updated 08/23/2013 AT 11:50 AM ET
•originally published 08/23/2013 AT 2:30 PM ET
Call it the ultimate back-to-school pep talk.
Students returning to classes at the Georgia Institute of Technology got a rock solid bit of inspiration from one of their own this week, when sophomore mechanical engineering student Nicholas Selby stepped up to speak to the school’s incoming freshmen.
Wearing a black mortarboard hat and traditional academic robe, Selby, 19, took to the stage at the school’s opening convocation on Sunday with Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathrustra (also known as the opening theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey) soaring in the background, to deliver a stirring speech that has since gone viral on YouTube, urging the new students to shoot for their dreams.
“Crush the shoulders of the giant upon whom we stand. We here are all such innovative people. So I’m telling you – if you want to change the world, you’re at Georgia Tech! You can do that!” Selby told the enthralled audience of about 4,000 mostly engineering students and faculty.
“If you want to build the Iron Man suit, you’re at Georgia Tech! You can do that. And if you want to play theme music during your convocation speech like a bad ass, we’re at Georgia Tech, we can do that! I am doing that!,” he said as the music hit its crescendo and Selby thrust his arms into the air victoriously.
Selby, who started his inspirational welcome by quoting Sir Isaac Newton – “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – is a president’s scholar, representing the top two percent of students at the university, CNN reported. He was a member of the school’s engineering team that created a solar-powered car they raced in the Formula Sun Grand Prix.
His empowering speech, academic ensemble and nerdy, wholesome looks, drew comparisons to literary whiz kid Harry Potter for Selby, who is from Phoenix, Ariz., and who sought to assuage the students’ fears as new kids at an academically challenging school.
“I was the only one that I knew here,” said Selby, a high-school debater who auditioned via video to be the convocation speaker. “I came here without any friends. I was kind of nervous. I’m a socially awkward guy. I was nervous about being able to make friends and fit in here. Georgia Tech took all my fears and eliminated them.”