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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at Honors Convocation

Category: Regional
October, 2018
Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center Concert Hall
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Welcome to the 2018 Rensselaer Honors Convocation. We are delighted to have family and friends here today, to share in our pride, as we celebrate the remarkable achievements of our students and faculty.

Each year at Rensselaer we select a theme for reflection for our entire community. Our theme this year is “Breaking Paradigms and Transcending Borders: Transformative Leadership in the 21st Century.”

When we consider the honorees today, some young, some well into their careers, we see shining examples of transformative leadership. This is not an accident. Our paradigm of “The New Polytechnic” is designed to engender the skills necessary to lead in the 21st century.

As we consider the sprawling challenges the world faces, it is clear that these are times that require new ways of collaborating—across borders, cultures, generations, and academic fields. These challenges require a new kind of leader, one who can use the insights gained in one field to transform another.

We recognize that breaking paradigms is not easy. It requires a unique sense of courage and conviction to challenge prevailing wisdom or to forge an entirely new path forward.

For example, Dr. Dan Shechtman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2011 for the discovery of quasicrystals—crystals whose atoms are arranged in a non-repeating fivefold symmetry. Dr. Shechtman’s discovery initially met great resistance from the community of scientists, who believed that all crystals had to be arranged in patterns that repeated in three dimensions. Interestingly, the fivefold symmetry that Dr. Shechtman discovered already had been explored in both mathematics and in art. There are, for example, medieval Islamic mosaics that use a small number of different tiles over and over to create similar aperiodic, or non-repeating, patterns. The Golden Ratio, a proportion found in nature and considered particularly pleasing in both art and architecture, appears in the ratio of distances in both quasicrystals and aperiodic mosaics. In spite of ridicule, and near banishment from his scientific community, Dr. Shechtman persevered and prevailed—making the discovery that warranted a Nobel Prize.

By tirelessly pursuing excellence, each of the men and women we honor here today has demonstrated fortitude in the face of challenges, and an optimistic faith in their own powers, and in those of others, that is necessary for transformative leadership.

Today we celebrate scholars at earliest stages of their careers: the Rensselaer Medalists, who were the strongest science and mathematics students in high schools around the world, and who now are members of the great Class of 2022. Already, they have demonstrated the tenacity and dedication necessary to achieve great things.

We recognize, also, the transfer students, upperclassmen, and graduate students who have received a diverse array of scholarships, fellowships, awards, and commendations. Their successes, in many different disciplines, represent their commitment to excellence, as well as their perseverance and commitment in tackling challenges large and small.

And we recognize those students who have maintained 4.0 grade point averages. Given the intellectual rigor of the coursework at Rensselaer, such perfection truly is a remarkable achievement, and is the exemplar of excellence.

The faculty members we honor today are conducting transformative research on questions that are essential to the future of our world.

They are investigating how the environment can disrupt the circadian clock, to understand how this disruption affects human health.

They are making foundational contributions in the field of nanomaterials.

And they are exploring how nanoporous structures can serve as molecular sieves and purify water.

They shine in their laboratories, in their classrooms, and in their specific fields of inquiry—as well as in the remarkable cross-disciplinary collaborations for which Rensselaer is known.

Across the entire Rensselaer family, we are committed to discovery and innovation—in order to make a difference in the world, and equally committed to encouraging and amplifying each other’s efforts. 

Today, as we recognize the individual achievements of our students and faculty, we also celebrate our community, and recognize that each of us is better because of the presence of others dedicated to changing the world. 

I thank all of you for joining us. I salute and congratulate those whom we recognize today.

Thank you for joining us today to salute the achievements of these outstanding members of our community.

Each year, the Honors Convocation is an occasion to celebrate the contributions that our faculty and students make to the intellectual life of this university, and to the betterment of the world.

In short, with our Honors Convocation, we reaffirm the very essence of who we are and the vital role we are poised to play in the 21st century.