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Commencement Speaker Reflects on Sacrifices

Senior undergraduate Harry Jung encourages fellow engineering graduates to pay it forward and improve the world for future generations

Excerpt from the COE News article – "Awarding Excellence"

A record-breaking year will culminate on Saturday, June 15, with UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering (COE) Undergraduate Commencement. The college will confer a record 462 total bachelor’s degrees in 2023-’24, surpassing the previous best of 422 set in 2020-’21. When the students gather in caps and gowns to celebrate their accomplishments, the Class of 2024 will be saluted by Harry Jung, who was selected by college staff to be the student speaker.

“I’m extremely honored to represent the most brilliant minds of this generation, and I am proud of myself for achieving my goals and exceeding my expectations,” said Jung, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis on photonics and artificial intelligence. “I graduated high school in 2020 and did not have a ceremony because of the pandemic. So, it means the world to me to represent my graduating class and participate in an actual ceremony.”

To truly appreciate and understand the magnitude of this milestone for Jung, one needs to learn about his journey. He grew up in South Korea, where his family lost nearly everything during the country’s economic crisis in 2009. His father, Soo Yong Jung, moved to the United States by himself the following year, while Jung and his mother stayed in South Korea. They immigrated to the U.S. in 2016 to reunite with Harry’s father, who had earned enough money working as a sushi chef to prepare for his family’s arrival. Fifteen-years old at the time, Jung enrolled in eighth grade, and learned how to speak and write English proficiently. Eight years later, he has persevered, overcoming numerous hurdles —  a language barrier, cultural differences, a pandemic, and working two jobs to help pay for his college education. 

“I’m extremely proud to earn a degree from one of the top engineering schools in the world,” said Jung. “It’s a testament to my ability, grit, and dedication to learn more about the world to satisfy my curiosity. It’s also proof that my parents’ hard work and sacrifices were not for nothing.”

Jung traces his success at UCSB to the Summer Institute in Mathematics and Sciences (SIMS) Scholars Program, a three-week academic preparation and research training program offered to incoming freshmen by the university’s Center for Science and Engineering Partnership (CSEP). As part of the program, he received mentoring, academic skills development, and participated in undergraduate research, working on digital image correlation and control systems engineering. 

“SIMS was one of the most impactful programs in my academic career. It helped me make strong connections in CSEP, and I started working with them right away,” said Jung, who provided information-technology services and worked on websites for CSEP. “This experience also led me to participate in UCSB’s IT Internship Program, which focuses on sustainable technology repair and offers free services to UCSB students.”

Jung says that his time at UCSB prepared him for future success by constantly challenging and pushing him to be a more effective communicator, and a more consistent, confident, and dedicated engineer. 

“My message to my fellow graduates will be that the College of Engineering not only prepared us to be great engineers, but also distinguished human beings,” said Jung. “All of our struggles and sacrifices, as well as those made by those in our support systems were worth it. And now, it’s our turn to return the favor by making the world a better place.”

The most important message that Jung wants to relay is to his parents, who gave up everything to give him an opportunity at a better life and a college education in the U.S.

“I want my parents to know that none of my accomplishments would be possible without their hard work and sacrifices,” said Jung. “My engineering degree, which will help me live a prosperous life in the U.S., is as much theirs as it is mine.”

Jung plans to drive across the country this summer, before starting his career in the electric vehicle industry as a test engineer for Senata Technologies.

COE News – "Awarding Excellence" (full article)

Jung's LinkedIn