Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, No. 11, June 15, 2012
   
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Focus

Commencement 2012

Graduates urged to seize
modern day “Sputnik
challenge” and take chances
at 206th Commencement

Former U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon told graduates to use their education to answer today’s “Sputnik challenge,” while U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu spoke to the value of individual conviction at the 206th Commencement at Rensselaer May 26.

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“Today I ask you to pause and truly reflect because I believe that you are graduating at a momentous, even pivotal, time in the history of this planet and of humanity and that you, the Class of 2012, are especially well-suited to be a part of what comes next–for this country and the world,” Gordon said.

Gordon and Chu addressed 1,613 graduates, their families, and friends at the 206th Rensselaer Commencement, held in the East Campus Athletic Village Stadium. During the ceremony, Rensselaer awarded a total of 1,742 degrees. They include: 357 master’s degrees, 136 doctoral degrees, and 1,249 bachelor’s degrees. Some graduates have earned more than one degree.

The Class of 2012 are especially well-suited to be a part of what comes next—
for this country and the world.
—Bart Gordon

Gordon recalled that, as a child, he searched the night sky for Sputnik because its launch had “shocked me, my family, and Americans everywhere.” Gordon said that President Kennedy’s response to the threat to American national security and economic security was the challenge that, 12 years later, led Americans to the Apollo 11 lunar landing, and astronaut Neil Armstrong’s historic steps on the surface of the moon.

“I tell you that because America and the whole planet are in desperate need of another Sputnik to Apollo kind of step forward,” Gordon said. Meeting the energy and other critical needs of a global a population of seven billion and rising is “the Sputnik challenge of today.”

Chu began his address by recalling that many great technical inventions—the steam engine, automobile, telephone—have been greeted by society with doubt and discouragement.

“You may hear doubters and naysayers; don’t be discouraged—all these pioneers had their doubters,” Chu said. He advised the graduates to take risks, to maintain confidence in the face of false starts and mistakes, and to accept failure as the currency of effort. “Your biggest failure would occur if you never fail; if you never do that in your life, you will never know what you could have done,” Chu said.

Others who addressed the graduates and their families includes honorary degree recipients Steven Sasson ’72, inventor of the digital camera; artificial intelligence pioneer Edward Feigenbaum; and the Honorable Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, who reminded the graduates of the value of virtue. “Knowledge is not virtue. When you leave here, I assume you will continue to acquire knowledge ...but you also have to continue to acquire virtue,” Scalia said. Recalling the advice of his father, Scalia said “he told me once, ‘son, brains are like muscles, you can hire them by the hour. The only thing that is not for sale is character.’ Try to have both.”

Photos by Kris Qua

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, Number 11, June 15, 2012
©2012 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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