Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, No. 11, June 14, 2013

Commencement 2013

Graduates Urged To Build Stronger Communities at 207th Commencement

U.S. Representative John R. Lewis (D-GA)—one of the nation’s most dedicated and courageous civil rights leaders—urged graduates to use their skills to build a kinder, more equitable society, at the 207th Commencement at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute May 25.


Lewis addressed 1,676 graduates, their families, and friends at the 207th Rensselaer Commencement, held in the Houston Field House. During the ceremony, Rensselaer awarded a total of 1,834 degrees. They include: 411 master’s degrees, 163 doctoral degrees, and 1,260 bachelor’s degrees. Some graduates have earned more than one degree.

Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson told graduates to use the tools offered by new technologies for their highest purpose: answering the world’s grand challenges and building communities. But to succeed in the data-driven, supercomputer- powered, web-enabled, globally connected world, Jackson said, graduates will have to redefine leadership. As technology grows more powerful, they will need a greater degree of humanity and to stretch their capacity for collegiality and friendship in order to work across disciplines and national borders.

“I urge you to take the most expansive possible view of the work you will do in the future. I hope you do work to improve humanity itself—and help the rest of us to find new ways to teach, to heal, to amuse, to protect, and ultimately to understand each other,” said President Jackson. “Just remember, the arc of one’s career follows the arc of one’s character.”

Class of 2013 President Chris Newhard told graduates to live by the motto of Rensselaer—“Why not change the world?”—on a local scale. Newhard said he originally considered only the most obvious interpretation of the motto: that he, as a member of the Rensselaer community, should impact the global community in a positive manner.

“What if, instead, the term ‘world’ referred to a smaller place? What if it referred to your local community? What if it referred to your circle of friends?
Or even just you?” said Newhard.

“Because I know that we have all improved ourselves, and I know that as a class, we have improved RPI, and our community at large. And together, just maybe, we can truly make a change for the better in the world.”

The graduates were also addressed by honorands Admiral Michael G. Mullen, retired Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman; Ursula M. Burns, Xerox chairman and CEO; and Patricia Q. Stonesifer, Microsoft pioneer and founding CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I have great expectations for each of you in these challenging times, particularly with the strong foundation of a Rensselaer education, to lead and to make a difference,” said Mullen.

“I can’t pretend to know how your world will change—but I know it will, and it will change at a pace that will continue to increase exponentially. Learn to love it. And make it your ally,” said Burns.

“If you’re building vaccines, if you’re creating solutions to global warming, if you’re leading a foundation—you need to get out of the lab, out of the office, out of the theory—and take the chance to live your work—put yourself in the shoes of the person or community you aim to serve and really attempt to understand what they need, why that is the case, and how you can stand with them to create the change you both seek,” said Stonesifer.

For information regarding Commencement, visit

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, Number 11, June 14, 2013
©2013 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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