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50 Year Club Luncheon and Class of 1963 Induction

“The Times, They Were A-Changin’”

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

East Campus Athletic Village
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Friday, October 4, 2013


Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome you, and your families, back to Rensselaer for Reunion & Homecoming Weekend!

I am pleased to be with you today to offer my congratulations, as the great Class of 1963 joins the illustrious ranks of the 50 Year Club. I am sure many of you are experiencing some degree of disbelief. Perhaps you are asking yourself, “Is it actually possible that half a century has passed since I graduated from RPI?”

The calendar informs us that the answer is “yes.” All of the young-looking faces I see, however, suggest that the past 50 years have been good ones. Perhaps this is more remarkable, given the tumultuous world you were entering as you completed your Rensselaer degrees.

First, however, I have a question for you: When you walked across the stage in the Houston Field House as part of the Rensselaer 157th Commencement Ceremony on Friday, June 7th, 1963, do you recall who was the President of this fine university? It was Richard Folsom, and it was his fifth year of a 13-year term.

Perhaps you celebrated your commencement at parties where the Beatles were played. In 1963, “Beatlemania” was sweeping the United States. As you penned letters to your loved ones that year, you had to pay more to mail them because the cost of postage increased by a penny to five cents. Fortunately, you were able to save time when you called your family and friends, with the introduction in 1963 of the push-button telephone. It was just slightly different from the touch-activated smart phones and tablets we are accustomed to today. To paraphrase the words Bob Dylan penned in 1963, the times, they were a-changin’.

Much of the news dominating the headlines half a century ago regarded the Civil Rights Movement. President John F. Kennedy declared segregation morally wrong and presented a bill to Congress which, ultimately, would pass as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1963, Rensselaer alumnus Sonnie Hereford IV was just six years old, but already making history as the first African-American child to integrate the white public schools of Alabama. Just as all of you were starting graduate school or jobs after commencement, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I was growing up in Washington, DC at that time.

Social unrest continued throughout the remainder of the year, punctuated by the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Undoubtedly, many of us in this room remember where we were when we first heard this shattering news.

As one of your classmates summed it up in the last issue of The Poly before your commencement, “If there were a single word that could describe the Rensselaer campus scene for the 1962-63 academic year, it would be change. In all aspects of our collegiate life, fraternal to academic, political to social, we have experienced a spirit which has created unrest and uneasiness with the status quo.”

As young men and women just beginning your adult lives, you learned definitively that the status quo is fleeting.

The Rensselaer campus you are visiting today may remind you of that truth. It is vastly different from the campus you knew you so well 50 years ago; and the campus of tomorrow will be different again. Nonetheless, while some of the architecture and even some of the traditions have altered—no longer are the freshmen wearing red “beanies,” as you did—your connection to Rensselaer stands the test of time. As well, what we do, as an Institute, today builds on the excellence and legacy of past generations of Rensselaer graduates—your legacy.

Over the last 14 years, the Institute, as a whole, has experienced an extraordinary transformation under The Rensselaer Plan. We have put into place the people, programs, platforms, and partnerships that have reshaped Rensselaer into a world-class technological research university. Now, with our bicentennial less than 11 years away, we are implementing our second generation blueprint, The Rensselaer Plan 2024. With this plan, we shift gears, from transforming Rensselaer, to making Rensselaer even more of a transformative force in the lives of our students, our pedagogy, and in the global impact of our research.

In making your marks on the world as Rensselaer alumni and alumnae, you have added to our storied legacy and our prestige. Now, to address the great global challenges before us in energy, food, and water security; in human health, national security, environmental stewardship, and the allocation of scare natural resources—we will need to summon a great deal of focus, new resources, and collaboration across our diverse communities—as well as your advice and support.

Reunion & Homecoming Weekend is important to us, not only because it allows you the opportunity to reconnect with your fellow classmates, but also because it allows us to reconnect with you. I look forward to working with you, as Rensselaer works to change the world.

Now, I must acknowledge the people who worked so hard to put your reunion activities in place. I thank an outstanding Reunion Committee chaired by Michael Ross for its work in gathering so many of you here. I know that this was not an easy task, and we do appreciate your efforts.

I must recognize, also, those of you who made gifts this year to honor your milestone reunion. Your philanthropy is critical to the Institute as we continue on our upward trajectory. Our students are truly the beneficiaries of your generosity, and we thank you for all that you are doing to support them. Your support allows us to continue to attract the very best faculty to educate these brilliant young people.

Once again, congratulations to the entire Class of 1963 on your induction into the 50 Year Club today. Please continue to enjoy your 50-year celebration and the other events this weekend. And thank you for remaining such an important part of the Rensselaer family.


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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