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Garnet D. Baltimore Reception and Dinner for Accepted African-American Students

“Writing Your Own Chapter in the History of the 21st Century”

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

ECAV Practice Gymnasium
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Friday, April 4, 2014


Welcome to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. We are delighted that you are here.

Congratulations are in order—first—to the parents and guardians, who have nurtured, directed, and loved a truly remarkable group of young men and women. Congratulations, also, to our accepted students, who already have attained so much. In being accepted here, you have prevailed over formidable—and numerous—competitors.

The applications for our freshman class set a new record—more than triple the number just nine years ago. We also had record applications from underrepresented minorities, women, and international students. If you join our Class of 2018, you can expect to be part of one of the most accomplished and diverse classes in our long history.

This is the first year that we have named our dinner for African-American accepted students and their families in honor of Garnet Douglass Baltimore of the Rensselaer Class of 1881, so it seems appropriate to say a few words about one of our most distinguished alumni: Mr. Baltimore was a civil engineer and the first African-American to receive a bachelor's degree from Rensselaer.

He also was a key contributor to the building of the Erie Canal. It was a marvel of its day, the 19th century equivalent of the Internet, opening up the West to commerce and communications.

In 1884, he supervised the extension of the Oswego Canal lock known as the “mud lock.” Confronted with quicksand on the site that allowed bearing piles 20 feet long to float out of place, Baltimore solved the problem, in part, by developing a new system to test cement. This was such a revolutionary improvement that its use was adopted as a standard for the State of New York. He also designed one of the great gems of this very city of Troy: Prospect Park.

The son of a barber and the grandson of a slave, Baltimore mastered engineering and built important friendships here at Rensselaer, so he could take on the opportunities of his time. In doing so, he helped to change New York State, the United States, and the world.

You, our accepted students, also have the potential to add your own chapters to the history of the 21st century.

You arrive at an auspicious moment. Fifteen years ago, we began transforming Rensselaer, guided by The Rensselaer Plan. In 2012, we revised and refreshed The Rensselaer Plan in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of our founding in 2024. With The Rensselaer Plan 2024, we are building on our achievements, and the nearly 200-year legacy of Rensselaer, to become even more transformative…

  • In the global impact of our research,
  • In the innovative teaching and learning that take place here,
  • And in the lives of our students.

The work we do—whether in teaching, in research, or in helping you become leaders—is given meaning by an institute-wide focus on the great global challenges of our day—issues related to food, water, and energy security; global and national security; human health, climate change, and the allocation of scarce natural resources.

So, if you join us, you will be engaged immediately in big questions. You will be encouraged to use your talents in ways that open up new avenues of discovery and innovation, that improve the lives of people down the street or around the globe—and that add meaning to your lives, as well.

We know that you are fantastic—that is why you are here. As you know, our motto is, “Why not change the world?” If—indeed, when you join us, you will be given the tools and the opportunities to do just that.

Again, welcome.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening and the day tomorrow. Thank you for coming!


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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