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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at the City of Troy WelcomeFest

Category: Regional
August, 2018
Riverfront Park

City of Troy WelcomeFest

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

Greetings to the Class of 2022! And to the architects of 2023!

I just shook hands with each of you at the top of The Approach. Tomorrow, I will welcome you, formally, to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at the Freshman Convocation. 

But today it's my great pleasure to welcome you to Troy itself. The City of Troy and Rensselaer are alike in that they are old institutions, with old traditions—that constantly reinvent themselves in vibrant new ways.

We hope that you have enjoyed our Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond Program, which is designed, in part, to familiarize you with the “beyond” aspect of your education—in other words, with our home city and the remarkable region surrounding it.

We hope that your explorations have ignited your curiosity about the Capital Region, the Adirondacks to our north, and the Hudson River Valley to our south, and we encourage you to continue to explore. Indeed, many have devoted a lifetime of study to understanding the geology, geography, and history of this region. 

The river itself is quite fascinating. For much of its length, the Hudson is not a river at all, but rather an estuary. So powerful are the currents of the Atlantic Ocean that, at high tide, the river is salinized all the way here in Troy, about 165 miles from its mouth.

In 1609, Englishman Henry Hudson was looking for a rumored northeast passage to China when he entered New York Bay and what is now the river named for him. He and his crew traveled nearly to Albany before realizing that the Hudson would not, in fact, lead them to China.

Troy prospered, nonetheless, because of its favorable site near the juncture of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, which connected the city to the world beyond, and powered industry and commerce. Troy rose to prominence as a waypoint for the shipment of goods from Vermont to New York City. By 1860, Troy was one of eight manufacturing centers that produced all of the nation's iron and steel—key materials for the Industrial Revolution.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was founded in 1824, also to assist in spreading knowledge and commerce across our nation. The school was established to enable—in the words of our philanthropic founder Stephen Van Rensselaer—“the diffusion of a very useful kind of knowledge”—concerned with “the application of science to the common purposes of life.” Indeed, Rensselaer graduates went on to build roads, bridges, railroads, canals—the infrastructure that made the United States a great industrial power—something our graduates continue to do today, in realms digital and physical alike.

The staircase you just descended is another example of the ways that Troy and Rensselaer have grown together throughout their history. The stairs were built on the site of The Main Building, the first building constructed specifically for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, thirty-seven years after its founding.

On June 4, 1904, a fire gutted The Main Building, and after considering many options, including leaving Troy, the Rensselaer leadership chose to rebuild on the hill above the city. The leaders of the City of Troy built The Approach in gratitude, to symbolize the ongoing close relationship between Rensselaer and Troy.

Over a hundred years later, this grand staircase still reminds us of the vital linkages between our university and the city—and reminds us, as well, that we do not learn or grow in isolation.

Indeed, your education is intended to help you find your place, and make your mark, in the larger world. During your time at Rensselaer, I urge you to use these stairs regularly as your passage into a broader community.

Troy is a wonderfully walkable city. I urge you to take advantage of its many delightful restaurants, and remarkable cultural offerings, such as the concerts at the Troy Music Hall—or Troy Night Out, which, on the last Friday of every month, allows everyone to stroll to dozens of art events and music venues downtown, and truly to appreciate the remarkable creative community here.

I hope that each time you venture downtown, you will recall the curiosity and the wonder that you have felt this week, embarking upon your college adventure. We hope that you will continue to carry that sense of discovery with you as you navigate your Rensselaer career.