Tuesday, January 03, 2017

New Journey

One of the reasons I have not published any of my PhD defense pictures is to savor the feeling. Being a PhD student was liberating and nice. Somehow, you have supervisors who would protect you from being too chaotic, which means basically you could explore all the knowledge out there as you pleased (surely, this was taken from my point of view). Passing that phase means that you lose the protection and in a way, it’s a bit scary or even boring. I hope this year will lead me to a new interesting journey. So here is one of the nicest thing you get when you graduate from the Netherlands: laudatio from your supervisor.

Let me begin in true European academic style by quoting some Latin: in medias res as a governing metaphor for Yuti’s PhD and for her life, at least the little of her life that I had the privilege to share. So Yuti, you are always in the middle of things, always entangled in your thoughts, things and in difficult concepts you love experimenting with. You manage to entangle yourself in the tiniest of things such as tomato seeds and saplings, little origami toys, the difference between 1 million and 1 million and 1, and so on. Of course living as entangled as you, it can sometimes become disorganised. It turns out that you’ve had 7 of your bikes stolen over the course of your PhD. But perhaps there is something else that is hiding under that surface of disorganisation. Something that is tied in with you as a person who is by default generous, not driven by self-interest. So I wondered if you’ve been calling out to people walking on the street: hey do you need a bike? Or want to make some money perhaps by selling this one here?

You have been in medias res for a long time, having lived in the middle of places and things, between different corners of the world. You are a true cultural hybrid, much like me, but (very importantly!) you are a happy hybrid. You were born in Indonesia but as a small kid of 3 moved to the Netherlands where your father did his PhD in Mechanical Engineering (at Delft). Your mother also has a PhD, but from Montpellier in France. You ended up living for four years in the Netherlands as a small kid, but stayed true to your happy hybridity by only learning a few funny words in Dutch such as snoepje, chocolaatjes, koekjes, dropje, zoetje. All sweet diminutives. It is no wonder then that everybody thinks that you are so sweet (including my two little monster-boys who adore you and one of them who is especially fond of you has his 5th birthday today, coinciding with the date of your public defense). So 1st of June has auspicious written all over it, at least for me and now for you too Yuti. Or so I guess.

Now, much of that sweet dimunitive Dutch did surely rub on to you in another way too. But that story starts with the colour green. Your mother requires you to eat green things everyday (and you are only allowed one pack of instant noodles in a week – I ended up imposing that rule on my kids too!). Obviously we all know what mothers mean when they say ‘make sure to eat your greens, everyday!’ You, on the other hand, Yuti have another talent that I didn’t yet speak of, which is that of ‘creative interpretation’. So you creatively interpret ‘eat your greens’ to mean ‘green candies’, consistent with her sweet demeanour.

You are not only the first PhD student I have worked with, you have also been an invaluable friend for many years now. As the great Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, has said: “It is critical for people to have friends, friendships without self-interest. Without friends, life is too lonely.” You have been such a friend without self-interest for me and many others in this room. So I am sure a lot of people in this room will share this feeling that we will miss you in the future. As one of these friends mentioned to me this morning, we will miss the twinkle in your eyes, the naughtiness hiding underneath your smile (just like the grin of the Cheshire cat that you so love!), the beautiful mess of life underneath the neat order of your mathematical training, and a multitude of colours on your academic palette that only really rewards monochromatic visions. So I (we?) sincerely hope that you will continue to visit Holland, perhaps come back as post-doc(?). Holland is after all your second home.

Conversely, I also hope that Holland will always remain welcoming of you and others with diverse backgrounds, especially those arriving after traversing some very precarious routes, even if the current breed of Dutch politicians is intent on shutting down the borders (this situation will probably only get worse if and when the leader of the so-called Freedom Party becomes the Dutch prime minister). But optimists we must remain, also to resist this closing down of territories. To continue to subvert our troubled history of colonial and racist connections, turn it into a good thing by bringing to Holland more companions as sweet and as brilliant as you, Yuti!

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