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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at Dinner for Honorary Degree Recipients

May, 2018
President's private residence

Dinner for Honorary Degree Recipients

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

Thank you for joining us. Allow me to introduce my husband, Dr. Morris A. Washington, Associate Director of the Center for Materials, Devices, and Integrated Systems. We are delighted to welcome you to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and to the President's residence on the occasion of our 212th Commencement.

Soon, I will introduce our honorands, and ask each of them to say a few words. Allow me first to introduce some of the other special guests who are here.

As I say your names, please stand, and remain standing, so that we may honor you as a group.

First—the members of the Board of Trustees of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:

  • Chair Arthur Golden '66
  • Vice Chair Wanda Denson-Low '78
  • Mr. John Carr '77, '79G
  • Ms. Linda Jojo
  • Mr. Jeffrey Kodosky '70
  • Dr. Mark Little '82
  • Ms. Nancy Mueller
  • Mr. Daniel Pickett III '90
  • Dr. Janet Rutledge '83
  • Mrs. Paula Simon '68
  • Dr. Siva Sivaram '85G, '86 Ph.D.
  • Ex-Officio Trustee, The Honorable Patrick Madden, Mayor of Troy
  • Honorary Trustee Mr. Howard N. Blitman '50
  • Trustee Emeritus Dr. Neal Barton '58, '63G, '66 Ph.D.; and
  • Trustee Emeritus The Honorable Arthur Gajarsa '62
  • And their guests.

Next—the members of my Cabinet:

  • Dr. Prabhat Hajela, Provost
  • Mr. Craig A. Cook, Secretary of the Institute and General Counsel
  • Dr. Jonathan S. Dordick, Vice President for Research, and the Howard P. Isermann '42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Mr. Graig Eastin, Vice President for Institute Advancement
  • Ms. Virginia Gregg, Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer
  • Ms. Richie C. Hunter, Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations
  • Mr. John Kolb '79, Vice President for Information Services and Technology and Chief Information Officer
  • Dr. Lee McElroy, Associate Vice President & Director of Athletics
  • Mr. Curtis Powell, Vice President for Human Resources
  • Mr. Claude Rounds, Vice President for Administration
  • Mr. Jonathan D. Wexler, Vice President for Enrollment Management
  • And their guests.

Now, please allow me to introduce the members of the Dean's Council:

  • Dr. Tom Begley, Dean of the Lally School of Management
  • Dr. Curt Breneman, Dean of the School of Science
  • Mr. Evan Douglis, Dean of the School of Architecture
  • Dr. Shekhar Garde, Dean of the School of Engineering
  • Dr. Mary Simoni, Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
  • Dr. Stanley M. Dunn, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education
  • Dr. Linda Schadler, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education
  • Dr. Aric Krause, Dean for Academic and Administrative Affairs for Rensselaer at Hartford
  • And their guests.

I hope you enjoyed the Colloquy this afternoon.

I am so pleased that our graduates, before they move off into the world, had the opportunity to see our honorands engage with each other: four people who have transformed their fields of endeavor, because of a bold willingness to try the unprecedented and to break new ground.

Before I introduce our first honorand and Commencement speaker, I would like to welcome Mrs. Gigi Hancock. We are so delighted that you could join us!

It has been a great pleasure to welcome Mr. Herbie Hancock to Rensselaer. He has so many fans here, across the generations. And because he never has set aside his willingness to experiment—which is, of course, the great temptation, when one is as successful as Mr. Hancock—he has never stopped delighting audiences, even as he challenges and expands our notion of what jazz should be.

At Rensselaer, we feel that he is one of us—not only because he studied electrical engineering, but also because he has embraced evolving technologies in his music, and brought together the arts and engineering, which, as you know, is a great focus here at Rensselaer through initiatives such as Art _X, and the new B.S. in Music degree program.

Mr. Hancock, please join me at the podium…

We are proud to have you with us this evening.

Thank you, Mr. Hancock.

We also are very happy to welcome the Honorable Mary Jo White to our midst, so that our graduates can learn that a few important lessons:

  • That a deep knowledge of the law yields the best results, when combined with a very precise moral compass;
  • That great sensitivity to the merits and motives of even the worst of wrong-doers is very useful when you are trying to protect society from them; and
  • That a delightful sense of humor does not mean that one is not a formidable opponent.

As President Barack Obama warned when nominating her as Chair of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, "You don’t want to mess with Mary Jo."

Actually, here at Rensselaer, we definitely educate very formidable characters, as well—as well as formidable legal minds, including our Chair Mr. Arthur Golden and Vice Chair Wanda Denson-Low. We are so pleased that our graduates had the opportunity to meet, and learn from, such a distinguished prosecutor, private practitioner, and regulator.

Ms. White, please join me at the podium…

We are proud to have you with us this evening.

Thank you, Ms. White.

It has been a great pleasure, also, to welcome Ms. Alicia Boler Davis of the Rensselaer Class of 1998. She is an inspiration to our students, many of whom are extremely enthusiastic about advanced manufacturing, as advances in computation, automation including advanced robotics, and 3D printing have made manufacturing cool again.

She also is someone I refer to often, in conversations about the Internet of Things, because she led the connected customer efforts for General Motors, a pioneer in cyberphysical systems. And she is someone who has embraced, throughout her career, unexpected opportunities and tough assignments—a true Rensselaer alumna, and a great role model for our graduates.

Ms. Boler Davis, please join me at the podium…

We are proud to have you with us this evening.

Thank you, Ms. Boler Davis.

We also welcome Dr. Eric Lander to our midst. He is the source of many breakthroughs in our understanding of our genetic heritage, and the relationship between DNA and health and disease. As a mathematician and a scientist, Dr. Lander is driven by a desire to understand, and to conquer, cancer and common diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. Lander also has addressed the issues of open science, national science-based policy, and the exoneration of the innocent through DNA.

Dr. Lander, please join me at the podium.

We are very grateful to have you here.

Thank you, Dr. Lander.

This has been a remarkable day. I thank each of you for being here to celebrate our honorands, and our Commencement, as we launch the Class of 2018 into the world.

We challenge our students with one simple question, "Why not change the world?" We thank our honorands for showing us, and our graduates, the transformative power of courage in making the world a better place.

We look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow morning. Enjoy the rest of this lovely evening.