Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michelle Howard, the first female promoted to four-star Admiral and the first African-American woman to attain a four-star rank in the Department of Defense, urged graduates to remember their roots and “embrace your inner engineer,” at the 209th Commencement at Rensselaer May 30.

“Whether or not you ever work as an engineer, remember this from your time at RPI; embracing your inner engineer means that you will always learn, you will never lose your love of discovery, and you will always be ready to roll up your sleeves for hard work,” said Howard. “Take what you have learned here at RPI, the knowledge, the methods, the relationships, and apply it to our world’s most vexing problems.”

Howard addressed 1,672 graduates, their families, and friends at the 209th Rensselaer Commencement, held at the East Campus Athletic Village. During the ceremony, Rensselaer awarded a total of 1,838 degrees. They include: 164 doctoral degrees, 544 master’s degrees, and 1,130 bachelor’s degrees. Some graduates have earned more than one degree.

DrJPresident Shirley Ann Jackson Encourages Graduates To Be Explorers and Pioneers

Citing the accomplishments of the Commencement honorands, figures from Rensselaer history, and two 2015 graduates, Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson told graduates that they were prepared to “seek out the ‘terra incognita,’” the term often written on ancient maps to indicate an area that was unexplored. In that realm, Jackson said, “you will take with you the knowledge and insights of your Rensselaer education. You will invest that education in all you encounter and apply it with new understanding.

“With these four exceptional pioneers and explorers on our stage today, I remind our graduates that your Rensselaer degrees place you firmly in a long and distinguished tradition of exploration and pioneering breakthroughs,” Jackson said. “You are here, as students, for four or five years, but you are Rensselaer graduates, alumni and alumnae, forever.

“As you cross the threshold of new adventures, you will encounter the limitations of established knowledge, the limitations of your own knowledge; the boundaries and constraints others may try to impose, and the necessity of learning continuously,” Jackson said. “We feel that we have prepared you for this. And remember, the hopes, the dreams, the expectations, and the best wishes of all of us go with you. Let them sustain you. Seek out the ‘terra incognita.’ What would be more exciting, and important?”

Class President Adam Koehr Congratulates Graduates on Well-Earned Accomplishment

Class of 2015 President Adam Koehr invoked the words of his father, who told him, “Remember, people do not want to hear life advice from a 22-year old.” Koehr heeded his father’s advice and instead shared with his classmates his reasons for joy on the occasion of Commencement.

“After four years of intensive coursework, we have finally reached the pinnacle,” said Koehr. “Along the way we have accomplished some truly amazing things. We have not shied away from challenges, but instead embraced them. I have been impressed with generosity and involvement of this graduating class.”

Commencement Honorands Offer Wisdom to Class of 2015

The graduates were also addressed by the 2015 honorands, Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; former Microsoft executive and thought leader Craig Mundie; and entrepreneur and patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.

Gates shared quotes from three personal heroes: former American Senator Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, Equal Justice Initiative founder and Executive Director Bryan Stevenson, and Jonathan Walton, Harvard University professor and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church. Each quote spoke to the importance of introspection, courage, and humility in developing an ethical character.

I believe that without the help of scientists and engineering, not only will we not get the changes that we need, but we also won’t get the policies to promote those changes.”—Craig Mundie

Mundie issued a “homework assignment” in the form of a list of challenges faced by the world the graduates inherit: power for the planet, the future of cities, issues of water, energy, and food for a global population of 10 billion, and the need for education and health care for that population. The answers, said Mundie, lie with scientists and engineers working with policy makers.

“I believe that without the help of scientists and engineering, not only will we not get the changes that we need, but we also won’t get the policies to promote those changes,” Mundie said. In a final thought, he told graduates that he often says, “When you have problems that need solutions, who are you going to call? Call an engineer. Congratulations.”

Rubenstein gave graduates four pieces of advice: find something you want to do in life and love it; experiment until you find your love; be humble; and give back to others. In closing, he quoted not only the famous phrase “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, but also its closing line:

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

The honorands took part in a lively and informative discussion on the eve of Commencement, during the President’s Commencement Colloquy. They discussed “Resilient Leadership for a Resilient World.”

More information regarding Commencement.

See what our social media community posted about Commencement: #RPICommencement  #RPI2015

View a recording of Colloquy.