an active member of the Wilson College knitting circle, “It’s nice meeting people from different years and doing things other than pure academics.” In addition, she tutors at the Princeton Public Library, teaching introductory programming classes. “It’s been a lot of fun to work on my teaching skills, and teach people who don’t have education or technology as their main focus,” she said.
When asked about the advice she would give to underclassmen, she said, “It’s much better to take care of yourself personally than doing the most work or having the most accomplishments. If you’re not happy, it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s okay to just let that assignment go. Often, you’re a lot harder on yourself than others are.”
Lim also encouraged students not to get disappointed if they didn’t get their ideal summer job or internship. “There’s a lot of push — especially in computer science — after your freshman or sophomore year to be looking for an internship. People put a lot of emphasis on these things but I’m not sure it’s that important in the long run,” she said.
After graduating, Lim will work towards her Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle. She was awarded a scholarship from the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation, as well as a National Sciences Foundation fellowship, due to start next year.
Commencement for the Class of 2018 will be held on Tuesday, June 5. Lim will deliver the Latin salutatory address, and Berlin will deliver the valedictory address.