Greetings and Charge to the Graduates
213th Rensselaer Commencement
Good Commencement morning, 2019 graduates!
Greetings, also, to our esteemed honorands, honored guests, our trustees, families, and friends.
Graduates, as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I offer heartfelt congratulations to each of you. Earning a degree from Rensselaer is a considerable achievement—one that requires talent to begin with, and then, the application of that talent through hard work, collaboration, and challenge to one’s capabilities.
I hope that all of you enjoy the sense, today, that you have accomplished something important!
My special congratulations extend, as well, to your parents, guardians, families, and friends. They share in your achievement. I also congratulate the faculty and staff who taught you, inspired you, and supported you on your journey. It is a proud day for them as well.
Graduates, please join me in thanking all of them.
Bachelor’s degree candidates, it is hard to believe that it was four years ago that you sat before us at Freshman Convocation, on the eve of your first day of college classes. It was a moment of both apprehension and excitement, as you embarked on a voyage into the unknown.
I suggested, then, that if, at any time, you felt intimidated in the coming days, you needed to remember our great confidence in you.
I can assure our advanced degree candidates that we felt no less confidence in you, as well.
All of you came to Rensselaer from across the country, and from around the world. All of you stood out for your academic excellence, and for your achievements beyond the classroom. We knew that you would thrive at Rensselaer.
Indeed, you have thrived! It has been a great pleasure for me—a great pleasure for all of us—to watch you grow in intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and the global nature of your outlook.
We have educated you for deep knowledge in your chosen fields.
We also have, very consciously, worked to give you the sense that your work should be, and will be, meaningful—by focusing on global challenges, including: food, water, and energy security for a global population projected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030; the reality of climate change, and the concomitant need for sustainable infrastructure and materials; national and global security; the intelligent allocation of valuable natural resources; and the mitigation of disease and promotion of human health worldwide.
Indeed, those of you who attended the President’s Commencement Colloquy yesterday already know that, this morning, we will hear from our three honorary degree recipients, all of whom have waded courageously into such grand challenges, and devoted themselves to securing the well-being of millions, even billions of people—and to preserving the Earth that sustains us.
Like them, throughout our nearly 200-year history, Rensselaer people have made transformative discoveries and world-altering innovations—ranging from planning and summoning the national will for the transcontinental railroad; to envisioning NASA and landing humans on the moon; to inventing the microprocessor, the digital camera, and the foundational technologies for artificial intelligence. Rensselaer people, in other words, do not tinker around the edges.
You embody the qualities that have distinguished Rensselaer graduates for almost two centuries.
Many members of the remarkable Class of 2019 already are applying their skills to easing the burdens of their fellow travelers.
For example, Lydia Krauss of the Class of 2019, who pursued a dual major in Design, Innovation, and Society and Biomedical Engineering, already has designed myriad devices to empower those with physical impairments, including blocks to teach children Braille.
The Class of 2019 also includes Noon Farsab, who arrived in the United States from Sudan, with her mother and six brothers and sisters, just five years ago, without a command of English. Today, armed with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, she dreams of transforming her community of origin, in Sudan, and bringing in running water and energy for cooking, to homes that still lack such fundamental infrastructure.
And then there is Al-Jalil Gault, who will receive his Bachelor’s of Architecture today, before he heads to the University of Pennsylvania for a master’s degree in City Planning. A born teacher, Al-Jalil has worked to diversify his field of architecture by reaching out to, and inspiring, underrepresented minority children in our region—while embarking on a career focused on creating resilience in urban environments, including in coastal cities that are fighting to adapt to climate change, extreme weather, and sea level rises.
And then, there is the unique exemplar of your class, Julian DuPont, who joined the Rensselaer family at age 11, and graduated early—last December at age 15—with a degree in chemistry. While at Rensselaer, Julian used his rare intellectual abilities to help his fellow students, as we watched him grow, in multiple dimensions, into the extraordinary young man he is today. Julian will be attending medical school. He is a rare talent from whom we expect signal accomplishments.
Also among the members of the Class of 2019 are teams of students who, collaboratively, have…
- Invented a mobile app to make automatic doors more accessible for people with disabilities;
- Won the top honor at the largest international student-led cybersecurity competition for the second year in a row; and
- Created a powerful and coherent Art_X installation called “The Wave: An Immersive Sensory Exchange,” from the sensor data collected by researchers at The Jefferson Project at Lake George.
Each of them, and each of you, prove that heritage is by chance—success by choice.
You are inventors, innovators, artists, entrepreneurs—and trailblazers!
Heritage can be both an opportunity and an obstacle. However, from that moment in childhood, or early adulthood, when we learn to draw strength from our lived experience—to overcome difficult circumstances—our lives become the product of our choices.
And more than any other factor, education is the greatest choice—by opening our eyes and our minds to new possibilities, allowing us to transcend the roles that chance has assigned us. You have made that choice by coming to Rensselaer.
We have challenged you to change the world. As you go forth from here, live your lives to the fullest, and as you do, please use your formidable gifts to make as many other lives as possible: healthier, more secure, and more rewarding. Never doubt your own ability to make a long-standing problem, of daunting complexity, or intimidating scale, yield to a new solution!
Make this a better world! We know that you have the resilience, tenacity, confidence, curiosity, and education to do just that.
I wish you Godspeed—and good fortune on all your journeys to come.