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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Greetings and Charge to the Graduates

Category: University Events
May, 2018
East Campus Athletic Village

Rensselaer's 212th Commencement Ceremony

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Good Commencement morning, 2018 graduates!

I offer heartfelt congratulations to each of you. It takes a strong intellect and a strong work ethic to survive the rigors and the joys of the education we offer at Rensselaer, and all of you have demonstrated both, in abundance.

My special congratulations extend, also, to your parents, guardians, families, friends, and the Rensselaer faculty and staff who nurtured you, inspired you, collaborated with you, and supported you on your journey. It is a proud day for all of them as well.

Greetings, also, to our esteemed honorands, honored guests, and our trustees. We are so glad you are with us!

Graduates, as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, it is my privilege to share with you a few thoughts about confidence, courage, and breaking paradigms.

From your first days here, we have espoused our institutional confidence in you. I do that again today—because of your talents, motivation, focus, achievements, and the Rensselaer education you now possess. With confidence and courage, we expect you to do great things in your lives—to change the world like so many Rensselaer graduates before you.

You may believe that your path is entirely mapped out at this moment—but in all likelihood it is not. There will be much in your future that is unfamiliar, new, frightening even.

You may feel uncertain about your desire to move into new roles or disciplines, shocked by your own boldness, and fearful of your own presumption.

We often speak of the paradigm of The New Polytechnic, which exploits the advances brought about by the emergence and the merging of the biological, digital, and physical worlds—advances in genomics, computation and artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things—in order to address great global challenges.

Interestingly enough, these same advances have given rise to new communication platforms, and with them, an amplification of the voice of one (or a few), which, sometimes, can crowd out the voices of others. But what cannot be crowded out is the personal and collective amplification of what you do with your Rensselaer education—what you do with confidence and courage.

That is why it is very gratifying to see the confidence and courage many of you already have demonstrated.

Let me tell you about two of your classmates, who are exemplars of what I am sure your class is about.

Alejandra Jaime-Rodriguez of the Class of 2018, for example, arrived at Rensselaer as a citizen of Mexico and Spain, having lived in several countries and a number of cities. While at Rensselaer, she majored in Economics and Industrial Management and Engineering. She also pursued research opportunities and internships, a semester in Denmark, United States citizenship, a co-terminal master's in Quantitative Finance and Risk Analytics—and a spot on the Rensselaer Equestrian Team, despite no experience with competitive riding.

She said this about being thrown from a horse: "You don't learn how to fall—you learn from the fall." Graduates, I hope all of you embrace your opportunities as bravely and zestfully as Alejandra has.

Joseph Vengen of the Class of 2018 offers another inspiring example. He was born deaf, but channeled the isolation and frustration of his condition into invention. He graduates today with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, a patent for a more elegant and efficient piston engine, a software invention that allows music listeners to create their own auditory experiences, and the triumph of having remained the last man standing after a five-day Humans Versus Zombies game.

It takes both confidence and courage, as these classmates demonstrated, to resist all doubters, and your own doubts, as well—and to seize the opportunity to do great work.

I hope that all of you put a globe on your desks, and see the world as your jurisdiction—because humanity needs young men and women who refuse to stop at arbitrary barriers—who are willing to cross borders others are too timid to cross, in order to create a strong future for themselves, and to make a better, more secure, sustainable, and fruitful world.

So, never allow anyone or anything to undermine your confidence. You all have the potential to uplift lives on a grand scale. Humanity needs the contributions that only you, in all your uniqueness, are capable of making.

Make the unpredicted leaps, form the unanticipated collaborations, try the unexpected instruments, and address the unforeseen challenges, with all of the courage you can muster.

We are so proud of all of you. And we know, we will be prouder still in the future, as you use your education in ways that surprise us, and surprise you.

I wish you Godspeed on all your journeys to come.

Thank you.