Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin—leader of the world’s largest humanitarian organization—urged graduates to think first of others and be the first generation that embraces technology for all the right reasons at the 210th Commencement at Rensselaer on May 28.

“The only morality that technology has is what we give it—and that is where RPI and you, its graduates, come into play,” said Cousin. “Whether you have majored in engineering, the humanities, or management, the challenge I pose for all of you today is the same: How can we use the rapid advances we see in technology to improve our society, to make it more just and provide a real opportunity for peace and prosperity for everyone across the world?”

Cousin continued, “that means bringing the benefits of the information economy into service for the poorest, not just for profit. Achieving this goal will require people like you, the RPI Class of 2016, not just going off to gain riches… do that if you like but also make your ideas, talents, and skills available to organizations like mine or others helping solve problems. Overcome the challenges and address the issues for the public good.”

Cousin addressed 1,703 graduates, their families, and friends at the 210th Rensselaer Commencement today, held at the East Campus Athletic Village. During the ceremony, Rensselaer awarded a total of 1,877 degrees. They include: 140 doctoral degrees, 489 master’s degrees, and 1,248 bachelor’s degrees. Some graduates have earned more than one degree.

President Jackson Encourages Graduates To Find Unity in Diversity

Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson told graduates that their education has prepared them to address great global challenges, and she urged them to “dig deep in your lives and your careers.” Referring to the Commencement honorands, she said that although each has had a unique intellectual focus and career, they have worked with a unity of purpose in “empowering humanity by increasing our understanding of the universe, of our roots and commonality, and by increasing our compassion.”

“As you move forward in your brilliant careers, I encourage you to balance your sense of urgency with an understanding of the important,” said Jackson. “As you are doing your best at each stage of your professional lives, it is not important to win every argument, or to triumph in every contest, or, always, to be at the front of the line. Be slow to judge. It will make both your personal and professional lives happier. Be empathetic. Take your time, dig deep, find the truths that really matter, and unite us around them—as our honorands have done—because that is how humanity progresses and the world survives.”

Class President Tells Classmates To Find Fulfillment and Answers in Work

Class of 2016 President Joshua Schramm reflected on how the journey to a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education has unexpectedly led from the certainty of a set of knowledge to the uncertainty of its application in the world. Sometimes, said Schramm, “there is no correct answer.”

“On the road to global leadership, further academic achievement, innovation, creative expression, and entrepreneurship, fulfillment in our work will lead us to an answer. Not the answer, an answer,” said Schramm. “And with this answer, we can go forth confident that the challenges of today and tomorrow can be tackled, not just because of the tool-set Rensselaer has enabled us to build, but the experiences it has already allowed us to have.”

Commencement Honorands Offer Wisdom to Class of 2016

The graduates were also addressed by the 2016 honorands, David Skorton, 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and Steven Weinberg, Nobel laureate and professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Texas.

Referencing campus programs and facilities that link STEM and the humanities—as well as the achievements of prominent Rensselaer alumni including Beatrice Hicks, Washington Roebling, and Curtis Priem—Skorton told the graduates that they are “armed with a world-class education” to tackle the challenges they face.

“Only our ability to work together, to think creatively, to ‘think different,’ will allow humankind to flourish,” said Skorton. “As RPI graduates, you learned to do so enormously well. You are all ready to produce the innovation that our world needs.”

Weinberg said his “message to graduating students, for the world’s sake as well as for your own, is that when you go forth and get things wrong, as you inevitably will, be willing to recognize that you have been wrong, and even be a little proud that as scientists or engineers you are able to know that you were wrong.”

View photos and video from the event.