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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s
202nd Commencement Ceremony Transcript

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Harkness Field
Troy, New York

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.: Ladies and gentlemen, on the occasion of the two-hundred-and-second commencement of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, it is an honor and a privilege to present to you our future, the great class of 2008.  (applause)  Please remain standing for the invocation offered by Marie Venaglia, resident chaplain.

Marie Venaglia: We gather today in appreciation, in wonder and in joy.  We reflect on the many experiences we have had, the people we’ve met, the teachers who have encouraged us and the friends who have brightened our days and nights here at RPI.  As the class of 2008, we give thanks for all who have led us to this place, to this moment, and we pray that we will be blessed as we embark on a new world of experiences that will be open to us.  May we continue to grow in grace and wisdom and understanding as we go forth to change the world.  Let us say amen. 

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.: Please be seated.  Good morning.  As President of the University, it is my duty, my honor, my privilege and my very great pleasure to welcome you to the two-hundred-and-second commencement exercises of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  For the faculty, staff and trustees, this is the day when we can take pride in the fruits of our work.  Graduates, we truly are proud of you.  We salute you and we share in the joy of your accomplishments.  For your parents, your families and friends, your spouses and partners, this morning marks the fulfillment of years of anticipation and dreams.  So, graduates, I would ask that you stand and join us in thanking them for the sacrifices they have made to help bring you to this moment, please.  (applause)  Thank you. 

So finally it is here, your commencement day, a day that marks both an ending and, as the word implies, more importantly a beginning.  This is a very special day in your lives, a time to look back and to reflect and to look forward with excitement, anticipation and perhaps some nervousness.  You are on the brink of a new adventure in your lives as today, when you cross this stage to receive your diplomas, you will be crossing the threshold to your futures.  You are not alone in this symbolic, yet very real, journey.  You walk with past Rensselaer graduates, those who have come before you for more than 184 years and who have made their marks in the world.  You have the support of the faculty who have taught you, mentored you, challenged you and inspired you.  You have the friends you made here, friendships that will last a lifetime and will sustain you in the years ahead.  All of this you will take with you. 

You now go forth into the world ready to meet the increasingly complex and interconnected global challenges.  In doing so, you will be anchored by the two vibrant roots of a Rensselaer education.  The first root inscribed in the University’s founding documents is the application of science to the common purposes of life.  This has kept the University’s focus on solutions to national and even international needs and challenges.  You are walking in the footsteps of Rensselaer graduates who made the discoveries, constructed the canals, the roads, the bridges, the skyscrapers, the basic infrastructure here and around the world, which formed the basis for the 19th and 20th century society.  Your forebears changed the world, just as you will.  The second root also encompassed in the origin of Rensselaer is the employment of unique educational strategies.  From the earliest days, students were responsible for teaching their peers what they had learned in the classrooms and laboratories.  Since the first head of school, the first head of the Institute, Amos Eaton, understood that teaching reinforces learning.  Likewise, students performed scientific experiments rather than watch faculty conduct them as had been the common practice.  At the time, these concepts were considered revolutionary and distinguished from all others.  This legacy has been transformed into the unique teaching and learning here today, which has prepared you to succeed, to excel in advanced study and in your careers.  

You are familiar, of course, with the Rensselaer challenge, “Why not change the world?”, which acknowledges that today’s common purposes of life, of course, now include challenges that transcend geographic boundaries, challenges such as environmental sustainability, infectious disease, terrorism and other security concerns, energy security, water purity, and many more.  You the graduates, about-to-be graduates of Rensselaer, have taken the Rensselaer challenge to heart and have not waited to receive your diplomas to discover and innovate world-changing contributions.  From day one, you sought ways to bring your passion for discovery, innovation and commitment to creating a better future, to work inside and outside of your classrooms and labs.  In many instances, your work has been groundbreaking, holding promise for future breakthroughs in critical areas of inquiry.  Consider, for example, some of your fellow graduates.  Consider doctoral degree candidate Paul Morrow, a physicist who has developed a nano-material never before produced, an array of nano-scale columns creating a specialized, three-dimensional material which exhibits promising magnetic properties at room temperature.  Or Megan Salt, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry-biophysics, and who plans to continue her research into cancer cell interaction within microenvironments, research that she has performed as an undergraduate at laboratories at Rensselaer and MIT.  Ian Jacobi was part of an exciting research program as an undergraduate in computer science and physics, working with the leading-edge Rensselaer/MIT team engaged in research on the semantic web.  He will continue that research under the direction of worldwide Web inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, as a Ph.D. student at MIT.  Phil Bracken, who is graduating with a major in aeronautical engineering, wants to be an astronaut.  But first he will continue the research he began at Rensselaer at aerospace company, Orbital Sciences, where he will further develop a next-generation liquid first-stage rocket engine that runs on liquid kerosene and oxygen instead of conventional solid propellants.  That engine is slated for use in space in 2010.  Laura Wontrop will use her degree in mechanical engineering and her experience in building race cars to her key role at General Motors solidifying the design of next-generation concept cars.  Perhaps many of us will be driving cars designed by Laura some day.  And then there is Brian Patrick MacInnes, graduating with a degree in electronic media arts and communications, who helped to set up a design and art exhibit at MASS MoCA and will become program manager for web invention for Microsoft Corporation.  There are so many more stories of graduates nurtured by the two roots of a Rensselaer education who have grown both their talents and their perspectives and will bring the Rensselaer legacy to new heights. 

Among you as well in the class of 2008 are effective leaders, gifted artists, superb athletes, wonderful scientists, those who render service to our neighborhoods and to people around the world, and individuals who have dealt with personal crisis and challenges with courage and dignity.  You are an impressive group.  You have left your mark on the Institute.  It is a richer institution because of you.  And as you go forward, I challenge you to take the extra step, to lead extraordinary lives.  By this, I do not mean necessarily becoming famous or rich or lauded publicly for your achievements.  What I mean by extraordinary is to seize the moment, to seize the opportunities in your lives, and as Rensselaer graduates you will have many, and to use them to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  We can become so focused on personal achievement, on success, on career aspirations, that we can lose sight of how our individual avocations can be of service to others.  Just in the several examples of graduates I cited, we can see how these individuals, through their work, have the potential to improve lives and perhaps to save lives. 

At times like these, it is easy to be overwhelmed by seemingly countless challenges, local and global, which we encounter every day.  But think of the example of your classmates, Jennifer Ash, Zach Barth and Peter Mueller, who led the multidisciplinary capability games research project to create a groundbreaking interactive game simulation to help individuals with disabilities develop life skills and obtain increased autonomy.  Using computer technology, visual art, engineering and music, they are helping to make a shopping trip to the grocery store something most of us take for granted, into a reality for people with disabilities. 

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of what he called the fierce urgency of now.  His words resound today as we deal with very fundamental questions of human survival; how we will provide ample food for people around the world, how we will secure sustainable sources of energy, mitigate climate change, provide clean water, safe and habitable shelter and make computer technology accessible and affordable in our communities and around the world.  The current humanitarian crises in Myanmar and in China, tragically, at once aptly demonstrate the great amount of work we all must do to understand and respond to what is happening to our climate, to extend the promise of prosperity, freedom and health and safety to those who suffer.  So taking the global view and being equipped with multicultural sophistication, intellectual agility, curiosity and openness to experience is more important than ever.  Visionary physicist, John Wheeler, a member of the Manhattan Project, who popularized the concept of black holes, said, and I quote, “If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.”  That is his quote.  Now, Professor Wheeler, who went to his office at the University of Texas well into his nineties, died last month at age 96.  He certainly was a prime example of remaining open and engaged.  Finding something strange means finding something that makes us think, reflect, question assumptions, and that leads us to a deeper and richer understanding of our world and of one another. 

In a few moments, I will bestow upon each of you a Rensselaer diploma.  With this in hand, each of you will go forward to write your own chapter in the Rensselaer story, create your own legacy, your own very special future.  What will you do to address the common purposes of life?  How will you pass on what you have learned?  How will you shape the 21st century?  So I urge you to live both wisely and boldly, to hold firmly to your values and convictions, to care about others, to steward the planet and change the world, as have others who have come before you.  Your future is here, your future begins now.  Live it.  I congratulate you now and Godspeed.  (applause) 

Over the years, Rensselaer has honored nationally- and internationally-recognized individuals who exemplify the achievements, the ingenuity and imagination, the entrepreneurship and innovation that have been hallmarks of our university.  Today we are privileged to recognize David R. Gergen, Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and Shirley M. Tilghman for unique contributions in their fields, contributions which are shaping our world.  We honor political analyst, editor, bestselling author and Harvard professor, David Gergen, for culling wisdom from his distinguished years as an eyewitness to history, a confidant and advisor to those in power, for counseling us on the gathering storm of the information age, a potential national drift from great to good in the increasingly competitive global economy, for challenging young people to lead with passion, not alone and above, but alongside teammates and colleagues on a national and international stage.  We honor a world-renowned scholar and leader in the field of molecular biology and an exceptional teacher and academician, Shirley Tilghman, the nineteenth president of Princeton University and the first woman to hold the position, for her pioneering research and for seeking to improve the way that science is introduced into the lives and minds of young children, for championing equality in the fields of science and engineering and for promoting efforts to make the early careers of young scientists as exhilarating and productive as possible.  We honor Marine Corps general, astronaut and space shuttle pilot Charles Bolden, Jr. for his distinguished military career as a naval aviator, for his distinction in combat as a Marine, for his towering spirit and unflinching resolve to promote the cause of space exploration despite the deeply personal loss of friends and colleagues, for sharing his transcendent view of our world’s distinctions as seen from a cosmic perspective, moving beyond the artificial boundaries of national or ethnic origin. 

Robert Palazzo: Charles F. Bolden, Jr., your soaring spirit has enabled you to defy expectations and surmount stereotypes.  As an astronaut, your glimpse of our fragile, blue marble from space has allowed you a rare visual and emotional perspective.  Physically removed from Earth but not detached, you have confirmed your innate belief in the commonality of humanity.  Your work alongside a Russian crew on the shuttle Discovery had heightened your belief that the future of space exploration includes international cooperation and that our nation’s progress depends on space exploration, for serving our country through distinguished military service and for soaring toward the stars, for inspiring our nation’s youth through your work and your words, and for emphasizing that opportunity must be sought and that failure is the necessary crucible of a daring spirit. 

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.: By authority of the laws of the State of New York, on the recommendation of the faculty and with the approval of the Board of Trustees, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute proudly awards you the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering and invests you with the hood signifying this degree.  Congratulations.  (applause)

Robert Palazzo: Shirley M. Tilghman, an educator and an eminent scientist, you have used your platform as president of Princeton University to advance your passions, to instill the why, the wonder and the exhilaration of the journey of scientific exploration, to advance the unique perspective of women, and to ensure that university students actively acquire, rather than receive, an education, for advocating the profound importance of scientific discovery and innovation as an engine for economic and social progress, and for infusing a global perspective in young people to further promote respect for differences and recognition of commonalities.

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.: By virtue of the authority of the laws of the State of New York, on the recommendation of the faculty, and with the approval of the Board of Trustees, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute proudly awards you the honorary degree of Doctor of Science and invests you with the hood signifying this degree.  Congratulations.  (applause)

Robert Palazzo: David R. Gergen, employing the wisdom you have gleaned through years as a trusted advisor to four presidents and the objectivity of a veteran journalist and author, you have assumed the daunting responsibility of educating our future leaders.  You have challenged the new generation to stop our nation’s drift from great to good in this highly competitive flat world.  These talented young people should lead through actions, not rhetoric, persuade, not coerce, their colleagues with compelling resolve rooted in moral values.  For your achievements as a shrewd strategist, an astute commentator on the political scene and for emphasizing that greatness is not easily preserved but must be earned by each generation.

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.: By virtue of the authority of the laws of the State of New York, on the recommendation of the faculty, and with the approval of the Board of Trustees, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute proudly awards you the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws and invests you with the hood signifying this degree.  Congratulations.  (applause)

And now it is my pleasure to introduce David Gergen as our commencement speaker.  David Gergen is a news commentator, editor, teacher, public servant and bestselling author.  He currently is Professor of Public Service and the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  He also is editor-at-large at U.S. News & World Report and is a senior political analyst for CNN.  Mr. Gergen regularly serves as a news commentator on radio and television and is a frequent lecturer around the world.  Mr. Gergen has served in the White House and as an advisor to four United States presidents.  He served Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and, most recently, Bill Clinton, first as a counselor to the President and then as special advisor to the President and the Secretary of State.  He returned to private life in January 1995.  In the fall of 2000, Mr. Gergen published a bestselling book entitled Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton.  Earlier in his career, Mr. Gergen was editor of U.S. News & World Report.  Working with the owner and editor-in-chief, Mortimer Zuckerman, he helped to guide the magazine to record gains in circulation and advertising.  During that period, he also teamed up with Mark Shields for political commentary every Friday night for five years on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.  Mr. Gergen is an honors graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School and a member of the Washington, D.C. Bar Association.  He is active on many nonprofit boards and is chairman of the national selection committee for the Ford Foundation’s program on innovations in American government.  He frequently lectures here in the United States and overseas and holds 15 honorary degrees.  It is my distinct pleasure to introduce our commencement speaker, David R. Gergen.  (applause)

David R. Gergen: Good morning.  President Shirley Jackson, President Shirley Tilghman, Major General Charles Bolden, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, proud families, distinguished guests and especially members of the class of 2008, the great class of 2008.  What a glorious day.  Thank you for inviting us here.  Thank you for making Shirley Tilghman, Charles Bolden and I honorary members of this graduating class.  This is a special moment when 11,000 people come here to Troy, honoring an institution beloved by one generation after another, to say to the fourteen-hundred graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, congratulations and Godspeed.  Speaking earlier with some of the students, I know this is also a day when their hearts are brimming with gratitude toward their families, their moms and dads, sisters and brothers and grandparents, all that you have just given so much heartfelt applause to.  Now I have a bit of good news.  I promise this morning to be brief. 

Many of you in this graduating class probably think you have already heard enough from older generations.  As I work with students at the Kennedy School at Harvard, I’ve come to appreciate the differences in generational outlooks.  Most of you who are graduating today are young, vigorous and, well, frisky.  Fair enough.  You should be.  But I and others here today have reached that stage in life when we’re sympathetic with an old fellow who was walking through the woods one day and he heard a sound.  He couldn’t see anything.  Heard it again, looked down, there was a frog by the side of the path.  The frog looked up at him and said, “If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful princess.”  And he said, “Ah, that’s really interesting,” and he reached down and scooped up the frog and put it in his pocket.  No kiss.  Well, the frog is incredulous, crawls up the side of his jacket and said, “Didn’t you hear me?  I said if you kiss me, I’ll turn into a beautiful princess.”  He said, “Yeah, I heard you all right, but at my age I’d rather have a talking frog.”  (laughter)  Many of us here up on this platform are of the talking frog stage in life.  There’s a big difference in generational outlooks. 

So what final words do we in this older generation have to offer you this morning, the graduates?  Simply these; as you leave here today, you can take great pride in your academic accomplishments.  You’ve earned a degree from an institution that is not only the oldest school of science and civil engineering in the country, but an institution that is being transformed into a preeminent among all world universities, into a preeminent technological research university.  You have a plan here at Rensselaer that is legendary well beyond your borders.  People have heard about what you’re doing, what you’re building, what Shirley Jackson is helping to build, your Board of Trustees, your faculty and you especially, the students, and we’re all impressed by it.  What other undergraduate body in the country can say that they graduate with one plan, three mascots and a thousand avatars? 

Your president, Shirley Jackson, is a walking symbol of the quality that Rensselaer represents.  In selecting her for the prestigious Vannevar Bush Award for lifetime achievement in scientific research and education, the National Science Board properly described her as “a national treasure.”  She and Shirley Tilghman are both role models for women in science.  As you come forward to receive your diplomas this morning, each of you, as graduates from Rensselaer, can walk with your head high and a spring in your step.  A century and a half ago, a young unpublished poet gathered his courage and sent off a sheaf of his poems to the most prominent man in American letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Would Mr. Emerson please read them, the young man asked.  A few days later, Emerson wrote in reply, “Dear Walt Whitman, I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”  And so today, all of us say to you at this commencement, we greet you at the beginning of your great careers. 

Some of you here will leave to become entrepreneurs.  Some of you will enter business.  Some of you will become engineers and scientists.  All of you are embarking upon a lifelong journey of discovery, trying to unravel the mysteries of science and technology.  Surely no century holds greater promise for discovery, and surely no nation needs your talent more than the United States.  Both Shirley Jackson and Shirley Tilghman have spoken eloquently of our national need for more scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technologists.  President Jackson calls this growing need the nation’s quiet crisis.  The National Academies of Science and Engineering, echoing Churchill, have called it a gathering storm.  As graduates of Rensselaer, you will be in the front ranks of those trying to meet this crisis head on, and we thank you for that. 

But as you set out from here, I would urge today that you also embark upon an inner journey, an inner journey, one in which you discover more fully not just the secrets of the outer universe, but the secrets within you personally.  When you step back from your studies, when you pause to reflect, what do you find inside yourself?  Have you really discovered who you are?  Have you settled upon the values that will guide you the rest of your life?  Do you know your own passions about life?  During most of our years in high school and university, what counts is how well you expand your minds, how much you deepen your knowledge and, of course, how you perform on individual papers and exams, especially if you’re preparing for a career in engineering or science.  It is essential that you sharpen your capacity for critical thinking, that you acquire the discipline to ask the right questions, take the right measurements, pursue the right experiments.  Again, you’re fortunate that you have studied here at Rensselaer as you prepare yourselves for your careers.  But it is rare that such professional development in the undergraduate years, or indeed in the graduate years, also provides you an opportunity to nurture your inner life.  Leaving this university, you should be ready to make a good living.  The question becomes whether you are ready to make a good life.  As the novelist, Walter Stephens, once wrote, “You can make all A’s and still flunk life.”  You can make all A’s and still flunk life.  The challenge is one of discovering your own inner fire, what provides the nourishment for your soul as well as your brain. 

At the colloquy yesterday afternoon, Shirley Tilghman spoke eloquently of the need to have a fire in your belly to go forward and really make an impact to change the world.  And time and again, the world’s best scientists and engineers have discovered that inner fire well after they have completed their formal studies.  Consider Albert Schweitzer.  He is one of many examples of leaders in science and technology who discovered their own inner fire well after concluding formal studies.  He invested the first three decades of his life in study, becoming a recognized philosopher, scientist and thinker, as well as a world-class concert organist and interpreter of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach.  Then suddenly, at the age of 30, Albert Schweitzer left behind his highly successful academic life to pursue a vision of human healing in Africa.  He spent much of his time in his thirties in medical school and launching an innovative hospital thousands of miles from home, in a remote village of West Africa, a place called Lambaréné.  A chicken coop served as part of his initial compound.  He and his wife, Helen, spent most of their last four decades of their lives at Lambaréné.  In his reverence for life, Dr. Schweitzer became an inspiration to the world and in 1953 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  “I would consider myself justified,” he said, “in living until I was 30 for science and art in order to devout myself from that time forward to the direct service of humanity.”  Looking back on his life, Albert Schweitzer said everyone, everyone must find his own Lambaréné.  Just so, each of us must make an inner, as well as an outer, journey to find our own Lambaréné.  You have already begun down your own path, but the path may not yet be clear to you because you haven’t had a full opportunity to explore it.  That’s what the next few years of your life are about; not only to strengthen your professional credentials and contributions, but to take more time to reflect upon who you are down deep, what moves you.  Frequently, we begin life by trying to live the dreams of our parents, or of a teacher or mentor, but in your twenties and thirties, you must figure out what your own dreams are and live them instead.  You must stop letting other people define life for you.  You must define your own life, and along the way, you will discover your own inner voice.  The philosopher and scientist, William James, once wrote, “I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which it came upon him he is most deeply and intensively active and alive.”  At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says this is the real me. 

In recent years, I’ve had the privilege of becoming the friend of a wonderful man named Bill George, and I have found that, in teaching students in professional schools, Bill’s views are enormously meaningful for the students.  Bill received a B.S. in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech and masters in business administration from the Harvard Business School.  After a tour in public service during Vietnam, he was an executive with two major companies, Honeywell and Litton Industries, but he had not yet found something that ignited his inner fire.  For years he had been pursued to help run a company in Minneapolis, but said no because the company seemed just too small for him.  But upon further reflection, he decided that he would be much more at home in that smaller company, a place that shared his values, a place that shared his values, and off he went.  Soon both Bill George and the company took off.  During his decade-plus as chief executive and chair, Medtronic became the world’s leading medical technology company.  Its market capitalization grew from one billion to sixty billion, averaging 35 percent a year.  More importantly for Bill, he came to appreciate the importance of authentic leadership, how each of us may have all the smarts we need but until we find a way to work and to match our work with our passion, we will not live life to its potential.  Bill now teaches leadership development at the Harvard Business School, the Kennedy School, and has written two books that are treasures.  Students, I find, are especially drawn to his second book, True North.  There, based upon interviews with 125 current contemporary leaders from all walks of life, he describes the journeys that people have made to move beyond their mental development, their cognitive development, to their inner development.  It is not an easy journey.  You have to look inside, deep inside your soul, even as you build your career and rub up against the rest of the world.  You have to develop a set of deeply-held moral values and an inner gyroscope to guide you.  Frequently people stumble or derail themselves.  The biggest trip in the world, he says, it to travel the three feet from your head to your heart.  But it is a trip I would commend to each of you this morning, and let me briefly, as moving toward a conclusion, which I know you will welcome, suggest three good reasons why.

First, it has been my experience in the nation’s public affairs that leaders who lack a moral compass and a true north are those who get themselves, and the rest of us, in deep trouble.  I didn’t always see life this way.  I grew up in an academic family; my dad was chairman of the math department at Duke University for a quarter of a century, so that I came to think that the smartest person would always make the best leader of any organization.  Then I had my first big job in government working in the White House for Richard Nixon.  He was indeed one of the smartest people I’ve ever known in public life, certainly the best strategist, and if that were all there were to him, he would have been one of our near-greats.  But he was tormented by inner demons that he had never been able to control.  He lacked both a moral compass and a true north.  And eventually those inner demons brought him down and left us with one of the worst public scandals in our history.  Sadly, if you look around us today, you will see many, many versions of Richard Nixon, who are destroying the corporations and public institutions that they have been selected to lead.  So you need this moral compass first and foremost, this true north, so that you won’t derail and derail those around you in any institution.

Second, I believe that once you construct your moral compass and set your true north, there is a much higher probability that you will help us solve the quiet crisis that we have in widening and deepening the stream of outstanding leaders in science, engineering, mathematics and technology in this country.  The challenge before us as a people is not simply whether we increase the number of graduates in those fields, the bigger challenge is whether we bring forward more leaders in these fields who are also filled with an inner fire; people of high quality, people who are passionate about discoveries and knowledge, that we can, in Albert Schweitzer’s words, put in direct service to humanity.  Benjamin Franklin, one of the first pioneer scientists of preeminence, would not have been important had he simply been curious about electricity and the like.  What distinguished Benjamin Franklin was his powerful drive to put science in the service of human advancement.  What distinguished Thomas Edison was not just his range of interest and knowledge; it was his incredible persistence in trying to lift the quality of life.  What distinguishes Shirley Tilghman is not simply her many degrees and her research.  What has made her one of the finest university presidents in the country is this intense commitment to ensure, as Woodrow Wilson once envisioned, that Princeton would be of service to nation and world.  And what makes all of admire Shirley Jackson is not her string of honors and research, as impressive as they are.  We see in her a person bringing incredible passion to her search for a renaissance, not only at Rensselaer, but in science and technology throughout America.  That’s why we celebrate both Shirleys here today, along with General Bolden, and why all of us here urge you, the graduates, to follow in their footsteps.

Third, and finally, I would suggest this morning that you attend to your inner soul as well as your outer journey for your own sake, for what it can mean to you personally.  There is much written today about happiness.  We see a shift in emphasis among psychologists away from what troubles us to what makes us happier in life.  Martin Seligman, at the University of Pennsylvania, set off a wave of books about positive psychology since his own work on learned optimism.  The most popular course among Harvard undergraduates recently has been taught by a lecturer and it is about achieving personal happiness.  Rummaging through some of this literature, one quickly sees what philosophers have known since the days of Ancient Greece; that happiness does not come from one’s income or power.  He who dies with the most, the greatest number of toys, does not win; he just leaves behind a lot of useless trinkets.  People who are the happiest, and incidentally tend to live the longest, are those in loving relationships who are working for causes larger than themselves.  They are whole people, integrated, authentic, loving.  They have built a moral compass and they are heading toward a true north.  Graduates of the class of 2008, the great class, each of us here today, your parents, your friends, your faculty, warmly congratulate you upon your achievement in reaching this milestone.  We believe in you because you have earned your degree from one of the most demanding research universities in the nation.  We look upon you with pride and with hope because we believe that you will help us to meet this nation’s quiet crisis.  But most of all, as you begin a new journey, a journey both that is inner and outer, we wish you good luck, Godspeed, and may you find your own Lambaréné.  Thank you.  (applause)

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.: Thank you, David Gergen, for very insightful remarks.  On the occasion of this commencement, we recognize members of our faculty with special awards.  We honor Rensselaer by honoring these distinguished faculty.  Information about the awards and the winners is detailed in your program.  One of these awards now will be presented by Tamer Khattab, class of 2008 and president of Phalanx.  (applause)

Tamer Khattab: Thank you, Dr. Jackson.  Good morning everyone and congratulations to my fellow members of the class of 2008.  It is my honor as president of Phalanx, Rensselaer’s senior leadership honorary society, to be able to present the David M. Darrin, class of 1940, Counseling Award.  David M. Darrin was a faithful friend and former trustee of the Institute.  In his honor, this award is given to a faculty member who has performed outstanding service to the counseling of undergraduate students and who has supported the undergraduate education here at Rensselaer.  Nominations were submitted by faculty, staff and students, but the recipient was selected solely by the student membership of Phalanx.  It is my privilege to present this year’s David M. Darrin Counseling Award to an individual who has made a lasting impact on the students of the Lally School of Management and Technology, as well as many others on campus, who has given much of his time to assist students in academic, professional and personal needs, and who is seen as a leader and motivator, and an inspiration in the classroom.  Professor Frank Wright, will you please come forward?  (applause)

Robert Palazzo: On behalf of the trustees of Rensselaer and a host of grateful students, I wish to express admiration and gratitude to our faculty who have served the university long and well, and during the past year, have retired.  Their names are listed on your program on page 17.  These individuals have served our campus as inspiring teachers, creative scholars, able administrators, affectionate colleagues and wise counselors.  In appreciation, we record here the sentiments of students, alumni, faculty and staff for their long-time service to Rensselaer.  And as they now enter upon a life of greater freedom, we salute them for their past achievements and bind them to us with an honorable and enduring title.  By virtue of the authority of the Board of Trustees, I confer upon them the title of Distinguished Faculty of Professor Emeritus.  And this year we recognize Professor George Edick, Professor John Koller and the others listed.  Thank you very much.  (applause)


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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